Make collaborative robots accessible to SMEs

Universal Robots and its partner The Robot People discuss the benefits of collaborative robots for SMEs in Australia.

Collaborative robotic palletizer

“So Soft Palletiser” at Ferndale Confectionery. See video here.

While the world's first industrial robot was launched in 1962, the world's first collaborative robot (cobot) came onto the stage in a common space in 2008. These robots are specially designed to work with humans.

With more than three decades of experience in the industry, it's fair to say that Australia-based robot automation specialist The Robot People has seen it all when it comes to robotics.

The Robot People understands the importance of ensuring that their operations produce the highest quality products at the lowest possible cost. His team of experienced process automation experts use the latest robot technologies from Universal Robots.

Matthew Tisdale, Managing Director of Robot People, says that despite their rapid proliferation in recent years, the key benefits of cobots remain an untapped secret for many.

"The fast provision, the small footprint and the high security aspect of a cobot are unbeatable," he says.

James McKew, Regional Director Asia-Pacific of Universal Robots, said of the strength of the partnership with The Robot People in Australia: “The automation requirements of every company are the same. Board is a great asset to our brand. They help make cobot technologies accessible to large and small companies. "

Myth-busting: SMBs are too small to automate

Mr Tisdale believes that the barrier to use by Australian SME companies is still largely based on misunderstanding.

“Some of the companies we encounter believe that robotic automation is only for large multinational companies and that it is just too expensive and complex to implement. However, this is the furthest from the truth, ”he says.

He argues that cobots should be the first prize for SMBs looking to automate.

When asked what an ideal candidate for cobot automation would look like, Mr. Tisdale said, “Typically these are SMBs looking for ways to stay competitive while keeping their staffing needs low. In many cases they have difficulty finding reliable workers, need to improve productivity, performance and quality, but they may not have the time, skills or in-house resources to achieve this. "

With the change in the supply chain and the "new normal" we find ourselves in, there is uncertainty about what will come next.

"For SMEs, uncertainty comes first," says Tisdale. "They rely on automation to give them the cost-effective basis and the flexibility they need to be 'future-proof'."

Problem solving is what The Robot People does best.

“Our extensive manufacturing experience enables us to develop, build and implement meaningful automation solutions that offer our customers the best possible value. Not only do we make sure that the system exceeds your expectations, but we also make sure that your staff are properly trained in managing the application and provide ongoing support, ”says Mr. Tisdale.

Another problem that SMEs are grappling with is overtime.

“Australia's SMB manufacturers usually work during the 'daylight' hours. The facilities remain idle at night as it can be difficult to find reliable staff, especially if working hours only need to be extended temporarily, ”says Mr Tisdale.

This is where cobots come into play. They offer reliable productivity around the clock, 365 days a year without the need to pay or supervise overtime.

Myth busting: Cobots will take our jobs away

Mr. Tisdale says this is simply not true.

“Hire good people and pay them well; Leave the boring and dangerous jobs to cobots and give employees the opportunity to do more valuable tasks elsewhere in the company. Some of our best projects have been for companies that started out working one shift and now, with workforce assisting cobots, can use their existing staff to expand their operations. This ensures an enormous increase in performance and a significant cost reduction per unit. The value associated with the increase in performance is immense; Upscaling from one to two layers makes economic sense and can massively improve the competitive position of a medium-sized manufacturer, ”he says.

Mr. McKew supports this notion.

“In our long history of doing business, cobots have been used in businesses large and small to increase productivity and improve efficiency – not to take jobs away,” he says.

Where is the demand in medium-sized businesses?

“Palletizing applications have been very well received,” says Mr. Tisdale. "Palletizers can work around people and offer a safe, simple and lean solution for manually lifting and moving heavy boxes."

Recently, The Robot People assisted Ferndale Confectionary with an end-of-line solution for a palletizing application.

Leigh Edward, General Manager of Ferndale Confectionary, explains: "We produce around 12 tons of marshmallow every day in various packaging variants from 100 to 800 grams. Using manual palletizing, our team packed around 7500 boxes a day – that's 37,500 boxes a week."

This repetitive request, of course, took its toll on the Ferndale Confectionary staff.

“We basically had people stacking boxes, so we looked for cobots to automate this rigorous and monotonous process,” says Edward.

The Robot People recommended a UR10 cobot (with 10kg payload) for the job. Pallets can be packed in many different configurations based on the different shapes and sizes of the boxes. This cobot packs every pallet perfectly – every time.

Edwards also says they have seen increases in precision and quality while avoiding the risks associated with repetitive stress injuries. The employees were initially hesitant about their new colleague, so Ferndale Confectionary decided to “break the ice” with a naming competition. This cobot, affectionately known as the “Kerry Packer”, is now part of the family.

“Our employees are delighted that 'Kerry Packer' has taken on the tough job and that they can take on more meaningful tasks,” says Edwards. "'Kerry Packer' works without breaks or days off, which is one of the greatest advantages of using it."

The Robot People initially programmed the cobot and trained it on site.

“'Kerry Packer' hasn't missed a box during most of his 18 month production time with the company. As we expand our business, we will continue to use cobots for palletizing and other applications – it just makes sense. "

In terms of cost versus payback, Mr. Edward reports that Ferndale Confectionery achieved their return on investment (ROI) in less than a year.

"The real win, however, is when you find that you have removed 37,500 repetitive movements per week and thus the OHS compensation discussion you may have had," he says.

Mr. McKew adds: “For palletizing applications we recommend the newly introduced UR10e with an increased payload of 12.5 kg and a range of 1300 mm. This offers additional options for customers considering cobots for palletizing applications. "

safety first

The security element is added to accommodate cobots.

“Cobots can work safely next to people – without a cage, subject to prior risk assessment. You can also work independently if necessary, ”says Mr. McKew.

Mr Tisdale backs this up: “I cannot tell you how many times I have demonstrated the safety of a cobot by walking into its area while it is working. A cobot's safety sensors are highly effective. That is simply not possible with a conventional industrial robot. The effect it has on maintaining easy access in such a small area should not be overlooked. "

For those looking to deploy a cobot installation, the lead time is anywhere from six to eight weeks, according to Mr Tisdale (compared to typically more than 20 weeks for an industrial robot).

“This kind of lead time is attractive for SMEs to become more competitive. As soon as customers realize how easy it is – they want to install more and that's the beauty of cobots – they are flexible and can grow with the changing needs of a company, ”he says.

According to Mr Tisdale, the reallocation does not yet need to be properly implemented.

“We recently switched a case erector application to a palletizer. When you invest in cobots, you are investing in technology that is easy to reuse to ensure your products and processes are competitive, ”he says.

Mr. McKew says the passion of Mr. Tisdale and his team is second to none.

“The Robot People are professional, knowledgeable and passionate about our technologies and the positive effects they can have in keeping Australian manufacturing competitive. It's easy to get excited about cobots when you talk to them – and that's exactly what we want from our partners, ”he says.

About Universal Robots

Universal Robots (UR) was founded in 2005 to make robotic technology accessible to all by developing small, easy-to-use, affordable, and flexible collaborative robots (cobots) that can safely work side-by-side with humans. Since the introduction of the first cobot in 2008, the company has seen significant growth with the easy-to-use cobots that are sold around the world today. The company, which is part of Teradyne Inc., is headquartered in Odense, Denmark, and has regional offices in the USA, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Great Britain, Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Russia, Turkey, China, India, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Mexico. In 2020 Universal Robots had sales of $ 219 million.

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