Assembly Robots: Speed Up Your Assembly Line Through Automation

15 October 2021
Assembly line robotics and automation in manufacturing
Catherine Bernier
Content Manager
,
Content for Cobot

Explore the benefits of automating assembly lines. Learn how to choose assembly robots, where to source them, and how to integrate them into your workflow.

Many products you use every day are made up of smaller components. These products require assembly to be functional. Traditionally, this process required human labor. Advances in robotic technology make assembly robots an option for manufacturers looking to optimize their production lines. 

A challenge for manufacturers new to automation is understanding when it makes sense to automate. Additionally, manufacturers often stand to benefit from huge returns on their investment in robotics. In this article, you will learn when it makes sense to automate your assembly process, where your returns could be made, and how to get started. 

In this article:

  • Which Industries Use Assembly Robots?
  • When to Automate the Assembly Process
  • How to Decide Which Assembly Robot to Use
  • Cost Considerations

Which Industries Use Assembly Robots?

assembly_PCB_robot

 

Assembled products are present in a broad range of industries. Because of this fact, assembly robots are utilized in many different industries. These robots can handle the assembly of small PCB components and heavy vehicle frames. Here are a few examples of industries that use assembly robots today:

  • Automotive
  • Medical
  • Electronics
  • Metals Company
  • Plastics Company
  • Food and Beverage Company

These are just a few examples. Any manufacturer that assembles components together could potentially use this technology. But what can be gained from automated assembly?

Advantages of Automating the Assembly Process

Companies often choose to automate the assembly process for a few reasons:

  • Increased Throughput

  • Safety and Ergonomics

  • Increased Repeatability

When to Automate the Assembly Process

For companies new to the automation process, the question of when can be a challenge. Capital projects always carry risks. Understanding when it’s right to automate can help you feel more secure in taking on a robot project. Companies tend to take on assembly automation in the following scenarios:

  • They require increased throughput
  • The task is dangerous or can lead to injury
  • They need to reduce overhead costs
  • They are experiencing inconsistent production quality

Throughput

Robots often easily outpace human labor. Assembly tasks are no exception to this rule. Manufacturers that assemble products often have high quotas to attain. Assembly robots are one way to achieve higher production volume. Manufacturers commonly run into bottlenecking issues. This is a situation where a specific part of a process slows down the overall productivity of the entire process. An example of this might be found in a bottling plant. On a particular line, a bottle must be filled, capped, and labeled. Say the capping process is manual and currently can only output 45 parts per minute (PPM). The rest of the line, however, could potentially perform at 120 PPM. Automating the capping process allows you to unlock that extra potential of the line. This leads to increased revenue for your facility. 

Safety

One reason companies automate is because assembly tasks can lead to injury. This is especially the case when the components are very large or tiny. Heavy components pose obvious safety risks. Operators can hurt themselves by moving large parts. Small parts pose a concern too. PCB assembly is a good example of the safety risks of small parts. Common ergonomic injuries include: 

  • Eyestrain
  • Muscle strain
  • Fume inhalation
  • Impingements

Assembly robots remove the risk of operator injury due to these tasks. Money can be saved by avoiding the downtime, medical costs, and fines associated with worksite injuries.

Cost Reduction

Assembly lines have many associated costs. The primary cost is that of labor. Depending on the country you are in this can fluctuate, but it is always a major factor in the cost of goods. There are also raw material costs, as well as some hidden costs. These hidden factors include training costs, reduced production from time off task, and healthcare costs in some instances. Fully automated assembly lines remove the labor and hidden costs because the robots don’t require salaries or benefits. This leads to a leaner and more efficient production line. Many manufacturers repurpose this human capital to harder to automate tasks where people can be more productive.

A robot has a high up-front cost and some maintenance costs throughout its lifetime. But in ideal scenarios, robot projects can achieve net ROI in 12-18 months. This is especially the case in standardized automation projects that have proven robotic solutions. Experimental or difficult automation projects run the risk of not achieving these ROI targets. It is important to discuss these concerns with your integrator to understand your risk.

Consistent Production Quality

Automated systems are more repeatable in their movements than people are. They can perform at such a high level due to their programming. Robots are designed to follow a set of instructions. When tasks are predictable and repetitive robots can excel. This attribute allows them to make more consistent products. This means fewer failures and fewer products not passing quality control checks. 

How to Decide Which Assembly Robot to Use

assembly-robots-applications

 

Different assembly tasks have different needs. These requirements will often determine which robot is selected. Thankfully, every robot type is capable of assembly. However, not every assembly task can be performed by each robot. Key factors that determine which robot should be used include:

  • Assembly complexity
  • Payload and reach
  • Speed

Complex assemblies that require flexibility are great choices for six-axis robots. This is due to their exceptional range of motion and ability to reach tough angles. Collaborative robots are an example of a six-axis robot that can be deployed near people.

High payload and/or large reach applications are often tough for most robot types. Variants like the Delta and SCARA are often smaller and less powerful robot types. These are better deployed in smaller applications. Understanding the payload and reach required to complete your task is critical. Mistakes here are costly.

The speed required to complete your task is another major factor. All robots have the capability to be fast. Some robot types are certainly in the upper echelon of the speed category. A delta robot is a perfect example of this. Due to their construction, they can achieve the highest speeds. They are also extremely responsive to changes in direction. These are great for low payload, high-speed applications. A poor choice for a very fast application would be a cobot. They are typically speed-limited for safety reasons. 

Having trouble deciding which robot is right for you? Our network of independent advisors can assist you in making the right choice. 

Cost Considerations

Finally, you must decide if the price is right. Costs for assembly robot systems can vary widely from the $10,000 USD range to well over $100,000 USD. Major factors include: 

  • Project complexity
  • Robot type, brand, and size
  • Safety requirements

More complex projects are always more costly. They might require multiple robots, vision systems, or integration with existing equipment. This means more hardware and labor to integrate the system. Cost ranges vary from brand to brand. Costs vary even more from one robot type to another. Additionally, costs will scale as the robot size increases. Large assembly tasks require bigger, more expensive equipment. Additional safety equipment is often forgotten about when estimating cost. Robots can be dangerous for humans. Safety equipment must be used to protect operators from these hazards. Safety costs include things like:

  • Safety cages
  • Light curtains
  • Safety scanners
  • Safety relays and interlocks
  • Dedicated safety PLCs

The best way to understand what costs you might face for your project is to talk to an expert. If you are looking for a robot solution we can help. Check out our quoting tools to get started. Provide details about your business and process and we can connect you with suppliers so you can begin receiving information about assembly solutions, price ranges, etc.