Thanks to the developments in robotics and the transition of mechanic components to electronic components and processors, we are witnesses of the birth of a new era in industrial automation, as part of the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution or Industry 4.0: of collaborative robots or cobots.
The use of robots, 3D printers, Business Intelligent Applications, Internet of Things, virtual reality and augmented reality, and interoperability are fundamental elements in big companies, on a continuous dispute for being competitive.
The result of this set of factors is the “smart factory.” Now is the moment of interconnecting robots with the rest of the organization, to obtain the maximum performance.
Collaborative robots or cobots.
A clear example of this fourth revolution is the integration of a collaborative robot (cobot) to manufacturing processes, to facilitate the loading and unloading components, containers movement and the movement of raw material or finished product.
The advantage of this technology is that it is easy to learn, program and integrate into processes. In Continental Powertrain Aero Tech, has been implemented from 2017 to date about 45 collaborative robots. Its applications are many and very varied:
1. Loading and unloading components
2. Palletizing and depalletizing
3. Detection of components and parts using force sensors
4. Validation of components and labels incorporating a vision system
5. Elimination of potential ergonomics problems when incorporating a cobot in repetitive task stations
6. Avoid quality problems by increasing accuracy
Knowledge in the use of these applications during these two years have evolved the simple “pick&place” at automatic recognition through the use of vision systems and force sensors: “eyes and touch have been incorporated into the little arm,” in words of a member of the cobots technical team. A huge range of movements can be recreated through programming. This development allows nimbly answering the challenges presented on processes.
To safely implement a cobot, criteria have been defined:
1. That it is profitable, a business case with ROI projection must be presented
2. Operational feasibility, which is achieved by simulating the activity in 3D, in the integration laboratory.
3. Risk analysis, which includes product, quality, and occupational health approaches.
A current challenge is a dizzying way of how technology is evolving. This forces the team to continuously learn and be updated with the company’s support: “we blink and there are two new versions.”
According to Continental’s personality, to keep updated, a big dose of intellectual curiosity is required, vision, flexibility, and nimbleness.
These skills allowed the local team of cobots integration obtaining the award as the best implementation team, granted by the business unit. In one year, the team increased its total count of cobots implementation by 200 %! The team showed in a routine form is their capability to internally implement automation through simplicity, low-cost intelligence, and techniques to keep restrictive investment return requirements established by the administration team of the BU.
Not only technical competencies have been developed, but interaction with collaborators from the production area has also been established, who contribute with ideas to add higher value to the business through the use of technology.