A Rise in Robotic Off-the-Shelf Solutions

The decision to incorporate robots or vision-enabled systems into your manufacturing process is a significant one for most companies, particularly smaller ones looking to take advantage of the productivity benefits that are promised. Traditionally, deploying robotics has been a time-consuming and costly endeavor, making them largely available only to larger companies with the capital, skills, and scale to justify the investment, leaving many smaller companies on the sidelines. Advances in robot technology has been steadily lowering barriers for years – they have become easier to program, more mobile, and more cost-effective and this has resulted in continuous growth in deployment numbers as well as in the number and types of applications they serve.

With the increase in proliferation of robots, focus is evolving to off-the-shelf solutions; essentially developing and delivering robotic systems that are purpose-built for a specific application or task. The result aims to further democratize robotics and increase adoption for those looking to add advanced capability to their manufacturing, while targeting common applications that stand to benefit most from technology. This provides the benefit of increased cost-effectiveness and reduced deployment time as out-of-box experience eliminates the need for complete customization with every installation.

From Light to Heavy Lifts
When considering applications that are ideal for robotics, those that can reduce risk to humans inevitably come to the top – dealing with hazardous substances, repetitive lifting, and physical exertion, and/or dangerous work environments. Alongside these, there are also applications that are repetitive in nature but are prone to human error or those where a sufficient human workforce simply isn’t available to meet the manufacturing or production demands. So which applications are good candidates for an off-the-shelf robotics solution?

Bin picking has long been a manual task performed by humans. Whether in food packaging, shipping and logistics, manufacturing, or another industry, parts and components routinely need to be picked, assembled, packed or sorted. Off-the-shelf solutions for bin picking are quickly making their way onto the scene, enabling consistent, repetitive accuracy using robotics coupled with grippers designed specifically for the task at hand.

Palletizing and depalletizing of large, bulky and heavy items is physically exhausting and increases worker risk of injury. Solutions are readily available for automation of palletizing and depalletizing tasks and can also be found in collaborative configurations to perform the heavy-lifting and positioning in place of human labor. Whether packing or unpacking cases, cartons, boxes, trays or bags, systems are suited for warehousing, food preparation and manufacturing, automotive assembly, and other applications where strenuous, repetitive lifting and moving are found.

Safer, More Efficient Painting and Dispensing
Elsewhere, consistency in applying paint and finishes helps to ensure brand value and reputation. It takes time and human performance can vary across projects and even within a given project. In addition, finishing products produce fumes and gases that are harmful and require special protective equipment. Long common in automotive, robotic painting solutions are available from multiple manufacturers for well-defined painting tasks. Additionally, systems paired with vision and navigation are being introduced to facilitate automated painting of road striping, building interiors, and other areas that traditionally present risk to humans and would take considerable time if done manually. Robotic systems also make more efficient use of materials, helping to control cost and limit waste.

Dispensing systems are another area where automation in the form of robotics is seeing an increase in the availability of turnkey solutions. These are becoming common for fluid and adhesive dispensing in pharmaceutical, manufacturing, lubrication, and sub-assembly process applications. They ensure that repetitive dispensing is done with consistency and without error, helping to produce high-quality products in less time and with minimal waste.

Beyond these examples there are many applications where robotic systems are being developed as off-the-shelf solutions including for common inspection tasks. As industry continues to adopt robotics and vision, the availability of solutions and options should increase along with their cost-effectiveness and the number of addressable market segments they serve. If you find yourself with a consistently repetitive task in your process, or one where consistency can be impacted by fatigue, distraction or other human factors, the time may be right to look into options for automation that are off-the-shelf and readily available.