Andy Pye discovers how ABB Robotics is preparing to help UK manufacturers get ready for increased penetration of next generation robots.
The introduction by ABB Robotics of its Connected Services suite alongside a refurbished training suite are two measures intended to help UK manufacturing companies improve the economics and efficiency of operating and maintaining robots.
The fall in price of next-generation robots means that the business case for implementing robotics across individual manufacturing lines has become stronger. Although way behind the markets in the rest of the EU and US, in the last 12 months there has been a noticeable uptake in robotics in the UK.
According to Mike Wilson, ABB’s General Industry Sales and Marketing Manager, speaking at the company’s UK HQ in Milton Keynes, “We need to bridge the skills gap by implementing more training; make robots easier to operate, maintain, supervise and own; and make the economic case for robotic automation more persuasively.”
Wilson says that according to the IFR World Robotics Report 2015, there are 16,935 robots in the UK, of which 5000 are ABB’s. There are 1200 large UK manufacturing companies and 87,000 SMEs – Wilson believes that between 10,000 and 20,000 of these are potential candidates for robotic automation. “After a long period of lagging behind the rest of the world, the UK is finally starting to see a growth in the take-up of robotic automation, as businesses start to recognise their competitive potential,” he adds.
In manufacturing, this may be:
* to speed up a high volume manufacturing process
* to make a process more flexible and reduce batch sizes and reduce changeover times
* to make a process more reliable
* to make a process safer
So ABB Robotics has invested over £250k in upgrading its UK training facility at Auriga House in Milton Keynes. The training centre now features the latest generation of robots and controllers to prepare UK manufacturers for the smart factory era.
Upgrades to the ABB Robotics training centre include a number of ABB IRB 1200 units in new cells which have also been refurbished with guarding. Other robot models are available to train with, enabling students to select a robot that most closely matches their own installations. New robot controllers, together with the MultiMove and SoftMove programming software, allow UK manufacturers to improve safety and robot performance.
Collaborative robots (COBOTs), such as ABB’s YuMi launched in early 2016, are becoming more significant in manufacturing, particularly in introducing small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to automation. They can work safely alongside humans, doing repetitive or dangerous jobs, with no need for barriers, cages or zones. One of the courses added to the ABB portfolio covers installing a YuMi collaborative robot into a production cell within the shortest possible time.
ABB Robotics has also introduced Connected Services, a sophisticated suite of resources enabling UK manufacturers to maximise robot uptime through fast data access and problem resolution.
Delivered via an interface called MyRobot, Connected Services will make actionable data immediately available to plant engineers and maintenance staff via laptops, tablets and smartphones.
Connected Services comprises four elements:
Condition Monitoring and Diagnostics: robots can be accurately monitored at all times regardless of location in order to proactively maintain performance. Rather than responding to breakdowns once they’ve occurred, technical issues can be resolved at the earliest indication of problems through alarm notifications sent by e-mail or SMS.
Backup Management: a full copy of a robot program so that if lost or damaged, it can be re-uploaded quickly and efficiently.
Remote Access: quick and secure entry to robot controllers to address technical difficulties by maintenance engineers without them physically visiting the factory floor.
Fleet Assessment: through identifying the hardest working robots in a company and benchmarking them against ABB’s entire global population of connected robots, performance can be optimised and equipment lifetime extended.