SJF's Material Handling Blog
We had an absolutely adorable visitor at SJF last week that we were all happy to see… None other than sweet little Sloane Sterner stopped by, along with her Mom, Kelli, of course, to say hi. Sloane is our youngest SJF family member at only 9 months old and is the daughter of Sam and Kelli Sterner. Talk about a great way to brighten the day!
Today’s post is courtesy of Bryan Hellman
How long have robots been around?
The mathematician, Archytas, created the first robot in 400 BC, and robots have been a fascination of humanity ever since. Robots come with all different shapes and capabilities, but one of the most common applications of robotics is in manufacturing. Since the early 1960s, robots have revolutionized and streamlined material handling.
It began with a focus on automation in manufacturing, as Ford Motor Company’s Vice President quickly realized the need for improved material handling in order to compete with Chevrolet. Once automation began to spread in the manufacturing market, robotics quickly followed. George Devol and Joseph Engelberger founded Unimation, Inc. in 1961, and they introduced the world’s first industrial robot into an assembly line in a General Motors factory.
The First Industrial Robot
This robot was a robotic arm titled, Unimate #001. Unimation robots were also known as programmable transfer machines since their primary purpose was to transfer objects over a distance of about twelve feet. These robots used hydraulic actuators, with the joint angles stored during a teaching phase and replayed during operation. 1
Advancements in computing and robotics led to more development of robots such as the Stanford arm in 1969. This was an all-electric, 6-axis articulated robot invented by Victor Scheinman at Stanford University. The Stanford arm was able to accurately follow arbitrary paths in space and eventually spread the use of robotics outside of the field of material handling and into areas such as assembly and welding. 2
Unimation licensed their technology to Kawasaki Heavy Industries and GKN, and by the late 1970’s many US companies as well as several Japanese conglomerates began to build even more industrial robots. This led to robots that were capable of handling materials of a heavier weight at a faster speed and with more reliability. They were controlled by programmable logic controllers (PLCs), which allowed for easy programming and reliable control. PLCs have since been replaced using modern software, improving the capabilities of industrial robots and allowing for more sophisticated control.
Industrial Robots Become Autonomous and Mobile
In 2003, Kiva systems built autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) to drive inventory around warehouses. Amazon purchased the company in 2012, and it became Amazon Robotics. Most of the robotic advancements in the 2000s took place in research labs, however, as researchers tested and developed more advanced robotic arms in order to deploy them into the global market. 3
Parameters for Industrial Robots
There are several defining parameters of industrial robots used in material handling. The first is the number of axes, which determines the mobility and degrees of freedom of which the robot is capable. The next is the working envelope, which is how much space the robot can reach. For robots which are meant to transport materials over long distances, a greater working envelope is needed. However, many smaller robots specialize in material handling within confined spaces, increasing the need for accuracy and decreasing the need for greater mobility.
The amount of weight a robot can lift is called the carrying capacity or payload. Advancements have allowed robots to lift much heavier payloads than ever before, outperforming human workers faced with the same task. Speed is another defining parameter of industrial robots, as well as how quickly the axis can accelerate. And the level of repeat-ability is one of the most important criterions for an industrial robot, as greater repeat-ability means smoother operations and less maintenance.
Robotics as a Material Handling Solution
One example of the use of industrial robots in material handling today is Genesis Systems’ robotic machine tending system. They needed an automated solution for the manual loading and unloading portion of their lathe and part washing processes. Genesis Systems therefore created a robot capable of handling 16-part numbers, processing each part in under 60 seconds. Their robot is capable of operating unattended for at least 45 minutes at a time, eliminating bottlenecks and increasing productivity. 4
Industrial robots today have allowed manufacturers to fully automate material handling in certain areas, cutting labor costs and reducing bottlenecks. The use of robotics in material handling allows for greater consistency and faster production, as these robots can work round the clock with only a small period of downtime for maintenance. They also reduce the need for humans to perform hazardous and tedious labor, increasing workplace safety.
Kawasaki Robotics offers a series of material handling robots capable of handling up to 1500 kg payload capacity. They also aid material handling with features such as conveyor tracking and collision detection. Their M series robotic arm has the highest payload capacity of 1500 kg and the widest reach of up to 4005 mm. They also have medical and pharmaceutical robots designed specifically for accuracy and cleanliness. 5
The Future of Robotics in Materials Handling
The future of robotics in material handling is a bright one. As manufacturing begins to trend towards the use of multi-arm robots, the robots’ payload capacity will increase as well as their applications. They will also be able to work in conjunction with area scanners to perform three-dimensional bin picking, allowing these robots to perform these tasks in a much faster time than humans can. In addition, they will reduce risk for workers in industries handling parts near hot metals or glass.
Smaller robots will be able to handle tinier, more fragile parts such as electronics or food products. As software improvements allow robots to move faster and more delicately, the amount of damage to these products is reduced. Robots with USDA-certified grippers will also be able to handle raw food directly as the use of robotics grows in the agricultural manufacturing industry. 6
Robotics in Materials Handling are Changing the World
As more research and development is done on industrial robotics, manufacturers are beginning to adopt more robotic technology in material handling. This is leading to safer workplaces and more intelligent robots that can work alongside humans. Although this robotic technology is not universal, it’s certainly moving in that direction. With all the advances of the last few years, it won’t be surprising to see material handling become fully automated in the coming decades.
