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Top 5 Tips when Designing an Automation Work Cell

Automation is no longer optional – it is a necessity to remain competitive. To this end, more and more manufacturers are implementing automated work cells, or robot cells as they are often called. A cell is an arrangement of resources in a manufacturing facility with the goal of enhancing quality, speed and/or cost by improving process flow and eliminating wasted time and movement.

When it comes to designing automated work cells, there are few hard and fast rules that apply because every work cell is unique. There is, however, a design process along with a number of factors that should be considered in order to design the best work cell for a given application. Below are the top 5 tips when designing an automation wok cell.

One additional point to note – most manufacturers do not have in-house expertise when it comes to automated work cells. Outsourcing automation responsibilities allows companies to tap into experts, such as the team at Concept Systems, who specialize in designing and integrating automated work cells for various industries. These experts guide manufacturers through the design process to create the optimal work cell for each application.

  1. Identify the problem: understanding the problem you are trying to solve with automation is vital to the success of your project. Are you looking for higher production volumes, better quality, or an improved working environment for humans? Once you hone in on the problem, you will need to determine the specific task that is best suited for automation. When considering which task to automate, it is important to keep in mind that steps performed by robots are repetitive and do not change over time. Once you have identified the problem as well as the task you wish to automate, clearly document these to ensure all parties and stakeholders are aligned.
  2. Map the Task: many automated work cells were first performed manually so document how humans are currently performing the task. Next, determine what inputs need to be provided to the work cell and similarly what the outputs are from the work cell. Also, establish performance indicators that assess the success of the work cell such as throughput and speed, quality, etc.
  3. Align on the Requirements: there are some key requirements you will need to determine in order to select the best automated solution for your application. It should be noted that steps 3 and 4 are an iterative process where you may go back and forth between these steps several times before “finalizing” the layout and requirements for your work cell.
    • Precision: manufacturers often are not clear on their precision requirement; however, this is an important requirement to get right to maintain quality. Work with your automation contractor to look at the components being assembled in the work cell and determine the placement tolerance for each step. Most small assembly applications are in the 25 to 200 microns precision range but there are some robots with even higher precision capabilities.
    • Payload: this is the total weight on the end of the robotic arm including tooling, and each robot has a maximum payload specification. Your automation contractor can assist with selecting a robot with an appropriate payload that is not too close to the maximum.
    • Utilities: when designing the work cell you will need to ensure provisions are made for any necessary utilities such as electricity, air or hydraulic pressures.
    • Cycle Time: this is easily calculated based on the desired throughput through the work cell. Knowing the desired cycle time will help in determining if a single robot or multiple robots is the right solution for your application.
    • Reach: this is the distance the robot needs to extend or travel, and each robot has a specific reach capacity. By establishing the task process and all of the parts involved, the necessary reach can be determined.
    • End-of-Arm Tooling: this is the device on the end of a robot’s arm to allow it to pick up or manipulate parts. Standard tooling such as grippers may be suitable for many applications, but custom tooling may be required for applications that require faster cycle times or higher precision.
    • Vision: automated vision may be needed to inspect parts or identify off-spec products. Determine if robotic vision is needed for your application.
  4. Layout: this is all about the spacing within the work cell. Map out the exact location of all of the inputs, outputs, human work areas, and the robot itself.
    • Parts: when parts enter the work cell, exact pick up and drop off locations as well as part orientations must be specified in order for the work cell to operate successfully.
    • Base: each robot has a base. Generally speaking, the larger the robot the sturdier the base must be in order to tolerate the robot’s motion and remain stable.
  5. Safety: many work cells will have humans and robots working within the work cell; thus, it is imperative to coordinate activities to ensure a safe work environment for both. For example, when designing the work cell you must include all necessary barricades to keep humans and robots from entering into an unsafe work environment. Similarly, the design must ensure the humans and robots alike are protected from work cell conditions such as spray painting or abrasive materials.

Work Cell Design and Integration at Concept Systems

With the technologies available today there are countless robotic and machine vision applications that can help you address your business challenges. From basic picking and sorting to enhanced vision inspection, from custom built end of arm tooling to complete work cell design and integration, our team of expert engineers design and integrate solutions that enhance the efficiency and profitability of your operations. Leverage the advances in technology to improve your manufacturing, explore below to learn how. Click here for one of our success stories with a drilling robotics work cell.

Contact us today to learn more about our automated work cell solutions!

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