October 12, 2015
“Colleague robot” conquers electronics production:
Technical article: productronica adds robotics to exhibition portfolio
Already today, many companies and branches of industry are automating—and now robotics is taking over new areas in electronics production. That is why, for the first time ever, this year's productronica, the world’s leading trade fair for electronics development and production, has added the topic of robotics to its exhibition portfolio. The reason for this development is obvious: Mass production and constantly increasing competition are forcing companies to produce their products faster, better and cost efficient, also in electronics production. Certainly, a case for robots. After all, they work with maximum accuracy and precision and can mass-produce products while maintaining a high level of quality. Flexible lightweight robots can be used multipurpose for a high number of tasks. Thanks to enormous progress during the past years, under certain conditions they can even collaborate with their human colleagues.
Global demand for mass-produced products such as laptops, smartphones and tablets has never been greater. To make such a large number of products available to everyone at a competitive price, companies must keep the overall cost of production to a minimum and make production processes as efficient as possible. That is why more and more of them are deciding to automate certain processes and to integrate robots into the production process. Robots perform tasks precisely and cost-effectively and have a high level of repeat accuracy. In many cases, the tasks that they perform cannot even be performed manually, so it would not be possible to manufacture certain products without automation.
Lightweight robots making their way into production halls
Besides large, heavyweight industrial robots that are used in giant assembly lines in the industrial sectors such as the automotive industry, companies also rely on flexible lightweight robots for smaller tasks. These robots are so lightweight that they can easily be moved from one work area to another and used multipurpose. Thanks to multifunctional interfaces, they can also be easily programmed by employees using touchscreens or tablets. So the robots can be integrated into different production processes, regardless of location task. The ability to program them is becoming increasingly easy and requires less external expert know-how.
Robots are already being used in companies of all sizes in various branches of industry such as the automotive, food and pharmaceutical industries. Thanks to human-robot collaboration, using them becomes also attractive for small and medium-sized enterprises for which fully automated production used to be too costly or unsuitable. Now “colleague robot” is also making its way into electronics production, as Stefan Sagert from the VDMA (German Engineering Federation) Robotic + Automation Association explains: “These robots can quickly and easily be integrated into nearly any electronics and technology production operation and are particularly well suited to final assembly, for example. They also have potential when it comes to assembling large components and parts that are not standardized—at any place where insertion machines are not suitable and the work is too monotonous for people. In these situations, robots are able to assemble components with a high level of precision and reliability.”
People and robots working hand in hand
Collaborating robots work directly next to humans without protective fences. The robot serves as the worker's production assistant while the worker monitors the process and then initiates subsequent production steps. Human-robot collaboration has become possible due to innovative safety technologies which ensure optimum protection for the worker. Certain standards such as ISO 10218 stipulate safety requirements. An example of this kind of safety feature is safety-oriented standstill monitoring, where the robot moves when the worker leaves the shared workspace and stops as soon as the worker enters the shared workspace again. There are also robots that feature speed or distance monitoring or use force-limiting features to protect human workers.
At the same time, robots can also relieve employees of having to perform monotonous and less demanding tasks. For example, the flexible helpers can be used for pick-and-place tasks that used to be performed manually—tasks that were considered tough and physically demanding. If a robot takes over these responsibilities, the employee can focus on more demanding tasks that are less monotonous.
In this context, it is important that automation on the factory floor does not result in the loss of jobs at all. Even if wages for monotonous, unskilled labor increase and therefore companies start automating to cut costs, jobs will not be lost, as Stefan Sagert explains: “On the one hand, using robots will create new areas of activity and, as a result, new jobs for people in which the robot performs assisting tasks for the worker. On the other hand, robots must be operated, programmed and maintained—so we will always need qualified employees who can perform those tasks.”
Robot use: Electronics production is ready to go
Just like “classic” robotics applications, now human-robot collaboration is making its way into electronics manufacturing—at least for placing electronic assemblies into their housing or in research and development. Using robots to manufacture components or electronic assemblies is even more exciting. Right now limits are being tested—the introduction of new machine solutions is expected at productronica.
This much is clear: electronics manufacturing offers a high potential to robotics, and more than ever before, robots are also becoming a fundamental part of the production process—which is why they will have enormous influence on the industry, companies and competition.
That is why productronica has decided to contribute to the ongoing development of robotics in the electronics-manufacturing sector by making it a separate focal point. The first well-known robotics manufacturers such as Epson, Stäubli, IAI and AEB are already exhibiting at this year's show from November 10–13.
productronica's objective is to establish the robotics sector at the fair in the long term, increase the number of exhibitors and further promote the topic in the process. This is productronica's way of guiding the entire industry into the future, much as it has in the past.
Additional information about the fairs: www.productronica.com
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