Electronics Manufacturing Robots: Solving High Precision Operations
The demand for quality electronics has increased significantly due to everyday devices' growing complexity and connectivity. This puts pressure on manufacturers to produce more products more competitively. Automation is the primary way manufacturers achieve these productivity increases.
This article describes what electronics robots do, the common types of robots used, and when you should automate your electronics production process.
The Basics of Electronics Manufacturing Robots
Many robot types are capable of being electronics manufacturing robots, depending on the context of the application. They are deployed in several industries that implement electronic devices in their products:
- Consumer electronics
- Commercial/industrial electronics
- Medical device manufacturing
Electronics Manufacturing Robot Applications
There are a few critical tasks that robots handle in electronics manufacturing. These tasks are repetitive, simple, and high-volume. Common applications include:
Assembly is the basic process of building up products out of smaller sub-components. This often includes mounting components like diodes, capacitors, and transistors. It can also include securing a finished PCB in its housing within the larger product.
The soldering process describes welding electronic components to a board to complete an electrical circuit. Soldering is a standardized automation task, meaning it is a common task with tried and true solutions. Manufacturers often assemble PCB components as part of their production process. This task includes soldering subcomponents onto the board. Manufacturers and integrators have been automating the soldering task for decades. Due to this experience, automated soldering is well-understood. There is broad market support for soldering solutions. Keep in mind, you must manage repeatable part presentation and tool head selection with your automated soldering project.
Testing is required to ensure that the production of electronics is of the highest quality, helping catch defects before the electronics are shipped out. Testing is typically a manual process, but robots have taken on more testing applications such as continuity testing and sending signals to the board to determine if it’s functioning correctly.
Inspection, similar to testing, is a task that has been historically handled manually by manual laborers. However, introducing reliable and affordable machine vision systems has allowed robots to handle inspection tasks. Pairing a robot with machine vision can allow defects to be handled in real-time.
The packaging process is critical to most industries. Electronics manufacturing is no exception. The high-volume production environment makes the packaging step one that is sensitive to bottlenecking. Automation is a standard solution for increasing the throughput of the packaging process. Key considerations include part presentation and choosing the correct end-of-arm tooling for the product.
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Types of Electronics Manufacturing Robots
Manufacturers have several options for electronics manufacturing automation. There are a few robot types commonly found in these applications:
Collaborative robots are common choices for electronics manufacturers. Electronics production tasks are often small, lightweight, and can work close to people. The characteristics of tasks like these both take advantage of the strengths of collaborative robots (hybrid working environments) while keeping the requirements within the limits of what collaborative robots can do. Cobots excel in hybrid environments and are easily redeployed in other applications with limited expertise required.
Cartesian robots are known for their high levels of precision. This is due to their rigid and straightforward construction. Cartesian applications often require manual loading by a technician. This type is highly scalable but lacks the dexterity and flexibility of other types on this list.
The SCARA is a common choice for electronics applications due to its blend of precision, speed, and reach. This type can move quickly from point to point without sacrificing precision. Like the cartesian robot, it can struggle with flexibility and tasks that require complex motion. However, it’s one of the fastest and most affordable options available.
The six-axis robot is deployed the broadest array of applications compared to other robot types. Because of this, it makes sense that it would be heavily represented in electronics manufacturing. It can be a more expensive option, but for certain tasks like those that require complex motion, the six-axis robot becomes a clear choice.
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When Should You Consider Automating?
It can be evident that you need to automate specific electronics manufacturing processes, however not every machine is suitable for each scenario. Your situation and business details will determine if automation will be a positive addition to your company. Let’s look at some common reasons why today’s leading manufacturers automate their electronics manufacturing processes.
The primary reason manufacturers automate is that they struggle to increase production throughput. Robots can produce at a much higher rate when compared to manual operators. Robots can move faster than human operators can more consistently over a long period. Robotic programming can be optimized for maximum speed. This speed comes from both speed of movement and limiting wasted motion and time off task. This means a more efficient production for your facility.
Higher Levels of Precision
Electronic components can be small and require great precision to perform the relevant production tasks. Robots are capable of a higher level of precision than manual laborers. Their mechanical construction, programming, and servo motors enable them to attain sub-millimeter levels of precision. This means more accuracy in production and fewer errors. These errors can lead to wasted materials and defective products, ultimately leading to lost revenue for your business.
More Consistent Production Quality
Robots are designed to follow step-by-step instructions programmatically. Robots perform the same task thousands of times without noticeable deviation. When combined with their superior precision, the result is incredibly consistent production quality.
Electronics manufacturing robots offer great potential for modern electronics manufacturers. If you can define the details of your business, the requirements of your application, and how to best deploy this robot, you can benefit from automating some of your electronics manufacturing tasks.
Most electronic assembly applications demand a sterile field. The need to protect sensitive electronics from particles and contaminants extends to the equipment used to assemble them. This, of course, includes industrial robots. Cleanroom environments don’t impact robots, but minimizing the robot’s impact on the cleanroom is the primary concern.
If your application occurs in a cleanroom, it’s imperative to notify your supplier. Robots for cleanrooms require special handling and parts. For example, cleanroom robots will be sterilized and shipped with special packaging to keep them from being exposed to contaminants. Additionally, they will often be assembled with special lubricants.
Choosing to automate today can provide long-term benefits that compound over time.
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