5 Tips for Integrating Pick and Place Robots 

Automating pick and place operations with robots that select objects from one area and precisely relocate them to another can provide significant benefits such as greater efficiency and performance, increased safety and improved quality control. However, successful integration of pick and place robots demands research, planning and preparation. This blog will discuss the necessary considerations to help ensure a positive outcome for your pick and place automation project. 

Why Employ Pick and Place Robots? 

Pick and place robots replace manual labor in a myriad of applications including assembly, inspection, bin picking and packaging where robots efficiently pick up parts or items and place them in other locations. Several different robot types, including robotic arms, cartesian, delta, fast pick and collaborative robots, can be equipped with end of arm tooling and vision systems that allow them to perform pick and place activities with great speeds, efficiency and accuracy. 

While the tasks associated with pick and place operations are simple ones, they are often so dull and repetitive that human workers grow bored and make mistakes. In addition, pick and place applications often require bending, twisting and lifting, which leads to injuries and fatigue in human workers, resulting in lost time due to injuries and bottlenecks that negatively impact productivity and profits. Automating these pick and place operations provides many advantages for industrial facilities, including: 

  • Enhanced quality control as pick and place robots equipped with vision systems are better able to catch minor defects in inspection applications and are more precise and accurate than human workers. 
  • Improved facility safety since robots are not subject to repetitive motion injuries. 
  • Greater efficiencies and throughput due to higher speeds, thus increasing productivity and reducing bottlenecks. 
  • Higher levels of consistency and accuracy resulting in fewer errors. 

Key Considerations for Implementing Pick and Place Robots 

These and other benefits associated with automating pick and place applications result in a positive financial impact for industrial operations that are constantly striving to boost the bottom line, reduce operating costs and achieve higher levels of throughput. However, the greatest outcome will be seen when pick and place robots are thoughtfully implemented.  Below are five key tips for integrating automation in pick and place applications. 

  1. Select the right process: One of the most crucial aspects of successful implementation of automation is to choose the right process. Current operations should be examined to identify the area or areas that will offer the greatest reward, such as those where bottlenecks frequently occur, employee safety is an issue or where throughput must be boosted. The pick and place specifications of the selected application should be analyzed to determine factors such as the cycle time and payload capacity, as well as any space constraints or other challenges that may be encountered so that the ideal solution can be selected and designed to meet these requirements. Also keep in mind that it is best to start with a small, simple project. It is neither necessary nor advisable to automate the entire facility at once or to tackle the most complex operation. Rather, selecting a smaller, less involved application that will see immediate and measurable performance enhancements can provide a “win” for automation, garner buy in from upper management and employees and pave the way for future projects. 
  2. Identify project goals: Setting goals for the pick and place automation project is crucial to ensuring that there are measurable improvements. Reducing labor costs/staffing issues, improving throughput, eliminating injuries and improving quality control are all good project objectives, but there may be other key metrics that are important to the business. Metrics should be defined early in the planning stage because changing expectations and objectives once the project is implemented is difficult and costly. It may also be important to determine the expected return on investment at this stage as it will help guide the budget. 
  3. Research and choose equipment: Selecting the right robot and accessories is essential to a successful implementation. Several types of robots may be employed in pick and place operations and each has its own strengths and weaknesses, which should be considered for the specific application. For example, using a high-speed robot in an application that requires slower speeds, but great precision will not result in a positive outcome. However, using that same high-speed robot in an application that demands higher throughput will be more successful. Other important considerations include space constraints of the workspace, as well as required speed, precision and payload. Determine whether a vision system is essential and what type of end of arm tooling is best suited to the items the pick and place robot will handle. 
  4. Plan and prepare: A new pick and place robot will need to be integrated into the facility. Not only will the workspace have to be prepared for new equipment, which may require electrical and structural work, as well as the removal of any obstacles, but the robot itself will have to be interfaced with existing process equipment. Make a list of any systems and equipment with which the robot will have to interface. Specifications for interfacing and control, as well as communication between the robot and equipment will have to be determined and prepared for. Keep in mind that interfacing and programming may not be within the capabilities of in-house engineering, so outside expertise may be required. Risk evaluations will also be necessary to determine whether safety enhancements will be needed to ensure that human workers are adequately protected. Any employees that interact with the pick and place robot will have to be trained, as will maintenance technicians responsible for repairs, so plan for this requirement and budget for its expense. Preparing for all of these factors ahead of time will facilitate a speedy and successful implementation without any budget-blowing surprises. 
  5. Seek expert help: Once you have begun to plan for the project, you may find that it is daunting and that expert help is required. Trusted and knowledgeable suppliers such as JHFoster can help identify the best process and objectives for the project, as well as the most suitable pick and place robot for the application. They may also assist with creating a project preparation checklist and providing support with questions about interfacing and programming. Further, many will offer a proof of concept to ensure that the pick and place robot is capable of meeting project specifications regarding speed, precision and payload. Training for employees may also be provided, as will repair and maintenance assistance. 

For more information about integrating a pick and place robot in your operation, please reach out to us.