What are robotic work cells?

July 3, 2024
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Explaining robotic work cells 

Think of a robotic work cell as essentially a mini-factory in your facility.

It's a dedicated workspace where a robot, along with its tools and equipment, operates independently to carry out a job or set of jobs. 

Components of a robotic work cell

A typical robotic work cell is comprised of several important components working together harmoniously:

  • The bot: The central figure of the work cell, the robot is chosen based on the specific tasks it needs to perform. This could be a six-axis articulated robot, a SCARA robot, or a collaborative robot (cobot) — it all depends on what you need. 
  • End-effector: The end-effector, or end-of-arm tooling, is the tool attached to the robot's arm. It can be a gripper, welder, dispenser, or any other tool necessary for the task at hand. (Pun intended)
  • Controller: The controller is what governs the robot's movements and coordinates its actions with other components in the work cell.
  • Safety features: These include light curtains, safety scanners, emergency stop buttons, and other protective measures — both for workers and for equipment. 
  • Part feeding and positioning systems: These systems help you make sure that the parts being worked on are presented to the robot in the correct orientation and position for optimal processing.
  • Additional equipment: Depending on the application, the work cell may also include conveyors, vision systems, and other specialized tools or equipment.

Types of robotic work cells

Robotic work cells come in various configurations for different applications: 

  • Single-station work cells: These cells are designed for a single operation, such as welding, painting, or assembly. They’re typically smaller and less complex than multi-station cells.
  • Multi-station work cells: These cells combine multiple operations within a single enclosure. They’re often seen in complex assembly tasks or processes that require several steps.
  • Collaborative work cells: These cells are designed to allow humans and robots to work together safely in a shared workspace. They typically feature cobots with advanced safety features like force limiting and collision detection.
  • Mobile work cells: These cells are mounted on mobile platforms, allowing them to move between different workstations. 
  • Custom work cells: These are designed and built to meet the specific needs of a particular application or production process.
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Major applications of robotic work cells

Robotic work cells are incredibly versatile and can be applied to a wide range of industries and tasks. 

Here are some of the environments and tasks where they excel: 

  • Material handling: Work cells can automate the loading and unloading of parts, the transfer of materials between workstations, and palletizing operations.
  • Welding: Robots excel at welding tasks, providing consistent, high-quality welds while cutting down the risk of worker exposure to hazardous fumes and sparks.
  • Assembly: Work cells can assemble intricate components very fast (and precisely), improving product quality and reducing assembly time.
  • Painting and coating: Robots can apply paint, coatings, and other finishes uniformly and consistently.
  • Inspection and quality control: Equipped with vision systems, robots can perform inspections to identify flaws. 
  • Machine tending: Work cells can be used to load and unload parts from CNC machines, injection molding machines, and other automated equipment.

Designing and setting up robotic work cells 

Designing and setting up a robotic work cell requires careful planning and consideration to achieve optimal performance and safety.

  • Analyze the task at hand: Begin by thoroughly analyzing the task or process you want to automate. Pinpoint the specific requirements, such as payload, reach, speed, and accuracy.
  • Find the right robot: Choose the right robot for the job based on your task analysis. Think about factors such as payload capacity, reach, degrees of freedom, and speed.
  • Choose the right end-effector: Select the appropriate end-effector or tool for the job. This could be a gripper, welder, dispenser, or any other tool necessary for the application.
  • Layout design: Design the layout of the work cell to optimize workflow and ergonomics. Consider factors such as part flow, access for maintenance, and safety considerations.
  • Think about safety: Incorporate safety features like light curtains, safety scanners, and emergency stop buttons to ensure worker safety.
  • Program, iterate, reprogram: Program the robot to perform the desired tasks and simulate the work cell operation to identify and address any potential issues before deployment.
  • Commissioning (and more testing): Once the work cell is installed, commission and thoroughly test it to ensure it meets all performance and safety requirements.