Bryan Hellman is a writer with DO Supply, Inc. who enjoys writing about Robotics, Automation, and the future applications of AI.
We’re showing our Minnesota Pride loud and proud at SJF this week! Be sure to watch the Twins take on the Yankees Friday night at 6 pm!
Today’s post is courtesy of Megan R. Nichols
Material handling equipment is an investment. Industrial companies purchase more than 150,000 forklifts each year, but the upfront price is only part of their overall cost. Ongoing maintenance to extend the life and increase the efficiency of your production is also an essential investment.
The longevity of your material handling equipment depends on how well you execute your maintenance plan. Breakdowns and unexpected expenses lower your productivity and decrease return on investment. To help keep your operations running smoothly, here five ways to extend the life of your material handling equipment.
1. Invest in Workforce Training
By hiring a top-quality workforce and training your employees adequately, you’ll be better prepared to maintain and extend your equipment’s useful life.
This process starts by verifying and recording any training and certifications. Improper use will lead to unnecessary wear and tear and a quicker end-of-life for the equipment. Further, as 42% of forklift-related fatalities are the result of tipping vehicles, workplace training is essential to proper use and employee safety. Even if inadequate training or maintenance doesn’t result in injury, it will lead to unnecessary equipment wear. Ensure your employees are vetted and trained by supervisors when working with heavy equipment.
To train your employees on your machinery and any changes to operation protocol, you should provide simple, regular updates concerning operations and safety. Plan to talk to your workers about equipment operations on a schedule, such as every month or every quarter.
Then, managers should supervise equipment operators daily to ensure they follow best practices as defined during training. Address any improper use immediately and provide easily accessible manuals for all equipment operators. Well-trained and managed employees are less likely to abuse the equipment.
2. Conduct Equipment Inspections
The more you know about the many forms of wear on your equipment, the sooner you can respond to issues and establish a smart maintenance schedule. Ensure your employees and supervisors are familiar with manufacturer specifications, and report anything out of the ordinary during a regular equipment inspection.
Early identification of problems, such as signs of wear or age, will allow you to repair or replace a part before it causes an avoidable delay. To do so, visually inspect your material handling equipment before, during and after use. Have regular operators record changes in performance. Check for vibrating belts and gears, high temperatures from poor lubrication or loose bolts. Repair or replace any parts issue that arises before it affects efficiency. Recognizing symptoms early will avoid costly emergency repairs.
3. Understand Your Equipment
By knowing the specifications of your equipment — such as model, brand and machine specifications — you can predict future maintenance needs.
Understanding how your equipment operates is vital to achieving a long service life. Each brand and model may have different instructions and maintenance requirements. Incorporate the specifics from your original equipment manufacturer (OEM). The specifications they provide will ensure you are following the appropriate schedules.
Further, consult your OEM manual or equipment expert to ensure you have the correct parts when making repairs. Depending on the specific machine and part, you may need to follow detailed instructions to avoid harming your equipment. A small inaccuracy can be the cause of a costly failure. Keeping track of parts in regular need of maintenance or replacement will also help you keep track of when maintenance or a replacement is due.
4. Keep Accurate Records
Plan for efficiency by recording data about your material handling equipment. Accurate records will give you a plethora of information so you can respond to needs immediately and effectively.
One of the most useful types of data is the data you collect from your inspection routine. Categorize what needs to be done immediately and what you can defer to the future. Information can include hours of operation, type of work being completed and details about ongoing repairs. This data will help you develop a preventative maintenance schedule.
You also have access to information from employees, supervisors, the OEM and experts in equipment maintenance. Record this information in a clear, easy-to-follow way to develop your plan of action.
5. Develop an Effective Maintenance Schedule
Create a system for your material handling equipment’s maintenance. Planning for preventative and predictive maintenance will extend your machines’ useful life.
Scheduling regular downtown for your equipment will increase the value it provides over the long term, so ongoing inspections and service is crucial. Depending on factors such as truck type, the volume of work and the work conditions, you may plan for service intervals as frequent as every 90 days. You can plan this maintenance during non-peak production times by using a preventative schedule.
It may also be beneficial to consult an expert on specific equipment, since professionals are particularly trained to handle maintenance and repairs for your machine model and parts.
Consulting experts knowledgeable on the make and model, as well as implementing any protocols recommended by the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) will help you develop an effective system for planning inspections and predictive maintenance. With a predictive maintenance plan, you can calculate your equipment life and better retrofit machinery with the latest technology when most cost-effective.
Save Time and Money With Proper Equipment Care
Effective equipment management and maintenance is one of the most significant ways you can cut costs and increase your workforce’s productivity. By implementing a maintenance schedule, understanding your machines’ inner workings and following the other tips outlined above, you can stretch the usefulness of these costly machines to its fullest.
Megan R. Nichols is a technical writer who specializes in industrial and scientific topics. She regularly contributes to sites like American Machinist, Manufacturing Transformation and Industry Today. Megan also publishes weekly on her personal blog, Schooled By Science. Keep up with Megan by following her on Twitter or subscribing to her blog.