How Robots Help Smaller Enterprises Create World-Class Results

How Robots Help Smaller Enterprises Create World-Class Results

Small to medium-sized manufacturers are using the capabilities of flexible robots as a competitive advantage. Robots with small sizes, enhanced capabilities like force sensing and budget-friendly price tags are helping enterprises compete on a scale that was once only available for large corporations.

A wide range of robots makes it possible for businesses of all sizes to literally do more than what was once humanly possible. Automation enables small shops to produce, control quality, and package goods with world class results.

Maximum Efficiency

Robots are a good example of working smarter and not harder. As noted in Small Assembly Robots with Big Gains, small and medium-sized businesses are using robotic automation in strategic ways and it's paying off.

TM Robotics in Elk Grove, Illinois supplied a customer in small parts automotive assembly with eight robots that can fit in a space that's only six-feet by six-feet and only six-feet high. The robots use triple-duty grippers to multi-task and utilize a small programmable automation controller.

Each robot is capable of multiple picks and places because multiple grippers can be attached. The robot is capable of going to three different bowl feeders, grabbing parts from each one and bringing them all together to the workstation.

The micro-robots use a small amount of space that would have been considered too small in traditional manufacturing, but allows a small business to get the most from limited floor space.

Maximum Quality

When you sit in a well-made car and use the various knobs and buttons to move mirrors and seats, there's a tension in the accessories that's comfortable. The buttons move easily when you touch them, but they're not too loose. A small auto parts maker can use robots with force sensors to create a consistent result.

The article Intelligent Robots: A Feast for the Senses, describes touch as one of our most valuable sensory inputs. Force sensors give robots the ability to “feel” what they touch and "manipulate objects" with fine precision. When this sense is combined with vision guidance then robots can pick and place objects in environments that aren't structured and predictable.

Capabilities like force sensing enables small manufacturers to provide quality products to larger companies.

Maximum Information

The computer age has brought about information overload for people. Large amounts of data are available for us to consume, yet much of what we can read or see isn't mission-critical.

The evolving Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT) may seem like a wave of unnecessary information ready to swamp an already overburdened management team, but businesses large and small that tap into the IIOT will gain a competitive edge.

Companies that develop an Internet infrastructure will be able to transcend space and time, according to the write-up Becoming the Factory of the Future. Cloud computing and machine-to-machine communication will have distinct advantages. Automated systems that rely on sensors in machine-to-machine environments will be able to predict operational obstacles. Small to medium-sized enterprises can get alerts on the data that matters to prevent costly downtime.

An example in the article is given of a machine vision camera on a packaging line that can read barcodes to extract product data. It alerts other machines and human operators to issues like the degradation of barcode print quality. The barcode printers can be maintained before codes fall below acceptable standards of readability.

Strategic information can be used to reduce the chance of costly downtime and keep machines running at peak efficiency.

Maximum Returns

Costs for robot technology are coming down while they are becoming more adaptable to specific needs on the factory floor. Base model collaborative robots are selling for around $34,000.

A variety of robots are designed for easy operation and programming that doesn't require a highly trained specialist. Consider the purchase a one-time expense, as suggested in the article Robots, the Plastics Molders Best Friend. A custom plastics injection molder in Hatfield, Pennsylvania, the Rodon Group, is featured and Lowell Allen, Sr. VP of Manufacturing, says the costs for operating around the clock include "a bit of electricity and air."

The company has 106 injection molding machines with a robot tending each one. "Being a three-shift operation, we’re talking about three people we would have to hire for a particular task. If it can be done by a robot, you don’t need three people.”

The company, says Allen, is "eliminating jobs that no one wants to perform" and programming changes can easily be made by Rodon staff. 

Learn how other small business owners in diverse industries like fabricating and the food and beverage industry are using robots to reduce costs, return greater profits, and create jobs. Their stories are featured in the video series "Why I Automate" on A3automate.org.

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