Using Automation to Relieve Physical Strain in Workers

You may not be aware of the tedious jobs that are straining workers on the production line. In automotive production or a related industry, something like an O-ring that needs stretched over a seal on a piston, pump housing or valve can be a liability. The force required to place it by hand during an eight-hour shift day after day strains ligaments and muscles. The awkward hand positioning and the repetitive motion often results in repetitive strain injury (RSI), with tendinitis being the most common ailment. A worker's downtime is costly.

Robots are known for handling the repetitive tough jobs that cause strains and injuries so read on to learn how your company can automate and reduce incidents of RSI.

Ergonomic facts from OSHA show that musculo-skeletal disorders account for 35% of all workplace injuries. Almost 1.8 million workers each year suffer from ergonomic injuries.

The use of robots in industrial automation reduces these types of injuries and saves on related insurance and medical costs. An approach to working smarter, not harder, is featured in the editorial Robotics and Automated Assembly Relieve Repetitive Strain Injury in Workers.

Methods covered include the use of a robotic glove or human grasp assist. Collaborative robots are becoming widely used with robots excelling in one area and people in another. Robots do the tasks that have to repeat while the person does the task that requires thought and manipulation or ingenuity.

Robots are being more widely used in the aerospace industry to, in part, reduce the physical strains on workers. Riveting is one specific area, as mentioned in the write-up Aerospace Manufacturing on Board with Robots.

Traditionally, the riveting process is done manually with mechanics positioned on both sides of the fuselage, performing repetitive movements that place considerable strain and impact stress on their shoulders, arms and hands. In a costly and time-consuming process, the massive fuselage must be rotated so mechanics can ergonomically access the riveting locations.

Robots, however, can work at any angle. Workers begin the build by loading and assembling the floor beams and frames, and then synchronous robots work on the fuselage panels. Working from both sides of the fuselage, KUKA robots work in pairs to concurrently drill and countersink holes, insert fasteners, and complete the riveting.

It may make sense to prevent worker strain in heavy industries like automotive and aerospace assembly. Other industries, like the traditionally labor-intensive garment manufacturing, should design products for automated production as early in the concept stage as possible.

RIA member and Certified Robot Integrator Lab2Fab or L2F, in Fremont, California, uses an "agile methodology" that comes from Silicon Valley. L2F will work with its clients to develop products from scratch as noted in the article Design Your Product for Producability, Design for Automation.

Products may be well designed by engineers with an eye toward ergonomics, electrical systems, and the working mechanics, but deciding how to produce with automated systems often comes later in the process. This makes choosing the best automated solutions more challenging as well as protecting workers during the assembly process.

Get the automation tips and trends to make your company more efficient. Free videos and links to trainings and timely articles are available through A3.