Integration of Feeders and Cobots Revolutionizes Material Handling

As manufacturers continue to seek ways to improve their productivity and efficiency, many are turning to automated feeding systems because the technology significantly speeds up the process of feeding parts to conveyors and assembly lines and improves the accuracy and consistency of material handling, enhancing productivity and throughput. To further boost efficiency, flexible feeding systems are being integrated with collaborative robots, revolutionizing material handling processes and streamlining manufacturing operations. This blog will explore the positive impact such a synergy can have on a production facility.

Two Efficiency Boosting Technologies

Before discussing the integration of automated flexible feeders and collaborative robots, let’s take a brief look at the basics of each individual technology.

Flexible feeding systems significantly increase material handling efficiency by automatically separating bulk parts and placing them into a specified orientation so they can be fed onto the production line for further processing. They are designed to provide high speeds; accurate and consistent separation and orientation of different geometries, materials and batch sizes; and convey materials in specific directions to maximize throughput and efficiency, especially when compared to performing the same task manually.

Collaborative robots are a modern version of the industrial robot in that they are designed with inherent safety features, such as rounded edges, slower speeds and area scanners that detect the presence of people or obstacles to prevent collisions, that allow them to operate in close proximity to human workers without caging or barriers. Also known as cobots, they bring the increased efficiency of industrial robots to the factory floor at a lower cost and with greater flexibility as they are easier to program and move around the facility to meet changes in production. In most applications, cobots quickly, accurately and consistently perform repetitive, simple tasks, while their human counterparts complete more complex tasks that require higher levels of cognitive thinking.

Why Integrate Flex Feeders and Cobots?

Combining automated flexible parts feeders with collaborative robots creates a fully automated material handling solution that is capable of operating 24/7, while also further increasing efficiency, productivity and throughput of the line and the facility. Typically this type of integrated system consists of the feeder, a vision system and a robot. In action, parts from a hopper are dropped onto the feeder surface where a robot equipped with a vision system identifies parts that are properly oriented and then grabs and supplies them to the production line with accuracy and consistency. In many cases, this innovative integration provides additional capabilities, such as the ability to accurately sort mixed parts and materials and consistently detect faulty or improperly oriented parts. Additionally, the ability to pre-program an automated feeding system for multiple parts permits many different components to be run on the same feeder.

DevLinks offers this type of integrated, automated flexible feeder system, consisting of a flexible feeder bowl, an integrated vision system and a robot, which work together to easily align and feed parts, regardless of their shape, in material handling applications. In application, parts are dropped onto a rotating disc where they are oriented and aligned for robotic pick and place. The system is compatible with most parts, even silicone, and multiple programs can be loaded to the system to permit simplified switching between parts. Pairing seamlessly with collaborative robots, the automated flexible feeder system can feed multiple types of parts on the same feeder – saving manufacturers valuable real estate on the assembly floor, while providing both efficiency and the agility to handle a variety of parts. Collaborative robots are a great choice for applications where human machine collaboration is a top priority, as they can operate without safety guarding. However, they can typically only handle 3-4 parts per minute. Alternatively, a standard robot and the flex feed can handle a higher volume of about 15-20 parts per minute, while still maintaining a high level of safety.

Revolutionizing Material Handling Operations

The combination of flexible feeders and vision-enhanced collaborative robots is revolutionizing material handling operations as it can drastically increase efficiency, while providing accuracy and consistency to the operation, resulting in higher levels of throughput and productivity, greater flexibility, fewer errors and less damage and waste. Below are some of the ways in which the synergy of integrating feeders, vision systems and collaborative robots can benefit manufacturing:

  • Managing the Labor Shortage: One of the biggest woes in the manufacturing industry is a persistent labor shortage. The technology behind integrated feeders and cobots allows existing workers to manage complex or specialized roles while the automation manages the repetitive, simple tasks of moving parts, supplies and materials in the most efficient manner. Not only does this reduce the number of workers needed in material handling operations, but it gives current employees a sense of job satisfaction and provides more value to the company for the labor hours.

  • Increased Efficiency: The high speed of the collaborative robot combined with automated feeding will boost the efficiency of the material handling line, increasing throughput and enhancing productivity of the line and the entire facility. For manufacturing facilities that handle thousands of parts each day, this can be a substantial gain in efficiency when compared to manually handling materials.

  • Improved Quality: The enhanced accuracy and consistency provided by integrating flex feeders and collaborative robots will also boost quality because parts will be properly oriented as they move along the production line, eliminating potential errors. Further, because the integrated technologies often include vision systems, the integrated and automated material handling system can also be directed to discard faulty parts or parts that are not properly oriented for further processing, which will prevent errors and eliminate wasted time and materials further down the line.
  • Increased Accuracy: Automating the material handling line through the integration of automated feeders, vision systems and collaborative robots not only increases efficiency, but the programming that allows the automated system to place the right component in the proper orientation every time also boosts accuracy and consistency of the process.

The integration of flexible feeding systems and collaborative robots can drastically improve throughput and productivity, while also increasing accuracy, consistency and quality in material handling operations. To learn more about how DevLinks can assist with the creation of an automated flexible feeding system that will enhance your material handling operations, while cutting costs and offsetting labor issues, please contact JHFOSTER today!