Machine Tending Robots: Maximizing Your Production Output
Machine tending robots are a common sight in manufacturing facilities across many industries. The advantages offered to manufacturers in combination with the standard solutions available make machine tending robots a clear benefit for many companies. If you are new to this robot application, it is useful to understand some of the basics of these robots. Additionally, awareness of the benefits and challenges of integrating a machine tending robot will help you understand if this technology is right for you.
What is a Machine Tending Robot?
A machine tending robot is any robot that is tasked with managing the operation of a machine. While this is a broad description, there are a few common machines robots are paired within machine tending tasks. These machines include:
- CNC Machines
For example, a machine tending robot could be tasked with operating a press. A well-thought-out integration would have a robot loading raw material into the press, starting the press, and removing the finished piece. Machine tending robots can be of any robot type. However, they are most commonly six-axis robots (collaborative or non-collaborative). This is because these robots are most able to mimic the flexibility of human limbs and have a good balance of speed, reach, and payload capacity. Machine tending robots are often found in the following industries:
If you’re new to automation, it can be difficult to understand the potential points of automation in your facility. Furthermore, what is required for those potential projects? Which projects are likely to yield the most return? You might benefit from speaking to an expert in the HowToRobot network.
When You Should Use a Machine Tending Robot
Machine tending robots have benefits that are common to most industrial machines. To define those, here are 3 situations where machine tending robots would be beneficial for your production.
You Aren’t Able to Maximize your Machine’s Output
One of the most common reasons for integrating a machine tending robot is to maximize production rates. If it’s clear that you aren’t realizing peak production at your machine, it could be possible to optimize production with a machine tending robot. Consider the example of a thinly employed metal shop; a high-volume CNC machine isn’t able to produce at peak rates because technicians are spread thin across several machines. A machine tending robot can be used to load and unload this machine unattended all day long. This allows the machine to maximize its output. This, however, wouldn’t work in low-volume situations. If workers are already maximizing the output of a machine, introducing a robot won’t give you any advantage in that regard.
You Need to Reduce Labor Costs
It’s common to look for ways to get lean on costs in today’s competitive manufacturing market. Robotics allow for cost reductions. While they have a large up-front cost, they are typically integrated in applications where there will be a net ROI at some point in the future. After the initial purchase price, marginal maintenance costs are required to keep it in working condition. Over time, this can save you money on labor costs on one to several operators.
Using our Automation Journey tool, you’ll be able to evaluate the ROI of your project through our investment calculator. This is the first step towards making the decision to invest in automation.
You Want to Run Lights Out
Lights out production is the ultimate goal of many manufacturing lines. This is the ability to run a production line with no human supervision for some amount of time. In specific scenarios, this is possible today. Machine tending tasks are instances where lights out production can be realized. An example could be a CNC machine tending robot in a metal shop making aerospace parts. It can be set up to run overnight as long as it has enough material and space to load and unload parts. Lights out production is difficult to achieve if some part of the process involves supervision or human interaction. And obviously, lights out production isn’t achievable without robots in some form.
What Are the Challenges Associated with Machine Tending Robots?
There are always challenges associated with robot projects. Machine tending robots have unique challenges due to the interaction with 3rd party machinery. These challenges aren’t impossible to overcome but should be taken seriously to avoid disastrous results.
Communication with Existing Machinery
The first challenge is understanding how your robot will communicate with your existing machinery. Depending on the machine, this challenge can vary in its difficulty. For example, CNC machines are traditionally difficult to interface with. However, there are solutions for robot-CNC integrations through integrators and custom CNC solution providers. Simpler machines like presses and lathes are easier to interface with. These machines are often controlled with simple relay logic. It is easier for robots to communicate with and control these types of machines.
Integrating with Human Operators
Introducing new equipment in the facility always brings challenges to the existing workforce. How will their workflows with existing equipment change? How can they be trained to use the new equipment effectively? How can you redeploy existing labor to be more effective? CNC machine tending robots will certainly introduce these challenges to your facility. However, proper training and having a good plan in place prior to integration will help alleviate these challenges.
How Much You Should Expect to Pay for a Machine Tending Robot
Key to understanding if machine tending robots are right for you is being aware of the cost. While noting costs will vary depending on the size and complexity of your project, it is reasonable to expect costs from $50,000 USD on the low-end to well in excess of six-figures. Machine tending robot integration costs might include things like:
- Robot hardware
- Programming costs
- Safety equipment
- End-of-arm tooling
- Communication middleware
- Vision systems
- Mobile robots
Cost tends to scale with complexity. For example, it is reasonable for a large, complicated specialty integration to extend well into the six figures. Things that would increase complexity include factors like robot-machine communication, machine operation complexity, and human interaction. However, it is important to understand what you stand to gain from adding a machine tending robot to your facility. The cost is only one part of the equation. This is why you need to do your ROI calculation thoroughly and make sure to include all the unforeseen costs and benefits.
HowToRobot has a large network of suppliers that will help you get the job done. If you are looking for pricing on a robot or components, we offer valid pricing indications and quick quotes from suppliers relevant to you.