What are the pros and cons of Cylindrical robots?

October 25, 2023
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Image source: 'Cylindrical Robots: Your Guide to the Compact Automation Solution' by Catherine Bernier. Retrieved from https://howtorobot.com/expert-insight/cylindrical-robots.

Pro: Cost-effectiveness

One of the primary considerations when integrating robotics into any industrial setting is the budget. A robot should not only be affordable to acquire but also economical to maintain and operate. 

Cylindrical robots usually consist of fewer parts compared to their more complex counterparts like Articulated or SCARA robots. This straightforward construction means manufacturers spend less on components. These savings often get passed down to the buyer, making the initial purchase less taxing on the wallet.

Their simpler design also means less maintenance fees. Unlike articulated robots that have multiple axes and joints that need regular lubrication and check-ups, a Cylindrical robot usually operates on a two-rotational and one-linear axis system, cutting down on the points of failure.

While it might not be the first thing that comes to mind, the energy consumption of a robot is a part of its ongoing operational costs. Cylindrical robots, due to their limited range of motion and fewer servo motors, often consume less power compared to other types. Over time, this can translate to considerable savings on electricity bills.

How to leverage cost-effectiveness

  • Before making a purchase, do a comprehensive TCO (“Total Cost of Ownership”)  analysis. This should include not just the initial cost but also projected maintenance expenses, energy consumption, and even the cost of training staff to operate the robot.
  • If your operation requires multiple robots, consider a bulk purchase. Manufacturers often offer volume discounts, and since Cylindrical robots are already cost-effective, this can lead to significant savings.
  • One hidden cost of robotic systems is employee training. Given the simpler control systems of Cylindrical robots, the training is generally less extensive, and thus cheaper. Train your team in-house to handle routine maintenance tasks like recalibration or software updates to cut down on service costs.

Pro: Compact design

In industrial environments where every square foot counts, the footprint of your machinery can make or break operational efficiency. Cylindrical robots offer a compact design that's particularly advantageous for businesses looking to make the most out of limited space. 

With its vertical orientation, this type of robot minimizes its footprint, allowing you to fit it into tighter areas. This is especially useful in settings where machines and workstations are closely packed, such as assembly lines or small-scale manufacturing units.

Despite their small footprint, Cylindrical robots have a decent vertical reach. They can lift items up and down within a cylindrical radius, and interact with multiple layers or shelves without needing additional floor space. This makes them ideal for tasks like stacking or sorting where vertical space can be used more efficiently.

Unlike larger robots that might require you to rearrange your entire setup, you can usually place a Cylindrical robot into your current layout with minimal changes.

How to maximize space utilization

  • Before you bring in a Cylindrical robot, map out its intended placement and ensure it doesn't interfere with other equipment or workstations. You can use CAD software to model its interaction within the existing setup.
  • Use the robot's vertical reach for tasks that require stacking or multi-layer storage. This will allow you to better utilize available vertical space, which often goes underused.
  • Assess the workflow to identify bottlenecks or areas where the robot’s compact size can eliminate inefficiencies. For instance, placing the robot close to a conveyor belt for quick pick and place tasks can speed up the entire operation.

Pro: Versatility

The term "versatility" in the context of Cylindrical robots might sound counterintuitive, especially since they have a limited range of motion. But, within their operational envelope, these robots are highly versatile. 

They are not restricted to one type of industry or application. They are often found in settings ranging from manufacturing and assembly lines to medical laboratories and even retail environments. Their straightforward design makes them a plug-and-play option for various tasks, such as pick and place, machine tending, and basic assembly.

They are also designed to withstand various environmental conditions, such as high temperatures, moisture, or the presence of corrosive materials. This makes them suitable for deployment in a range of settings, from cleanrooms to harsh industrial environments.

Also, the simpler construction of Cylindrical robots often allows for easier upgrades or retrofitting. This means you can extend the robot's lifespan and adapt it to new tasks as your needs evolve.

How to leverage versatility

  • Use the robot's versatile capabilities to handle different tasks within the same operational setting. For example, the same Cylindrical robot could be used for both machine tending and pick and place tasks in a production line.
  • Take advantage of the robot's adaptability by using custom end-effectors or grippers. 
  • If your workspace has specific environmental conditions, consult with manufacturers about customizing the robot’s materials or coatings to ensure longevity.
  • Since these robots can be easily upgraded, plan for modular updates to the system. This will allow you to keep up with technological advancements without a complete overhaul.
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Image source: 'About Cylindrical robots'. Retrieved from https://www.mwes.com/types-of-industrial-robots/cylindrical-robots/.

Pro: Ease of use and programming

Cylindrical robots often come with user-friendly control panels and software interfaces. It is designed to be easily understood even by those who may not have advanced programming skills. This is particularly beneficial in small to medium-sized enterprises where specialized robotic programmers might not be on staff.

More importantly, due to their limited range of motion—typically just two rotational axes and one linear—programming a Cylindrical robot's path is often simpler compared to more complex robot types. 

