Automation has been a crucial part of manufacturing for a few decades. Since the advent of robotics, large machines are doing extensive and repetitive work tasks such as welding and lathing at pace that is faster than skilled workers and keeps them safe. However, up until recently, the nature of industrial robots has been limited to large-scale monotonous operations that need to be done at scale. Furthermore, these machines are very expensive to install and operate, thus affordable to only larger businesses. However, now there are new robots that can perform more advanced functions such as inventory management. Combined with a mobile warehouse management system, these collaborative systems present an opportunity for smaller factories to improve their efficiency.
Working with, not replacing, humans
Collaborative robotics is a relatively new phenomenon, according to Global Manufacturing. What has shifted is the dexterity of these machines. Because they were limited in function, they could only do large scale operations that require very few precise movements. Now, thanks to various technological advancements, robots are able to move with much more precision than before. As a result, they are capable of completing tasks alone that once required human support or assistance.
However, they aren't working alone, unlike their welding predecessors. Instead, they are often operating in different parts of the factory and warehouse, moving around on their own with sensors that are designed to avoid accidental collisions with humans. That means they can perform tasks that were previously limited to humans. Often, what workers can do is teach the robots how to complete certain tasks by example, and let the artificial intelligence learn it from there. They are free from their cages, as the Robotic Industries Association notes, and are able to work in a manner that is more suited to the needs of the business.
Flexibility that goes places
For many small businesses, having an automated welder or other single-armed unit, while helpful in moving more efficiently, was often an expensive investment. As a consequence, they tend to avoid purchasing them. However, one of the great things associated with the new collaborative robotics platforms are that they are much more affordable than people imagine. Inc. Magazine notes that are large number of these machines are available at prices as low as $20,000. That makes it an affordable option for many midmarket and some small manufacturers.
In addition, the flexibility of these robots is that, unlike their predecessors, they can serve multiple roles in the factory. Combined with mobile WMS, they can perform picking, packing and moving goods around for inventory and fulfillment purposes. Some have two arms, which allow them to perform multifaceted precision roles such as assembling silicon chips. That can help increase productivity dramatically, since these processes take a lot of time to complete with human hands. In addition, they have up to 15 axes of mobile direction, which increase the ability to complete complicated tasks in manners that even regular workers aren't capable of. Completing such tasks such as warehouse management is simplified, allowing workers to pursue other important tasks.
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