How to implement robotic Machining: A step-by-step guide for getting started

August 3, 2023
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What to consider before installing your Machining robot

Before buying and installing your Machining robot, there are a few key things to consider.

Start by evaluating your current machining process and identify any potential roadblocks to automation. Look for bottlenecks, hazardous areas, and tasks that require human dexterity. You may need to make modifications to your workflow, equipment, or facility layout to accommodate certain robots.

When it comes to your facilities layout, consider what kind of robot is right for your needs. Options include Articulated, SCARA, and Delta robots which are fixed to a single point on your factory floor. If you require a Cartesian robot, it’s important to note that these robots are often affixed to a ceiling gantry. When making your selection, consider the payload capacity, reach, speed, and precision required for your machining operations. For more detail, see our guide on buying a robot for machine tending here.

One challenge you’ll want to consider is the process around your robot. Such as, how will blanks get to your robot for machining? Do you need a conveyor or similar system for moving the parts to the robot? The decision you make can affect not only your initial investment but also your risk assessment for operating the robot around your staff.

Another challenge you may encounter can be programming the robot. If you’re new to the world of robotics, you’ll want to look for ways to simplify programming, such as choosing a robot with a graphical interface instead of one which requires an expert to code it line by line. It’s best to start with basic movements, functions, and standard tasks before building up the complexity over time through iterative improvements.

To keep your Machining robot in working order, you’ll need to introduce new tasks to your routine maintenance processes — such as lubricating joints, tightening bolts, and checking for signs of wear or damage. With the proper care, a Machining robot can provide years of reliable service and your manufacturer will often be able to provide you with an expected lifespan in operating hours.

Conducting risk assessments for your Machining robot's working area

Before signing the deal on your new Machining robot, it’s critical to conduct a thorough risk assessment of the work area. This will identify any hazards and allow you to implement proper safeguards.

First, evaluate the space where the robot will be operating. Make sure there are no hazards like uneven floor tiles or low-friction materials which could cause the robot to become unstable. Check that the robot has a sturdy, level base to prevent tipping or falling over.

It’s also important to consider the specific tasks the robot will be performing. Will it be handling sharp tools or heavy materials which could fall? If so, install safeguards like fences and drop zones to contain loose items. Think about the maximum reach of the robot and any pinch points that could trap body parts or clothing during a movement so barriers may be placed around the full range of motion.

It may be necessary to install emergency stop buttons that can quickly shut down the robot if needed. Create separate spaces for human workers and the robot which only allows access to the robot when it is fully shut down. If the robot will be working around humans, consider choosing a Collaborative robot with built-in safety sensors and collision detection. Train workers on proper procedures to load, unload, and clean the robot safely.

Once your robot arrives, test the risk assessment by running the robot through some trial runs. See if any additional hazards become apparent or if any safeguards need improvement and continue to audit the risk assessment periodically to ensure the highest safety standards.

Programming your robotic machining assistant: Common pitfalls and tips

While programming is a complex topic, it’s worth knowing some of the basic pitfalls and tips — especially if you’ll be using a robot with no-code-programming ability. Here are some items to keep in mind.

Start simple:

Don't try to program complex machining operations from the beginning. Start with basic pick-and-place tasks to get familiar with your robot's programming interface. Then progressively build up to more complex programs. This will help to minimize frustration and mistakes.

Use simulation software:

Simulation software allows you to program and test your robot virtually before deploying it on the shop floor. This helps identify programming issues and potential collisions early on without wasting time, materials or damaging your robot. 

Program with safeguards:

Always include safety precautions in your program such as emergency stops, slow speeds, restricted work envelopes, and collision avoidance. An accidental crash can lead to expensive damage and costly downtime, or even injure a member of your team. It's much easier to build safeguards into your program from the beginning rather than retrofitting them later.

Get input from operators:

Talk to your machine operators and get their input on the best way to integrate the robot into existing processes. They know the ins and outs of your shop’s processes and can provide valuable advice on maximizing productivity and safety. Be open to suggestions to improve your programs.

Regularly backup programs:

Back up your robot programs regularly in case of data loss or corruption. Nothing is more frustrating than having to re-program a robot from scratch due to a system glitch. Backup programs to a separate storage device as well as a cloud service for redundancy. Make sure you know your “disaster recovery” process to avoid downtime.

