Many manufacturing companies could benefit by implementing a form of automation into their production process, whether it be across their full product line or just a single robot.
While Automation has come to mean the use of robotics and machines to reduce or replace work previously done by human workers in the manufacturing process, robotics is only one aspect of how manufacturing automation works.
Automation is any type of machine or device used to perform a process without, or with reduced, intervention from a person.
Robotics is a type of automation which involves the use of a machine, usually, a mechanical arm, which can move in three or more directions, that can be used to complete material handling and pick-and-place tasks faster and more efficiently than manpower alone.
The introduction of automation often improves productivity by allowing staff to focus on more complex, higher value-add, or more intricate and interesting tasks. Other benefits of automation include improved health and safety, increased material utilisation, higher quality products, reduced cycle times and reduced lead times.
The difference between automation and robotics
Although the terms "automation" and "robotics" are sometimes used interchangeably in manufacturing, there are some important differences between them.
Automation is the process of using technology to complete repetitive tasks with little variation in a process, while Robotics is the use of specifically designing robots to perform specific tasks.
Automation is usually purpose-built self-operating machines that perform a repetitive task usually done by a person. Automation follows a pre-determined sequence.
Robotics is applied when a more flexible approach is needed, such as coping with several different product types, or when a purpose-built machine isn’t available. A robot replaces the need for human action.
Collaborative robots or industrial robots?
Collaborative robots (cobots) are designed to work safely in the same space as people without the need for safety barriers and can be used for a wide variety of tasks, such as assisted assembly, packing, welding, machine loading, and palletising. Cobots also don’t require extensive experience to program and are flexible, allowing them to be quickly moved and repurposed for a different task.
Industrial robots are used for tasks requiring higher speed, heavier tools or products, or in harsher environments. Industrial robots require safety cages and often need specialist programming skills. If you think about the robots used for welding, assembling, or painting cars on a production line, these are industrial robots.
While useful, automation and robotics may not be the right solution for every manufacturing process or production line. Low-volume or delicate production process would not be suitable for a robotics solution.
Made Smarter can help your manufacturing business to define problems and find a solution that suits them. Once a solution has been determined, our advisor’s team can help you access grant funding as well as provide ongoing help and support.Register today to take the first step with Made Smarter.
Made Smarter Case Studies
To give you an idea of the sorts of applications suitable for automation and robotics, as well as the potential benefits, have a look at some of our case studies. We’ve helped businesses with advice, support and grant funding.
Firstplay Dietary Foods – automated weighing and packing
JCM Fine Joinery – cobot sanding
Qualkem – tube fill, sealing, and labelling machine
Bloom-in-Box – robotic injection moulding
Ye Olde Friars – automated chocolate making
Storth Engineering – cobot welding
Bells of Lazonby – ultrasonic cutting robots
Applied Nutrition – robotic packing
Made Smarter robotics articles in the media