Industrial robot maintenance: An ultimate guide

April 30, 2024
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Why industrial robot maintenance is so important

Regular maintenance keeps your robots running efficiently and prevents costly downtime. Without it, robots can break down, malfunction, or perform below their potential, reducing productivity and profitability.

So, all in all, unless you want that robot to turn into an expensive metal paperweight after a short while, you’d better start rolling up your sleeves

Benefits of regular robot maintenance

Here are the benefits of regular robot maintenance: 

  • Increased uptime. With routine inspections and servicing, you can catch small issues before they become big problems. Your robots will experience less unplanned downtime, so they can keep working longer.
  • Much better performance with (almost) no dropoff. When all components are in working order and properly calibrated, robots can achieve maximum speed and accuracy. 
  • You’ll save money in the long run. Reactive maintenance, where you only service robots when they break down, costs significantly more than preventive maintenance. Parts and labor expenses are lower when you perform regular tune-ups. Robots that receive preventive maintenance also have a longer useful life, so you can delay or avoid costly replacements.
  • Overall safer operations. Well-maintained robots are safer for workers and the equipment around them. Their components and programming stay within proper specifications, so they are less likely to malfunction in a way that could cause injury or damage. Safety mechanisms and sensors keep working properly to avoid collisions and other nasty incidents.
  • Reduced tendency for errors. With all parts in good working order, industrial robots make fewer mistakes. Their end-effectors grasp and manipulate materials accurately. Software and hardware perform reliably to carry out programmed tasks precisely as intended. 

How often should you maintain robots?

  • Every week. You should perform basic weekly inspections of your industrial robots to catch any issues early on. Check that all cables and hoses are securely connected and undamaged. Inspect the robot arm and end-effector for any signs of wear or damage. 
  • Monthly maintenance. Once a month, do a more thorough check of your robot. Re-tighten any loose screws or bolts. Check and recalibrate sensors to make sure that it has accurate positioning and movement. Test the robot's braking system to make sure it's working properly. Inspect the power supply for any signs of overheating or damage. Vacuum dust and debris from inside the robot cabinet and off its components.
  • Quarterly service. Every 3-4 months, have a certified robot technician perform in-depth maintenance on your industrial robot. They can check and reprogram control units if needed. Have them test all motors, gears, and other moving parts to catch any issues early. They should also check that safety mechanisms like limit switches are functioning properly. It's a good idea to schedule routine part replacements during quarterly service to minimize downtime.
  • Yearly overhaul. Once a year, have a major overhaul done on your robot (again, by a certified technician). They will fully disassemble the robot, clean and inspect all components, then reassemble and test it to like-new condition. This helps significantly reduce unplanned downtime from part failures. It also helps guarantee maximum accuracy, performance, and safety for the coming year.

The industrial robot maintenance checklist

You may be scratching your head and thinking, “So, what do I exactly need to do to maintain my robot?” 

Don’t worry! Just follow this checklist: 

  • Inspect and lubricate joints. The robot’s joints and gears need to move freely to function properly. Inspect each joint for signs of wear or damage and lubricate as needed with the recommended grease or oil. Tighten any loose nuts or bolts.
  • Test safety mechanisms. Make sure emergency stops, fencing, and other safety mechanisms are functioning as intended. Press the emergency stop button to certify that the robot comes to an immediate halt. Test pressure-sensitive safety mats or floor stickers. Repair or replace any faulty parts.
  • Check for damage or leaks. Inspect the robot for any dents, dings, or leaks that could impact performance or safety. Look for hydraulic fluid leaks or damage to wires and hoses. Repair or replace damaged parts as needed.
  • Clean and inspect sensors. Wipe down the robot’s sensors, cameras, and scanners to remove built-up dirt or debris. Ensure sensors are securely fastened and cables are intact. Test that sensors are functioning accurately. Replace any faulty sensors.
  • Test the motors and controls. Put the robot through a full series of motions and cycles to ensure all motors, drives, and controls are responsive and working properly. Check that the robot is moving smoothly and accurately. Repair or replace any underperforming components.
  • Update software and firmware. If available for your robot model, install the latest software and firmware updates. Updates often contain important security patches, new features, and improved performance. Back up any robot programming or configurations before updating.
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Tools that make robot maintenance easier

Now, that doesn’t mean you’re supposed to do most of this by hand. There are plenty of tools that can help you make it through our checklist without breaking (much of a) sweat. 

Let’s check them out: 

  • Diagnostic software. Diagnostic software is designed specifically for industrial robots and makes troubleshooting issues much more efficient. These programs can run tests to identify problems, provide alerts for potential failures before they happen, and give you a detailed analysis of your robot’s performance and health. 
  • Remote monitoring. Remote monitoring allows you to keep an eye on your robots from anywhere. Sensors in the robot and connected tools track key metrics like temperature, vibration, load, and speed. The data is uploaded to the cloud where you can monitor performance in real-time and receive alerts if anything is amiss. 
  • Exoskeletons and lifts. Performing maintenance on industrial robots often requires contorting into uncomfortable positions and handling heavy components like motors, gears, and tools. Exoskeletons and mechanical lifts are designed to reduce strain and make the work easier. Exoskeletons fit over a person’s body to provide arm support and extra strength.
  • Augmented reality. Augmented reality (AR) overlays digital information onto the real-world environment. For robot maintenance, AR glasses or headsets can display 3D diagrams, video tutorials, sensor data, and more while you're working on a robot. 
  • Collaborative robots. These powerful robots often feature built-in safety features. This simplifies maintenance procedures compared to traditional industrial robots with more complex safety protocols.

Common robot maintenance challenges (and how to overcome them)

When it comes to industrial robot maintenance, there are a few common issues that often pop up. 

Let’s take a look at them, and how to overcome them: 

  • Lubrication problems. Robots have many moving parts, like joints and actuators, that require proper lubrication to function smoothly. If lubricants start to break down or dry up, robots can experience friction, noise, overheating, and loss of motion. To prevent this, inspect all lubrication points during routine maintenance and reapply grease or oil as needed according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.
  • Loose or damaged wiring. As robots move and manipulate, wiring and cables are prone to becoming loose, frayed, or even severed over time. Look for any visible damage to wiring during inspections and test all connections to ensure signals are being transmitted properly. Make sure to power down the robot completely before performing any wiring repairs or replacement! 
  • Buildup of dirt and debris. When robots operate in industrial environments, dirt, dust, and other particulates can collect on components like motors, gears, sensors, and tooling attachments. This buildup can impact performance, mobility, and tool changes. Wipe down the entire robot with a damp cloth to remove surface dirt and use compressed air to blow out any debris collected inside joints and motors. For stubborn, caked-on messes, you may need to scrub components manually.
  • Faulty or failing components. With frequent use over many hours of operation, some robot parts like motors, controllers, sensors, and tooling can start to malfunction or fail completely. When issues arise that you can’t resolve through basic maintenance, it’s best to contact the robot manufacturer or a certified repair technician to inspect, test, and replace any faulty components. 

Summing up

Keeping your babies in 10/10 shape with regular robot maintenance is crucial for maximizing uptime and avoiding costly breakdowns. 

So, treat your robot fleet right by sticking to the recommended maintenance intervals, following a checklist, and utilizing specialized tools that make the job easier! 

Next steps

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