How to successfully introduce an Assembly robot to your production line

August 3, 2023
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Assessing your Assembly process for robot automation

Before you place your order, it's worth assessing your current working environment and its compatibility with robotic automation. 

Examine each step of your assembly in detail: Look for repetitive, mundane tasks that require precision — which are ideal for automation. For more complex tasks with multiple steps, consider whether these are going to be worth the expense of automating, especially if this is your first encounter with robotics. Also, consider hazardous areas where human employees face risks that could be better alleviated by robot intervention. Identifying these opportunities will help determine the best place to start.

Think about how to integrate a robot into your existing line: Will you need to reconfigure your layout or workflow? How will parts reach your robot, ready for assembling? You’ll also want to consider available floor space, including any space necessary for conveyors or other accessories your robot requires to work with. In constrained areas, you may want to consider ceiling-mounting your robot.

Consider equipment your robot will integrate with: Perhaps your robot will require pneumatic actuation via compressed air for snapping parts together with force, or even an attached glue reservoir for a softer approach to assembling parts. While we cover your choice of end-effector in more depth in our guide on “Choosing an Assembly Robot”, you’ll want to make sure your factory is prepared to supply the robot with everything it needs.

Safety first: Conducting a risk assessment for your Assembly robot

Before purchasing a robot, one of the most critical tasks is to assess the risks and create a safety plan for your staff. Robotic arms are incredibly fast, strong machines and can easily cause problems if not safely handled.

You can start by evaluating your current assembly process, step-by-step. Look for potential hazards like pinch points — where employees or parts can get stuck — heavy parts that require multiple operators to lift, and the use of sharp or dangerous tooling like needles for fabric assembly.

Next, you should meet with your assembly team to review the robot’s specifications, intended tasks, and any concerns they may have about working with a robot. Common safety concerns can include fast-moving robots or the use of adhesive materials that may come into contact with your staff, and fragile parts being dropped or fragmented.

Developing a risk assessment that evaluates the severity and likelihood of potential hazards can aid you in implementing proper safeguards and training. At a minimum, you’ll want to install safety mechanisms like emergency stop buttons, protective barriers, and motion-sensing equipment. You should also establish a safety zone around the robot that only authorized personnel can enter.

One option to mitigate safety concerns is to purchase a Collaborative robot, or “Cobot”. These robots come with built-in safety sensors and collision detectors which minimize the likelihood of workplace accidents and allow you to cut down on the need for external safety equipment. 

Before you make your purchase, it’s important to consider the training your team will need and have them practice tasks like enabling and disabling the robot. Go over basic troubleshooting and maintenance, such as inspecting the robot for damages and testing that all emergency buttons are functioning properly. With the right precautions and education, Assembly robots and employees can collaborate side by side.

Programming your Assembly robot: Best practices and pitfalls to avoid

With a workplace risk assessment complete, programming your new Assembly robot correctly is the last hurdle to successfully integrate it into your production line. Whether you hire a robotics programming expert or choose a robot with a no-code programming interface, it’s worth keeping these basic tips in mind.

Keep it simple

Start with basic movements and tasks before progressing to more complex sequences. Have your robot grasp and move objects, then work up to fully assembling components. This makes troubleshooting easier to modify before you perform a few trial cycles.

Use simulation software

Most robotics companies offer simulation programs that allow you to build and test programs virtually before deploying them. Use simulation to refine movements and ensure there are no collisions or errors. This saves time, helps avoid equipment damage, and reduces the need to halt your production line while you integrate softwares.

Pay attention to cycle times

Cycle time refers to the time it takes your robot to perform a full assembly task. If your robot picks up two pieces, binds them together with an adhesive or fastener, and then places them on a conveyor for transportation, this entire sequence would be one cycle. Inefficient programming instructions, such as requiring the robot to move further than necessary or manipulating equipment manually which can be controlled via relay, can quickly add up to an hour or more of lost productivity

Test and retest

In order to make sure your robot is running at full capacity, run initial programs at slower speeds without any human intervention. Check that all movements and steps are executed properly, and pay attention to small issues, such as a robot grasping a part in an awkward position or attempting to assemble components imprecisely. Once optimized, do a final test at regular operating speed alongside employees to ensure there are no issues before full deployment.

Anticipate errors

Try to envision any potential issues that could arise from an incorrect movement or programming error by building in backup safety checks. Program your robot to check that parts are properly grasped and components are aligned before proceeding to the next steps. It's much easier to prevent issues from occurring than to try and address them later.

Maintaining your Assembly robot

With installation out of the way, you’ll want to keep your Assembly robot running efficiently. As with any complex machine in your production line, your robot requires regular maintenance such as:

  • Daily Checks at the start of each shift where you look for any obvious signs of damage or wear to ensure all hoses and wires are securely in place, while also testing that the end-effector is securely connected. Given the speed Assembly robots can move, small issues can quickly spiral in a small span of time.
  • Lubrication of joints and bearings. Make sure to refer to your robot's manual for exact maintenance guidance. Over-lubrication can become a problem, as millimeter-precisions can be thrown off and cycle times can be extended from over lubrication. Also, keep in mind that the robot’s end-effector will have its own, manufacturer-specific lubrication schedule.
  • Software Updates which fix bugs, improve cycle times, and enhance safety features. Backup your current programming before performing any updates in case of any unforeseen issues.
  • End-Effector Replacement or the end-of-arm-tooling you choose for your robot will inevitably wear out over time and can introduce defects in your assembly process. A gripper, for example, can begin to wear down and create a rough grasping surface which can introduce small scratches and dents to your parts.
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Working alongside the robot

Perhaps the biggest concern of any assembly line owner is how to introduce robotic colleagues to their employees. Humans and robots working side by side, known as human-robot Collaboration or “Cobotting”, can create an extremely productive, augmented workforce. 

At first, you’ll want to assign specific employees to monitor the robot and make sure all of your production line staff have a basic level of familiarity with the robot’s automation routine. Providing comprehensive safety training for all employees before launching can help spot issues sooner rather than later. 

Then, continue to conduct risk assessments to determine if any parts of the production process pose dangers and update procedures as needed to minimize risks.

Now that you have an Assembly robot capable of putting together components, it’s a great time to consider what kind of products and components your team can create. Many assembly shops choose to repurpose their team to work on complex, intricate components which are best built by hand or require collaboration between multiple departments and disciplines. Introducing an Assembly robot and freeing up your staff is a great way to expand your product line.

Next steps

So there you have it, a streamlined guide to bringing Assembly robots into your production process. While the initial investment and learning curve may seem daunting, many manufacturers find that robots quickly pay for themselves through increased productivity and quality. Before you know it, your human and robot employees will be working together like a well-oiled machine.

Interested in bringing robotic Assembly 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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