Robotization processes, understood as processes which automate repetitive activities and progressively replace human work, have taken on new momentum with Industry 4.0. Although there are debates about the social impact generated by this process, the benefits deriving from use of this technology are innumerable: increased productivity, precision and accuracy of the task, drastic reduction of the impact of absenteeism in production and, above all, the removal of people from dangerous and unhealthy areas.
In today’s industrial parks, most industrial robots are limited to articulated arms with specific tools at the end – claws, welds, glue applicators and gauges – with three-dimensional spatial motion control. The technological advances of recent years have led to the arrival of collaborative robots, which allow sharing the same environment with people.
The second most used type of industrial robot consists of self-guided vehicles, the famous AGVs (Automated Guided Vehicles), which move independently between pre-programmed points, using computer vision, lasers, radio waves, magnets or following lines or wires marked on the factory floor.
But robots aren’t just made of hardware
A type of robot which is increasingly gaining more use is the RPA (Robotic Process Automation). This is software that contains automatic routines to perform repetitive tasks which were previously performed by sysadmins. These range from repetitions of the workflow, such as macros in spreadsheets, to BI (Business Intelligence) systems that use Artificial Intelligence for automatic decision-making.
However, of all types of robots, which one is the best? Which should I choose? The answer is quite simple: it depends. The focus must always be on the solution to a question, where technology is a simple facilitator. A robot type or a combination of types is recommended for every need, and this is usually only a part of the complete solution. There are several technologies with increasing levels of complexity, including chatbots, filling in fields with OCR (Optical Character Recognition).
Taking as an example an employee who needs to move in narrow aisles between metal coils with temperatures above 300ºC to take temperature measurements, let’s think about what solutions we can develop to improve this scenario. First of all, let’s imagine the ergonomic discomfort due to the limited space and to the additional weight and heat generated by the use of thermal protection PPE, in addition to exposure to the risks of contact with the coils and to falling loads suspended from overhead cranes. A solution to this dangerous process would be the construction of AGVs passing through the coils. Each AGV has thermocouples to measure the temperature of the coils. Coil sequencing has the temperature measured by the Coil Spans Management System and is sent to the AGVs via Wi-Fi, which is also used to send the measurements taken by the AGVs to the Coil Spans Management System in real time.
In short, in this solution created for a large customer of ours in Brazil we have combined three pillars of Industry 4.0: Robotics, Internet of Things (IoT) and system integration.
Since the main objective of this activity is safety, the solution allows the employee to be removed from this dangerous situation and to be reallocated to other processes. Another advantage of automation is that with a greater number of operators their rotation is greater, thus reducing fatigue and increasing productivity and group satisfaction.
In addition, coil temperature measurement errors can decrease by 20% and measurement time by 80%, as well as increasing data reliability.
The use of robotics can satisfy many needs, increasing the added value of the solution if integrated with other technologies. The important thing is to design a project which de facto understands the requirements of the processes that need to be improved. From there, technology is an inevitable step, which must be well coordinated to get it right!