When implemented correctly, robotic automation can spur greater efficiency, deliver better results, lower costs and increase flexibility—for both small and mid-sized enterprises (SMEs) and larger-scale manufacturing companies. Businesses must have a sound and strategic vision of robotic automation before pursuing it, however. They should understand how it will be introduced and to which applications, outline its potential benefits, and clearly understand the unique budget and operational strategies.
Once those baseline questions are answered, the next step towards automation is not selecting the robots; instead, it’s important to identify the right end-effectors that can be fitted to the robots in order to automate collaborative applications.
The Right Tools for the Right Job
While it is understandable that businesses new to automation might assume that robots are the most important component, it is the end-of-arm tooling, or EOAT, that will in fact handle the material and products. The EOAT’s crucial role also includes collecting data that informs robot behavior and communicating with objects, robots, and humans.
There are several factors to consider while choosing robot grippers, sensors and tool changers. With modern EOAT being designed to handle a range of applications, EOAT makers now offer a range of robot accessories curated for various production needs. Those tools typically require minimal installation and reinstallation times, and are equipped with greater and more complex operational features.
The International Federation of Robotics, for instance, predicts that collaborative robots, known throughout the industry as ‘cobots,’ will account for nearly 35-percent of global robot sales by 20251. More cobots will translate to a greater demand for versatile and flexible EOAT that can help make the cobots smarter and more autonomous, which in turn will deliver a greater return on investment.
For example, a custom-built gripper designed only to handle a specific task in a mass production environment has limited use and potential. When the task or production needs change—as is particularly common in the consumer goods sector—that gripper becomes useless and must be replaced, a reality that slows processes and increases costs.
Smart Tools for Smart Businesses
From reducing long-term costs to creating a more efficient and dynamic production environment, automated processes can help businesses overcome existing challenges and ultimately give them an advantage over competitors. This is as true for SMEs as it is for larger businesses. Automation is no longer just for high-volume manufacturing. SMEs with small-batch production tasks and historical production data can and should take advantage of modern advances in robotics and EOAT, particularly with lower costs making them more feasible options for companies with tighter budgets.
Automation has many potential benefits for SMEs, including lower per-unit costs due to greater precision, as well as the ability to more easily increase or decrease production based on demand. Enhanced production capabilities could help SMEs stand apart from competitors, too, making them more marketable to new customers with more demanding production needs.
It’s crucial that all companies consider their automation goals first to ensure they select the right tools for the job. Flexible tools and new-age intelligent accessories will reduce the cost of implementing automated solutions, while saving time on installation and redeployment, making the whole process more collaborative and inclusive.