Is Robotic Grinding Really Worth It?
Grinding is a surface finish task that is in high demand in some industries.
However, there is a short supply of skilled grinding technicians.
Robotic grinding is one potential solution for manufacturers who want to automate their grinding task.
But, is robotic grinding really worth it for you?
As a manufacturer, you may be experiencing a lack of skilled technicians for some of your most important tasks. The aerospace industry, for example, is suffering from a shortage of employees for surface finishing tasks, according to some reports. It is currently easier to hire a welding technician for aerospace than it is to hire a grinding technician. Welding is also suffering from a noted skills shortage.
As a result of this shortage, grinding is one of those tasks that many manufacturers are struggling to complete manually.
Clearly, there is a need for reliable automated grinding.
Is Robot Grinding Really Possible?
Despite the clear need for grinding automation, people are sometimes uncertain about using a robot for this highly skilled task.
You might think that grinding is just not suitable for robotic automation.
As an article in The Fabricator noted, some grinding applications aren’t practical to automate. They also noted that it is not cost-effective to invest in automation to achieve the task.
People are sometimes skeptical that robots can even handle the stresses and vibrations of grinding tasks. However, this concern is just not a problem with many modern industrial robots.
Robotic Grinding vs Other Grinding Automation
An alternative form of grinding automation — automated grinding machines — might be a good option for you. This would be a good option if you have large production numbers and highly consistent products.
But, they are not as flexible as robots.
This can make it difficult to justify the cost of dedicated grinding machines if you are not grinding parts continuously at high volume. Manufacturers who can’t justify such machines are often left frantically looking for manual grinding workers to complete their surface finishing tasks.
Robots are a perfect middle option. You first need to understand the benefits of robot grinding over manual grinding.
When Robotic Grinding is Better Than Manual
One of the huge benefits with robots is the consistency they bring to an operation.
A robot will move along the same path at exactly the same rate every single time. When performing the same grinding operation, it will wear out the grinding abrasive at exactly the same rate every time.
This consistency is where robots outperform human workers doing the same job.
Even the most skilled grinding technician will always make some minor mistakes. The occasional slight movement in the wrong direction can break a grinding disk. People often apply inconsistent pressure on different parts of the grinding disk, causing it to wear down faster.
With a robot, you can control the grinding motions throughout the task: this saves you money in the long run and allows for an even quicker Return on Investment (ROI).
7 Reasons That Robotic Grinding Is More Cost-Effective
The uncertainty that some manufacturers have about automating their grinding process with a robot, often comes down to cost: When you are already familiar with the cost of manual grinding, it can seem like a huge investment in the short term to change your manual process to a robotic one.
But, there are some reasons that robotic grinding is more cost-effective than manual grinding (in the medium-to-long term).
Here are 7 good reasons:
1. More Consistent Grinding
As mentioned above, consistency is a great benefit to robotic grinding. By improving the consistency, you make the ongoing costs of the grinding operation more predictable and easier to manage. You no longer have to offset the inconsistency of manual grinding by adding huge margins for error (e.g. purchasing much more abrasive than is needed, producing more products than needed in a batch).
2. Optimized Abrasive Wear
Any robot cell should undergo continuous improvement. You and your team should always be on the lookout for ways to tweak and improve the task. With a robot, you can start to optimize the wear of the grinding abrasive over time. This saves you more budget in the long term.
3. Better Quality Products
A product that has been finished by a robot is likely to be better quality than one finished by a human. Even the most skilled operator can’t consistently match the quality of a robot. This increased quality can positively affect your business. It makes it easier to ensure the best quality for your customers.
4. Fewer Non-conformities
The improved consistency caused by robot grinding also means fewer non-conformities in products. This means that you have to do less rework and you have less waste caused by rejected products. Both of these things contribute to more cost savings over time.
5. Faster Grinding
A clear benefit of using robots is their impact on productivity. Robots tend to operate more quickly than human workers, meaning that your throughput will increase. This productivity boost can help you to achieve a faster ROI.
6. More consistent throughput
A related benefit is that the robot will provide a more consistent output to those processes further down your workflow. A grinding technician will tend to process workpieces at an inconsistent pace. Maybe they work faster in the morning, slower as they get to lunchtime, and faster again as their shift is about to end. Robots will provide a more consistent output, which can help you to produce products more consistently overall.
7. Better use of human workers
Some people are concerned that bringing in a robot for grinding will mean that their existing grinding technicians will be out of a job. Nothing could be further from the truth. When the robot takes over the more regular, consistent grinding operations, the human workers will usually find themselves much more available for the one-off, irregular grinding operations that are often required. This makes much better use of their skills and therefore is more cost-effective.
How to Get Started with Robotic Grinding
If you’re interested in getting started with robotic grinding, a great strategy is to start by implementing your application in a good robot simulator.
This will help you to assess which robot, end effector, and accessories, will be right for the needs of your grinding task.
You can learn how to set up a robot grinding project in our tutorial on robot grinding.