Robots in a Machine Shop?
Here at Staub, robots are nothing to be afraid of. The robots that we use in production aren’t capable of learning, or changing, or of being an existential threat to humanity. They are capable of being really useful, though. Recently, Matt Glynn of the Buffalo News was in doing research for a story on robots. He and his photographer were really fascinated with our robots and how we use them. I think that we get used to seeing our robots moving and working all day long, and lose appreciation for just how cool they are.
Matt’s article ran in Sunday’s edition of the News, and we were featured in it. Other companies mentioned were our friends at Polymer Conversions, and SoPark. He also wrote about this small company up in Lockport… oh yeah, GM. Robots are ubiquitous in manufacturing these days. Some time ago, smart business owners found a way to compete with oversees manufacturing. They realized that the best way to compete (and win) was to attack the advantage of those countries – labor costs.
Why use Robots?
Sure, robots are expensive. And extremely complicated. But in the right application, the costs can easily be offset by the amount of labor that can be saved. It isn’t just labor hours, though. Robots also do the same job with a level of consistency that us humans simply aren’t capable of. Robots are very good at very boring, very repetitive jobs. Robots never forget an operation. Robots never need a bathroom break. Robots never need a pay increase or a day off. On the down side, robots never give input, grow their capabilities, or easily change jobs. The application has to be just right.
There is a perception that robots take jobs away from American workers. Tony Staub sees it differently. “If these robots weren’t here, our customers wouldn’t be here either,” he says. “If we had to pay a person to do that job, we could never charge a competitive price for that particular part.” It wasn’t that long ago that movies like The Terminator and books like I, Robot predicted that robots would threaten humanity. Even more recently, people have been concerned that robotics would kill manufacturing jobs. At Staub, our employee head count has only increased as we add robots and automation. This video shows some ways that we automate processes in our facility.
Today, robots are just a fact of life in American manufacturing. . In fact, we’re likely to see robotic automation increase substantially in the coming years as company owners and managers look for new ways to automate processes. It is a given that robots save labor and eliminate the need for certain jobs. But the choice is often should we eliminate some jobs, or all of them? Robots and automation allow us to stay competitive, keep jobs in the United States, and be successful.
Robots at Staub
This is a type of mobile robot that navigates through a manufacturing environment. They can be guided by programming, wires, tracks, or even vision systems. We use AGVs on our Linear Pallet Pools to transport pallets of raw and finished parts to and from our mills. Our three AGVs can be seen moving up and down the rails of our pallet pools 24/7.
Articulated robots are very common in manufacturing. These robots can have multiple rotary joints, giving them great range of motion. These robots are very often used to move materials and parts, but are also used for welding, assembly, painting, and much more. Articulated robots can be outfitted with a variety of grippers to pick up anything from pallets, to boxes, to small delicate parts. In our facilities we have four articulated Fanuc robots tending machines and collecting, washing, drying, and packing finished parts.
Robots in Manufacturing
Robots come in all shapes and sizes, and have innumerable applications. Robots can be found all over the world doing arc welding, spot welding, painting, and plasma cutting. Robots are great at handling materials and moving them to a specific location. In the next generation of robotics, some pretty sophisticated AI (artificial intelligence) is being incorporated. We’ve seen examples of an adaptable robot that can pick up different parts from the same bin, and even ones that can sort parts by color!
In the future, it will be common for people to be working next to robots in a manufacturing environment. Today though, most robots need to be enclosed in some way and isolated. The robots that we use will not stop if something is in their way and could harm a person in its vicinity. A new type of robot eliminates the need for protection. Collaborative robots can now be used in shared workspaces without fear of injuring a person. Complex technology and sensors on these robots alert them when they touch something, and they immediately stop without doing damage. This is nerve-wracking at first, but really cool to watch. Some of these collaborative robots can me moved throughout a manufacturing facility and be easily “trained” to do different tasks.
Now bear in mind, we aren’t robot experts. We simply use robots as production tools. For a lesson on all things robotics, and to learn some really cool ways that robots are being used, you should check in with Automated Cells and Equipment, ACE, out of Painted Post, NY. Programming our robots is a task left up to the experts. We rely on the technical expertise of ACE, who’s been our robot outfitter since day one, to design and program the right setup for our application. Tony Staub has been working with Jim Morris, president of ACE for many years, and we trust him to be our robotics source. When we are thinking of our next robotic application, the first call is often to Jim to find out what our options are.