How to implement robotic polishing: A practical guide

August 3, 2023
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Assessing your current Polishing process for automation

To embark on actually implementing a robotic polishing system, the first step is assessing how ready your current setup is for a robot. You can start by asking yourself these questions:

Do you have a defined polishing process that is repetitive and consistent? Robots are best suited for repetitive, consistent polishing work and are less adaptable to high-mix polishing applications. For optimal results, you’ll want to leave the complex, variable polishing jobs to your experienced staff.

How much open space do you have for a robot work cell? Robotic Polishers require room to move freely and because of this you'll need to ensure you have adequate space. You’ll also want to consider how parts will reach the robot for polishing, where (and how) parts will be transported after polishing, and if an employee will need space to maneuver around the robot to assist it.

What types of force and range of movement are required for your parts? You’ll want to consider the desired reach (or arm length) of your robot, plus the amount of force it can apply — especially if you intend to polish rougher materials. Precision, known in Robotics as “repeatability”, is an incredibly important factor if you’re polishing small or intricate parts.

How much do your polishers handle workpieces? The more a robot needs to grasp and manipulate a part, the more complex the end-of-arm tooling and programming need to be. Simple loading and unloading are the easiest to automate. 

Assessing these factors upfront will help determine how much modification and investment is needed to successfully implement robotic Polishing in your facility. With some process changes, a robot can take over repetitive polishing tasks, freeing up your current employees to focus on more complex work. The key is starting with a realistic plan for your particular facility and requirements, and building from there.

Safety first: Risk assessments and safeguarding for robotic Polishing

Once you have a Polishing robot on the way, it’s time to make sure you have safety measures in place. It goes without saying that robots can cause injury if mishandled or misprogrammed, and it’s not uncommon for robotics novices to be caught by surprise by the speed of these machines.

Conducting a risk assessment

A risk assessment helps identify any dangers related to implementing a robot. Walk through your entire polishing process and consider dangers like:

  • Places where body parts could get caught on an end-effector 
  • Heavy loads that require safe lifting equipment
  • Any hazards specific to your industry
  • Sharp edges and abrasives
  • Wiring or hoses
  • High voltages

Consider all of the possible interactions your staff will have with the robot, such as grit-changing, inspection of parts, robot maintenance, and loading and unloading. Can you minimize or remove the need for any of these interactions? One example could be purchasing a polishing end-effector with a built-in grit change, which minimizes the need for your staff to approach the robot.

Implementing safeguards

If budget allows or your particular polishing requires your robot to work in proximity with your staff, then you may want to consider choosing a “Collaborative” Polishing robot. These “Cobots” come equipped with safety features, like advanced collision detection and built-in emergency stops. 

This alone may be enough to mitigate the risks in your particular application but keep in mind that you may still require additional safety measures. Here are some of the additional safety precautions you might want to consider:

Use barriers like fencing to restrict access to the robot. Pressure-sensitive pads or area scanners can detect when someone enters a restricted zone and automatically pause the robot.

Provide emergency stop buttons that immediately cut power to the robot. Place them in easily accessible locations around the work area.

Use caution signs to warn others when performing maintenance on an active robot. Lockout or tagout procedures ensure the robot cannot be restarted during service.

Train all of your workers on general robotic safety. Even if they aren’t directly tasked with working alongside the robot, any employee who spends time on your shop floor should have a good understanding of the robot’s capabilities and safety protocols.

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Programming your Polishing robot: Tips and tricks

With safety addressed, programming is often an owner’s next concern, and programming your Polishing robot will take some trial and error to get right. Whether you decide to hire a programming consultant to create your polishing routines or do it yourself using a robot with a no-code programming interface, here are some tips to help you along the way:

Start with the basics

Focus on simple movements and tasks before moving on to more complex polishing procedures. Have the robot move smoothly from point A to point B, then work on changing directions and speeds. Take it slow — rushing into complicated programs will only lead to mistakes and frustration.

Simulate the program before running it

Double-check that your automation is error-free by simulating how the robot will move using the programming software. Look for any potential issues like collisions, inefficient movements, or logic errors before testing it out on the actual robot. 

