Why manufactuers are turning toward automation
MPN editor Laura Hughes reached out to Scott Marsic, senior product manager at Epson Robots to find out why manufacturers within the sector are increasingly turning towards automation.
Please can you tell us about the two types of robots Epson has, and how the two differ?
SCARA and 6-Axis robots together make up the bulk of industrial robot placements in the Americas - upwards of 80% (Fuji Keizai 2020), and for the past eight years, Epson has been the worldwide market share leader for SCARA unit placements, a position that the company still retains today.
SCARA robots became well known in industrial automation for their fast, high precision and high repeatability assembly, pick and place and packaging capabilities. In the medical sector, SCARA robots are frequently used when speed and precision are vital to the manufacturing process e.g. pacemakers, hearing aids, etc.
6-Axis robots are designed for applications that require increased dexterity of motion usually related to orientation of the wrist axes. These robots are great for a wide range of activities such as extracting plastic parts for a medical device from an injection molding machine or manipulating blood testing equipment for inspection and packaging.
During our meeting in MD&M West, I was informed about the option of an add-on feature to the robots such as a vision system. How much difference does this make to the testing and inspection process?
A robot is a tool that is going to do what you tell it to do and respond to whatever inputs you give it access to. If you program a robot to pick up a hearing aid part, you need to tell the robot where the part is located, how to grab the tool, and what to do with it. An integrated vision system often acts as the "eyes" of the automation system. With vision a robot can now "look" for the part, interpret its position, and move to the correct location for manipulation.
Parts inspection is also a key component to the manufacturing process. An extruded plastic part for a medical device might contain residual burrs or flash that need to be removed. A vision system can help efficiently identify these features for removal, and then provide a quality check afterwards to assure the product meets the final production requirements.
What are the main trends you are seeing within the robots and automation industry at the moment?
As robots advance to make more intelligent and dynamic decisions, they increasingly require the use of more sensors and computing power to process input data. For example, advances in sensor integration with artificial intelligence will drive performance advancements, allowing robots to be more efficient and better handle manufacturing exceptions.
Another trend is helping factories to understand the health of automation equipment, including robots. If factory managers can better understand potential robot issues such as remaining motor live in advance of an actual failure, this can represent big gains in terms of reducing downtime and lost productivity.
How do you see the sector transforming within the next five years?
Even before Covid-19, manufacturers were increasingly turning towards automation in response to a decreased availability of skilled workers and increases in product complexity. Companies like Epson are well poised to help customers looking to venture into automation by offering reliable, affordable, and easy-to-use robotic solutions.
Covid-19 has accelerated this movement by making companies acutely aware of their need for an automated manufacturing base that is always available and always running. A recent survey from Pod Group in the UK went so far as to show that almost three-quarters of business leaders across multiple sectors (including healthcare) expect automation to speed up in the wake of the pandemic.