Introducing your workers to robotic machining

Integrating your workers and robotic Machining requires careful planning and coordination. As a shop owner, you’ll need to determine how to best utilize both human and robot labor without reducing productivity or job satisfaction

  • Cross-train your employees on operating and programming the robot. This allows them to better understand the robot’s capabilities and limitations, and to troubleshoot any issues. Often, a single employee can exponentially increase their productivity by overseeing multiple robots.
  • Start slowly by having the robot handle repetitive, mundane tasks like loading and unloading — freeing up your employees for higher-skill tasks. As employees get comfortable working with the robot, you can gradually increase its responsibilities. Educating employees on what the robot is and isn’t good at can help them understand the robot’s place in the company.

Foster collaboration and encourage employees to work alongside the robot — not compete against it. Explain how robotic Machining benefits the whole company by improving efficiency and quality. Have workers provide feedback on optimizing robot programs and work cell layout. When employees feel invested in the robot’s success, they will be more willing to adapt to changes in workflow and job responsibilities.

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Top maintenance tips for your Machining robot

To keep your Machining robot in top working order, you’ll want to adapt accepts of your maintenance processes. Here are some of our recommended items to add to your maintenance checklist.

Perform routine inspections of your robot at least once per shift to check for any signs of damage or wear. Look for loose wires, leaks, or wobbly parts. Given the forces involved in moving your robot, small issues can quickly compound into serious damage.

Lubricate moving parts like joints and bearings. Follow the recommended lubrication schedule provided in your robot’s manual. Note that the end-effector attached to your robot will have its own lubrication schedule. Proper lubrication prevents overheating, reduces friction, and extends the lifespan of components.

Tighten loose parts since vibrations and repetitive movements can cause bolts, screws, and other fasteners to loosen over time. This helps ensure continued safe operation and precision.

Clean the robot regularly as built-up dirt, debris, and grime on your robot can impact cycle times, and longevity. Pay extra attention to joints, seams, and crevices where material can collect. For stubborn messes, confirm the appropriate cleaning materials with your robot’s manufacturer.

Calibrate when needed if your robot seems to be losing precision or accuracy. Recalibration involves adjusting sensors and controls on either the robot or the end-of-arm-tooling to restore proper functionality. This should be a regular maintenance task to avoid potential safety issues or further reduce performance for whomever is responsible for programming on your team.

Robotic machining FAQs

Robotic Machining seems complicated, but many of the most common questions have straightforward answers. Here are some of the FAQs to help put you at ease.

How much will a robot cost? The initial investment depends on the robot model, tooling, and any required safety mechanisms. Expect to pay from $30,000 to $500,000 or more for a typical Six-Axis robot. However, increased productivity and efficiency can provide a quick return on investment.

How much space does a robot require? The robot’s “footprint” refers to the amount of floor space it needs to operate, typically four to 16 square feet. You’ll also need additional space for loading and unloading parts and maintenance access.

How difficult is robot programming? Modern robots are designed to be easy to program for basic tasks. You can get started with simple, no-code programming software and basic training. For more complex jobs, you may need an experienced robot programmer. Some robots use intuitive teaching pendants, with step-by-step programming guidance.

How safe are robots? When properly installed and programmed, industrial robots have an excellent safety record. However, there are risks of contact with moving parts. A risk assessment helps identify hazards and determine proper safety mechanisms, like protective barriers, emergency stops, and operator training. Proper safety procedures must always be followed. A Collaborative robot is often the safest option when working around humans.

What maintenance do robots require? Robots need regular inspections, lubrication, and component replacements. Motors, joints, and end-effectors typically require the most maintenance. Daily cleanup of chips and dust is also important. Following the manufacturer’s recommended schedule will minimize downtime and keep your robot in good working order.

Next steps

Now you have everything you need to get started with robotic Machining. You've learned how to choose a robot that suits your needs, evaluate how it will fit into your current setup, ensure safety for all, program the robot to do what you want, keep it in working order, and have your employees and robot machinists collaborate. 

Whether you need a robot to load and unload parts, handle materials, or perform inspection and sorting, there are a variety of robot arms which can get the job done efficiently and cost-effectively. The key is determining exactly what tasks you need automated, the machines your robot will interact with, and the required speed, payload, and precision. 

Interested in bringing robotic Machining to your own business? RO1 by Standard Bots is the best choice for machine shops 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. Integrated: RO1 comes equipped with built-in relays to control almost any machine on the market, including plug-and-play support for Haas CNC milling machines.

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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