There is much that must be evaluated prior to implementing industrial robots into a facility. There will always be proponents and opponents to such decision making. However, regardless of the direction taken, technology will continue to have an integral part to play in the future of manufacturing innovation. In order to remain competitive in the marketplace today, production capabilities, cost, quality, and safety must all be taken into consideration when operating on the cutting edge of industry.
Robotic Automation Pros and Cons
Overall, robots do perform a better quality of work and are more efficient than their human counterparts, thus providing leaner manufacturing. Production is not only continuous but is also increased within a short amount of time. Unless there is a system failure there are zero interruptions. Robots do not need breaks, shift changes, or time off. As a result, cycle times are reduced while throughput is maximized, thus achieving higher profitability with a lower cost per product. On the downside though, breakdowns do occur and can be lengthy because of cost and the need for specific expertise. A lot of engineering goes into the design of programs, sensors, cameras, and motors so flaws can be common. To add to this, robots (unlike people) are not easily replaced or bypassed during such circumstances.
Robots are consistent, much more precise, and are very versatile. They are used to perform various types of operations including more difficult, complicated and dangerous tasks. This, in turn, leads to fewer injuries caused by repetitive movements, heavy lifting, extreme heat or cold, poor air quality, and toxic or hazardous materials. However, even though injuries may be reduced, there are new concerns regarding safety that must be addressed when dealing with robots.
KERAMIDA Case Study: Safety Compliance During Manufacturing Facility Robotic Automation
KERAMIDA recently assisted a client with the implementation of several robotic arms at their manufacturing facility. The project included the installation of new robotics for various production processes never previously performed at the site, as well as, converting portions of existing production to robotic automation. As a result, KERAMIDA quickly determined that new hazards would present themselves, therefore, resulting in the following items that required attention.
Safety During Installation and Implementation
Safe install and implementation of robots into the organization was critical. The design, transportation of equipment, electrical work, metalworking, and programming involved required coordinated efforts from various parties. Adequate training was required for programming of the robots as well as on the responsibilities involving new operations.
Risk Assessments and Safety Measures
Risk assessments or job safety analyses were performed to identify potential hazards and determine the safest way to operate on and around the robots. Specific consideration was given to new operations, preventative maintenance, troubleshooting, and repairs. Safety measures derived from such risk assessments included machine guarding, electrical/LOTO and alternative protection, personal protective equipment (PPE), ergonomics, and fall protection.
Guarding is Critical
Specialized guarding was necessary to protect people from moving parts. The specific types of guarding that were added included hard guarding and light curtains. The installation and understanding of how these guards function was critical to the safety of people working with and near the robots. Training on effective guarding was a requirement for everyone.
Lock Out/Tag Out (LOTO) Procedures and Alternative Protection Measures (APMs)
Due to the many intricacies involving the functions of the various robots' lock out/tag out (LOTO) procedures, alternative protection measures (APMs) were written to effectively isolate and render hazardous energy sources inoperative. Specific expertise in this area was an absolute must. LOTO and APMs are performed to prevent accidental start-up of machines while workers are in direct contact with them. Various robotic operations, preventative maintenance tasks, troubleshooting, and repairs were specifically evaluated. Once the procedures were completed they were posted at all affected locations for reference purposes. Training was required for both the authorized and affected LOTO procedures as well as on APMs.
Safety Strategies to Prevent Injury
The types of injuries that can occur from a robot are generally very serious and therefore must be protected against. With this said, technical expertise must continually be enhanced so that potential workplace hazards can be immediately identified and addressed. Strategies must be put in place to maintain safe machine control and maintenance procedures. It is important to remember that safety must always be a priority.
Robotic technology is the future of manufacturing.
In summary, robots can be very beneficial to a company, but at the same time provide some challenges. High cost, lack of available expertise, and unsafe conditions are three of the main hurdles facilities face when looking to implement robotic automation. If these areas can effectively be addressed then there is no limit to what this type of technology can offer. Although robotic technology was once looked at with skepticism, it is now widely accepted among engineers, facilities management, safety, and other technical professionals to be the future of manufacturing.