Be extremely specific in your programming

You need to explicitly tell the robot every step, direction, speed, and action required to complete the task. Measure, map out, and include precise coordinates, angles, pressures, and dwell times. It may feel tedious but thorough programming is key.

Don’t forget the importance of force

Unlike humans, robots will not vary their use of force when polishing without explicit programming. Look for a force sensor that integrates with your robot and allows you to program explicit, precise levels of force and torque control while your robot polishes.

Expect mistakes and make adjustments

No matter how well you've programmed your robot, issues will arise. Parts may be slightly off in size or position, abrasives may wear down differently than anticipated, and adjust your programming accordingly. With regular use and updates, you'll get better and better at achieving perfect surface finishes.

With patience and practice, you'll get the hang of programming your Polishing robot. Start simple, pay close attention to detail, and make changes as needed. Before you know it, you'll have a fully functioning automated polisher working alongside your skilled employees.

Maintaining your robotic Polishing system

Like any machine, robotic Polishing arms require care to function at their best and provide consistent results. On receipt of your robot, here are some robot-specific maintenance tasks you’ll want to add to your team’s checklist.

Daily checks

Perform a quick inspection of the robot and work area before starting each shift. Check that all cables and hoses are securely connected and not damaged. Ensure the polishing pads are clean and not worn down. Vacuum the robot and surrounding area to remove any debris. In most cases, a robot won’t be able to sense an issue with its preparation and can easily damage each part it touches before someone on your team notices.

Lubricate joints

While lubrication is a typical maintenance task for most machines, robots are particularly sensitive to the lubrication of their joints. Slight over-or-under application of lubricant can cause joints to move faster or slower than they should, leading to imprecise polishing and potentially adding seconds to every cycle. Your manufacturer will provide a recommended lubrication schedule. 

Software updates

Software updates may provide new features, tighter security, and bug fixes. In general, it’s best practice to update robot software every three to six months to take advantage of the latest improvements. Follow the instructions carefully when performing an update to avoid issues and always backup your current software configuration first in case you need to roll back.

Following a regular maintenance schedule for your Polishing robot will minimize downtime and keep it functioning properly for years to come. With the right care, your robot can become a seamless and invaluable part of your production process.

Integrating human and robotic Polishers: A collaborative approach

Introducing your employees and robotic Polishers requires careful planning and collaboration. As a business owner, it’s important to keep the following in mind:

Communication is key

Talk to your polishing team and get their input on how to best incorporate a robot into their daily tasks. Explain the benefits, like reducing repetitive tasks, and ask for their concerns and suggestions. Keep the lines of communication open as you implement the robot. 

Cross-train employees

Have polishers learn basic programming and maintenance for the robot. This helps them better understand how it works, builds valuable skills, and ensures maximum uptime. They can perform quick fixes and routine maintenance, freeing up technical staff for more complex issues. 

Start small and scale up slowly

Don’t try to automate all polishing tasks at once. Start with a single, repetitive job, like buffing flat surfaces. As employees get comfortable working with the robot, you can expand its responsibilities. This gradual integration helps ensure a smooth transition and minimizes disruptions.

Define responsibilities clearly

Determine which jobs are best suited for human polishers and which can be handled by the robot. When polishers know exactly what’s expected of them, it leads to greater productivity, quality, and safety. Our recommendations are to leave the most complicated polishing tasks to your team and let the robots pick up the repetitive, wrist-straining day-to-day surface finishings.

Next steps

So there you have it, a practical guide to bringing a Polishing robot onto your team. While it may seem daunting, if you methodically work through assessing your current process, address safety and risk, learn some basic programming, and establish a maintenance routine, a Polishing robot can be an efficient and cost-effective addition to your operation.

Interested in bringing a Polishing robot to your own business? RO1 by Standard Bots is a great choice for factories large and small:

  1. Affordable: RO1 is the most affordable robotic arm in its class, starting at almost half the price of incumbent competitors. 
  2. Powerful: RO1 is faster and more precise than competitors, despite having the highest payload capacity in its class at 18 kg.
  3. Collaborative: RO1 comes equipped with safety sensors and built-in collision detection, for safe operation anywhere on your shop floor.

Speak to our solutions team today to organize a free, 30-day onsite trial and get expert advice on everything you need to deploy your first robot.

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