Frequently Asked Questions
Robots have been a feature of manufacturing business for over 20 years. The robot can provide high quality components and finished products and do so reliably and repeatedly even in hazardous or unpleasant environments.
After an initial surge of interest many repetitive and unpleasant tasks were successfully automated and most new tasks of this nature are routinely done using robot technology. Growth in this area of automation slowed through the 1990s as lean manufacturing principles favoured quick tooling changeover and highly flexible, simple manufacturing solutions. Robots were perceived as costly and relatively inflexible. The rate of product change and new product introductions were also accelerating, leading to the uptake of so-called 'mass customisation' to many manufacturing sectors. Robots did not sit comfortably in this environment, and their exploitation continued to falter.
More recently software that enables a robot to be accurately modelled in virtual reality has enabled new manufacturing solutions using robot technology to be developed in parallel with the product under development, reducing the time taken to get new production capacity operational, and hence new products to market. This has gone some way to addressing the concern that robots can be unwieldy in addition to being expensive, and enables Design for Manufacture techniques to be employed where automated processing is to be adopted.
The latest approach to simulation technology enables the user to fully model the robot, its cell and anything in or near it. With improved integration at the planning phase to the upstream and downstream systems, robots may now be re-configured to accept new products more efficiently. The programming tasks for the new products may be undertaken 'offline' with the robot still in production, hence flexibility is beginning to be restored to this potentially powerful technology.
New flexible programming combined with the latest generation of user friendly robots has seen a new surge in the uptake of automated solutions to manufacturing problems.
TWI offers experience of both robots and offline programming (OLP) techniques and through cost/benefit analysis can offer advice to potential users who may be considering the introduction of robotic or automated processing within their manufacturing operations.