In Shanghai, labour costs are increasing by 7% every year. With growing shortages in manpower, it is becoming more and more difficult to hire factory operators. On the other hand, companies must consider return on investment and equipment effectiveness when adopting automation solutions in the factory.
Humans and machines collaborate to meet today’s challenges
Adopting OMRON’s traditional industrial robots has greatly improved productivity at our factory in Shanghai in the past few years. However, human tasks are still necessary in the production of our products. That means that it is not possible to fully automate the production lines. Therefore, to improve production efficiency further, the factory needed to come up with a way for people and machines to work together in harmony – in the same environment. And that’s why collaborative robots
Flexible production with cobots
The factory is a typical high-mix, low-volume production facility. There are cells or lines that only operate a few hours a day, and the process needs frequent and manual changes. For this application, the OMRON TM14 collaborative robot was selected. It is very suitable for high-mix low-volume production where layout changes are frequent. The cobot recognizes the landmark and knows immediately what it’s supposed to do at a specific cell. There is no need for calibration or reteaching of the cobot every time it is moved. So for example, one cobot can be shared between two laser marking machines.
Moreover, programming the cobot is easy and a person without any previous experience with robots can easily start using it. Programming is similar to creating a flowchart. The cobot can also be integrated with OMRON’s mobile robot
. This way, it can freely and autonomously move between production lines, transporting parts and material. With the introduction of collaborative robots, not only was production efficiency improved, but also the ROI is as short as 12-14 months. Moreover, the number of cobot units can be easily and gradually increased as the production expands.
Reaching for zero errors
With a high-mix low-volume production there is always a higher risk of human error. Although extremely low, the risk of quality incidents is not zero. With the implementation of cobots, the risk can be mitigated and the goal of zero errors reached. In this era of big data, traceability is an important quality requirement. By using collaborative robots, the need for manual data input and management can be eliminated.
Collaborative robots also have many advantages from a safety point of view. For example, it can operate at a slower speed in collaborative mode. If there is ever a contact between a person or obstacle, it will make a safe stop. Setting up the safety parameters is also intuitive and easy. But a safety risk assessment must be conducted and collaborative robots are no exception. The factory worked together with OMRON’s professional safety risk assessment team to ensure proper safety analysis and risk mitigation.
Factory of the future
Solving societal issues and respecting humanity are important to OMRON’s corporate philosophy. In the factory of the future, we will able to realize the collaboration between people and robots at a higher level. Manufacturing processes can be adapted flexibly and intelligently in order to meet changing market demands. In the factory of the future, we can also relieve workers from repetitive and dull tasks. They can focus on tasks that add more value. People will be happier at work by doing desirable and creative jobs.
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Business Development Manager Robotics, Omron Europe