Robots and Automation

It seems like I can’t turn around these days without seeing another article about robots. Especially about how robots will be taking over all jobs in a few years. But it also seems like robots and automation are getting confused in the public eye. There’s a lot more to automation than robots.

At Frain we know robots. We work with them every day. With more than 8,000 automated machines in stock, we also know about automation.

Robots are great for a lot of things. They are particularly useful when flexibility is required. Since they are standardized, they can be built in quantity, making them less and less expensive.  There are a lot of packaging applications for robots.

There are also some downsides. Speed is one. Try to find a robot that can cap bottles at 400ppm. Complexity is another. They need programming which is something of a specialized skill. Some companies and some geographic locations do not have access to these skills. A robot intended for general use may never be as good as a machine purpose-built for a specific use.

Robots can take up considerable space. The robot itself may be compact and may actually only work in a limited area. Moving cartons from the line to a case, for example. Guarding must be provided for all possible areas where the robot could reach.

Note the amount of unused area relative to the working area in the picture below. A dedicated automatic machine with the same function might occupy 20-30% of that space.

Image 1

Dedicated automatic machinery my not be as versatile as a robot but it will probably be better at what it does. It will certainly, in many instances, be faster. Lines running 1200 bottles a minute are no problem for standard fillers, cappers, labelers etc. but no robot could ever keep up.

I’ve been hearing how automation was going to take all jobs since I was a kid. I’ve been hearing how robots were going to take all jobs since the 70’s. What we are hearing today is nothing new and nothing bad.

Automation, whether by purpose designed machines or flexible robots means more efficiency and that’s good for everyone.

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