Manual vs. Robotic Comparison
The comparison step is still part of the Design phase. It is where you will finally see potential gains. The step is like superposing two transparent slides to compare their differences. Putting the two layouts and processes one over the other will help you find out the potential gains (or losses), how the robot will affect your production process, and what needs to be carried on from the manual to the robotic cell.
Here’s a list of the topics you should be discussing during your comparison:
The layout should be done and verified with the team that is most familiar with the manual process. When comparing the "before" and "after" layouts you should seek for:
Differences between the cells
What needs to be produced or purchased for the robotic cell to work correctly
The impact on the previous or next cell in the process
These need to be addressed during the Design phase so you don’t think about them when installing your robot. The more prepared you are before getting the robot, the faster you’ll go into production.
In most cases, the CNC machine customer (i.e., the next step of the process) is typically either another CNC machine or the quality control. Generally, this does not change even if you integrate a robot in front of the CNC machine.
The output of the CNC machine should be the same, with or without a robot. If there is any difference between the two, make sure to note it and to make changes in the following cell to make sure the process goes on normally.
The input of a CNC machine is usually a piece of raw material or a machined part before another step of machining. Take into consideration that parts have to be separated from one another so that the gripper can grasp them. The bin initially used for part presentation might need to be changed to an ordering device.
Obviously the loading will be different from the unloading. The operator will be transferred to another workstation. This means that all the steps that were previously performed by the operator need to be done by the robots. Think about all of them: cleaning the parts, opening the doors, etc. Your cycle time will also change and will be more constant. How will this impact your process?
Document Flow of Information
Information can take all shapes and sizes. In fact, in this specific situation, the robot will need to exchange information with the machine. Both will need to exchange I/O signals and start/stop instructions in order to emulate the operator. The size of the blanks can also be an information that can be entered in the robot for the program to adapt accordingly. Make sure to manage this situation. Quality control is also an important information in the process. Make sure to have this part of the process dialed before installing your robot in production.
Depending on what your critical KPIs are, you will want to adjust them according to your new production process. If your main KPI is capacity, for example, and if the cobot cell increased the capacity, you have to be ready to live with that fluctuation. Let’s say your CNC production schedule was set with an operator in front of the machine; you might need to adjust the production schedule based on the robot's production rate.
Comparing will allow you to find what you have successfully carried out and what you have missed. It is important to have this discussion with your team before going forward. Having the operator, the engineering staff and all the people involved is critical for a better integration.