Given their simpler controls and user-friendly interfaces, training employees to operate Cylindrical robots is generally quicker and less resource-intensive. This can translate to lower costs, not just in terms of the training itself but also in reduced downtime during the training period.

How to leverage its ease of use

  • Consider conducting in-house training sessions. Use training modules provided by the manufacturer, or develop your own tailored to your specific applications.
  • Carry out pilot tests to identify any user-related challenges. This will give your operators a chance to get accustomed to the controls in a low-pressure setting.
  • Because of the ease of programming, it's possible to train employees from different departments to operate the robot. This provides flexibility in staffing and ensures that you're never caught off guard by sudden personnel changes.

Con: Limited range of motion

As we have mentioned, Cylindrical robots operate within a limited work envelope, which can be a disadvantage when compared to the broader range of motion offered by articulated or SCARA robots. This limited functionality confines them to specific types of tasks and can hinder their adaptability in more complex applications that require reaching around obstacles.

The limited range of motion often translates to longer cycle times for tasks that require multiple steps. Since the robot cannot move as freely as more complex types, it may need to perform additional maneuvers to complete a task, leading to inefficiencies in the production process.

How to mitigate the disadvantage

  • Match the robot's capabilities with the tasks you assign it. Use Cylindrical robots for jobs that are well-suited to their range of motion, such as straightforward pick and place tasks.
  • In scenarios where a range of tasks is required, consider using Cylindrical robots for their ideal functions and employing more complex robots for tasks that are outside the Cylindrical robot's range.
  • Sometimes, a slight alteration in the production process can make it more accommodating for robots with limited mobility. For example, if parts can be presented to the robot in its reachable radius, you can overcome some of the limitations.

Con: Speed constraints

Cylindrical robots, by design, tend to have slower operational speeds compared to some other robot types, like delta robots. Their two rotational and one linear axis system, while simple and reliable, does not allow for rapid movements, especially over longer distances.

So, for industries or applications where high-speed operations are a must, such as high-volume packaging or sorting, Cylindrical robots might not be the most efficient choice. Their slower movement speeds can become a bottleneck, especially in continuous production environments.

How to address speed constraints

  • Break down tasks into simpler components, allowing the robot to focus on specific segments where its speed constraints won't be as noticeable. For instance, use the Cylindrical robot for initial assembly and employ faster robots for final packaging.
  • Consider using multiple Cylindrical robots together to handle different parts of a task simultaneously. This can help in maintaining production rates even with the speed limitations.
  • Ensure that you don't overload them with tasks that require speeds beyond their capabilities.

Con: Dependency on external systems

Cylindrical robots, especially those tailored for specific applications, might require additional external components. This could range from specialized sensors for precision tasks to supplementary software systems for advanced operations.

The need for these external systems can complicate the integration process, especially when it comes to software compatibility or calibrating the robot to work seamlessly with external devices.

While the initial cost of a Cylindrical robot might be lower than other robot types, the addition of required external systems can drive up operational expenses. This includes not just the cost of the systems themselves but also potential costs associated with maintenance, troubleshooting, and updates.

How to navigate external dependency

  • Work closely with the robot manufacturer or vendor. They can offer insights on what additional systems are necessary and might even provide integrated solutions that reduce the need for third-party components.
  • Evaluate the complete system requirements, factoring in any external components you might need. 
  • Conduct periodic reviews of the entire robotic system, including external components. This helps in identifying potential issues early on and ensures that all systems are updated and working harmoniously.

Con: Maintenance concerns

Given their limited axes of movement, certain parts of Cylindrical robots, especially the rotational joints, might experience more frequent wear. Their constant rotation can lead to faster degradation of these components compared to parts that remain static.

Over time, and after prolonged use, Cylindrical robots might require recalibration to ensure they operate within the desired precision levels. This can be particularly true if they are involved in tasks requiring high accuracy, like pick and place operations in electronics assembly.

Cylindrical robots might also require periodic software updates to optimize performance, address bugs, or add new features. Neglecting these updates can lead to operational inefficiencies or compatibility issues, especially if they interact with other systems.

How to address maintenance concerns

  • Schedule routine inspections to identify wear and tear early on. This can extend the lifespan of parts and reduce the chances of unexpected downtimes.
  • When replacements are needed, opt for high-quality components, even if they come at a premium. In the long run, this can result in fewer replacements and more consistent performance.
  • Establish a set protocol for recalibration. Ensure that operators are trained to recognize signs that recalibration might be needed and know the steps to take.
  • Ensure that the robot's software is always up-to-date. Regularly check for updates from the manufacturer and implement them promptly to maintain optimal performance.

Conclusion

As the world of robotics continues to evolve, Cylindrical robots, with their unique blend of simplicity and utility, will undoubtedly remain a staple in various industries. 

The key lies in understanding both the strengths and weaknesses of Cylindrical robots, allowing for informed decisions that drive operational efficiency and offer a genuine return on investment.

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