Safety matters 

Safety is priority #1 in any robotic application, and work cells are no exception:

  • Risk assessment: Do a thorough risk assessment to identify potential hazards associated with the robot and the work cell environment.
  • Safety fencing: Install appropriate safety fencing or guarding to prevent unauthorized access to the work cell and protect workers from the robot's moving parts.
  • Safety sensors: Put in safety sensors like light curtains, safety scanners, or pressure-sensitive mats to detect intrusions and trigger emergency stops.
  • Emergency stop buttons: Make sure that emergency stop buttons are easily accessible and marked clearly so that workers can stop the robot quickly in case of an emergency.
  • Operator training: Train operators on the safe operation of the robot and the work cell, including emergency procedures and safety protocols.
  • Regular maintenance: Perform regular inspections and maintenance of the work cell to make sure that all safety features are functioning properly.

Benefits of using robotic work cells

Robotic work cells offer a multitude of advantages that can significantly enhance your manufacturing operations and bottom line.

They are: 

  • Much higher productivity and throughput: By automating repetitive tasks, work cells enable faster cycle times, higher output, and round-the-clock operation, leading to increased productivity and reduced lead times.
  • Quality and consistency gains: Robots perform tasks with unwavering precision and consistency, reducing errors and defects and ensuring high-quality products every time.
  • Workers will be safer: Work cells isolate hazardous tasks, minimizing the risk of workplace injuries and creating a safer environment for employees.
  • Slash labor costs: By automating labor-intensive tasks, work cells can lower labor costs and free up human workers to focus on more complex and value-added activities.
  • More flexible and scalable: Work cells can be reconfigured or expanded to accommodate changing production needs, offering adaptability and scalability as your business grows.
  • Better floor space usage: Designed to be compact and efficient, work cells maximize floor space utilization, allowing you to optimize your production layout and potentially reduce facility costs.

Challenges in implementing robotic work cells

Yes, robotic work cells are great, but they also have some drawbacks you can’t turn your back on.

Let’s take a look: 

  • You’ll have to invest plenty of cash: The upfront cost of acquiring and integrating a robotic work cell can be substantial, including the cost of the robot, tooling, software, and installation.
  • Technical expertise: Setting up and programming a work cell requires specialized knowledge and expertise, which may necessitate hiring or training additional staff. This can be offset by choosing a cutting-edge robot with a teaching pendant or a no-code framework, though. 
  • Integration with existing systems: Integrating a work cell into an existing production line can be complex, requiring careful planning and coordination to ensure compatibility and smooth operation.
  • With change comes management: Introducing robotic automation can disrupt established workflows and require employees to adapt to new processes and technologies, potentially leading to resistance or training challenges.
  • Maintenance and upkeep: Regular maintenance is essential to keep the work cell operating at peak performance. This can involve additional costs and resources.

In summary

Robotic work cells are a powerful solution for automating tasks, improving productivity, and enhancing workplace safety. 

But implementing them is not as easy as going on Amazon and saying, “I want that one!”

You’ll have to think long and hard about things like your budget, chosen applications, shop floor characteristics, and more in order to implement automation — and start scaling intelligently. 

Next steps

Optimize your operations with RO1 by Standard Bots, the innovative six-axis robotic arm designed to enhance efficiency for businesses across industries with:

Budget-friendly automation: Access cutting-edge robotics technology at roughly half of the price of comparable alternatives.

Winning performance: RO1's remarkable 18 kg payload capacity and rapid operation surpasses similar robots, ensuring precision and quality in every task.

Growth-ready intelligence: Leveraging advanced AI comparable to GPT-4, RO1 continually evolves to match your operations, all within an intuitive, code-free platform.

Safety-conscious design: RO1 prioritizes safety through state-of-the-art vision and sensor technology, enabling total collaboration with your team.

Discover the power of RO1 with a 30-day risk-free trial. Get in touch to schedule a demo today.

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