Human-robot collaboration: Ingenics develops its expertise in industry 4.0
Profitability checklist devised for human-robot collaboration in assembly
Ingenics annual theme is “From vision to reality – intelligent solutions for the digital transformation of assembly, production, and logistics with Industry 4.0.” Driven by this focus, the group is developing its expertise in Industry 4.0. Currently, intensive work is in progress on new, innovative solutions in the cutting-edge field of human-robot collaboration (HRC). Ingenics has developed its own checklist to systematically examine whether the use of collaborative robots in assembly is really worthwhile for individual clients.
Last year, Ingenics was able to record some initial success with respect to a number of HRC pilot projects such as Audi in Ingolstadt. “Car and machine manufacturers in particular are now showing growing acceptance of collaborative robots. Especially in assembly, there is great potential for functioning HRC solutions,” says Ingenics Managing Partner Professor Oliver Herkommer.
Is use of collaborative robots really worthwhile?
In practice, the first question facing all clients interested in an HRC solution is of central importance: is use of collaborative robots in assembly really worthwhile? “In order to answer this question in a qualifi ed manner, we have developed our own checklist to systematically examine and evaluate any existing potential based on our experience from pilot projects, where such opportunities are already being exploited,” explains Thomas Kleinbeck, senior expert at Ingenics.
Checklist questions can be broadly categorized under six headings. “Naturally, the main focus is to check all relevant criteria concerning the assembly process. With this in mind, categories range from safety, form of material supply, and component properties to ergonomic aspects, infrastructure, and the working time model in assembly,” notes Thomas Kleinbeck.
Safety of people and machines plays a crucial role
Ensuring safety of people and machines is a central consideration when it comes to the use of collaborative robots in assembly. In order to avoid collisions in a collaborative environment, the robot or system must be able to register all current activities and precisely assess the potential risk according to the overall context. If a potentially hazardous situation is detected, the machine should immediately turn itself off. “A functional context-aware protection system is therefore a prerequisite if unnecessary downtime due to false alarms is to be avoided and robots are to be used in mixed environments in a way that makes financial sense,” explains Thomas Kleinbeck.
In this regard it is especially important to measure the salient parameters in assembly as accurately as possible and ahead of time, be it weight, torque, or pressing force. In some cases, it may also be necessary to ensure electrostatic discharge (ESD) and explosion protection at all times.
Prerequisites for a functioning HRC solution
Additionally, a qualified answer is required to other questions concerning basic conditions for a functioning HRC solution. For example: Can individual sub-processes in assembly occur in parallel? Can processes be carried out more quickly using only machines? Do any sub-processes require two people, for instance to hold and position workpieces?
According to Thomas Kleinbeck, the checklist also covers the form of material supply and component properties. “This presents many questions, ranging from the correct orientation on delivery to weight, consistency, and the number of variants of individual components.”
Other important factors: ergonomics, infrastructure, and working time model
Ergonomic aspects of an HRC solution are no less important. After all, the intention is to reduce physical and mental burden on people by a significant margin. Robots take over extremely monotonous activities as well as tasks that present health hazards, such as use of toxic substances or excessive heat and noise.
Furthermore, it is necessary to answer questions concerning infrastructure and working time model in assembly: What are the costs of converting infrastructure when introducing an HRC solution? How many shifts per day are to be arranged for an assembly line? Such considerations have a significant impact on whether required investment will pay off.
In summary, Ingenics can use the checklist to systematically examine and evaluate any existing potential. The central question ultimately facing all clients interested in an HRC solution is whether use of collaborative robots in assembly is really worthwhile.