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How to Reduce Waste With Autonomous Robots

The birth of robotics – all the way back to GM’s Unimate – was all about doing jobs that were simply too dangerous, repetitive and physiologically difficult for humans to execute safely and securely. While robots have evolved up to (but not beyond) many manufacturers’ wildest dreams, a new generation of challenges poses will force robots to adapt in new ways.

Two of these forces are most concerning: environmental change and commodity scarcity. The most important aspect of this is maximizing the efficiency of robots in order to minimize their total impact on the environment and the use of energy in executing their necessary processes. While adjusting robot design to make this more practical is possible, the real challenge comes in where you don’t see robots.

Outside of automotive and consumer electronics manufacturers, very few manufacturers make effective use of robots. This is because robots need extensive programming and fixturing in order to reach outputs compliant with most manufacturers’ quality goals. Autonomous robots effectively automate the programming element within the factory environment, working according to the real position of parts. With these in hand, manufacturers can eliminate much of the unnecessary waste they see in their non-robotic processes – without wasting money on trying to get it to work!

How Robots Save Consumables

When a human being plans an action, they are usually able to follow it – at least the first time they do it. As time goes on, however, they can tend to take shortcuts, lose focus, get tired – all things that HAPPEN and should be accommodated to a reasonable degree, but do not meet the standard that people today expect from industrial goods. That’s where robots can make the most impact. 

Robots that have a coherent plan always follow it to a tee. This is because robot programming effectively defines positions and orientations in space with limited error, at tolerances of plus or minus .05 millimeters in many cases. This kind of reliability means that – if a program can be generated – the use of materials like varnishes, finishes, paints, coatings, topcoats, gels or other unique and sometimes scarce chemical combinations can be avoided because there is no need to substantially over-apply them in order to guarantee sufficient coverage.

This is of course unless you want to be as generous as possible. Aside from the consumables themselves, the accuracy and consistency of well-programmed robots means that rework, rejections and scrapping of poorly worked parts becomes almost non-existent since the robots only fail if the parameters around them fail. This means that, yes, there could be incidences of failure or a bad batch, but in generating an optimized process, these would be the exception instead of the rule, and ultimately over the full time horizon of a robot’s operation, waste becomes significantly decreased compared to existing non-robotic workflows.

And how long is that time horizon? Some robots can last more than 4 decades, and very often when a robot becomes out of date, there are simpler, smaller or less demanding tasks for which a robot can still find great use – all meaning that all sorts of consumables waste can be minimized for generations to come with an investment in one single, lone, powerful robot.

How Robots Save Energy

As you can imagine, reducing waste can also limit energy waste. There are a few important things to realize, however: robots can function in environments that are inhospitable and unsafe to humans, and robots can also run on relatively low energy consumption compared to the actual task a human may execute. 

For instance, one study has shown that as much as 70% of industrial energy expenditure is simply composed of the energy requirements used in air conditioning and environmental protection in order to get humans working in shops. When considering the idle time of many machines, as much as 87% of energy expenditure doesn’t go directly into the value-added processes that manufacturers actually profit from.

Robots increase both labor capacity and labor durability, while improving the quality, ease and safety of the manufacturing jobs executed by humans. At the same time, this energy savings results in an environmental benefit that may open manufacturers up to new funding and tax benefit opportunities that otherwise would not have existed before. 

How Autonomous Robots Improve Efficiency

What’s important to understand here is that a well-programmed robot can do it all, but generating a robot program is no easy task – it can take days, weeks, months depending on the workflow and further requires high degrees of precision, accuracy and even trial and error to realize a reliable finished product.

Autonomous robots are different – by seeing, planning and executing operations without the need for programming but instead through the use of vision systems, autonomous motion planning and highly advanced AI, programs can be generated in real production time and use existing available hardware to automate human-level processes with machine-like consistency.

When you have a system that you can throw new challenges at, you can save the best of your workforce for real problems.

With AutonomyOS™ and AutonomyStudio™, it’s never been easier to deploy an autonomous robotic system. Using 3D Perception with AI-based Task Planning and Motion Planning, manufacturing engineers and integrators can configure autonomous robotic systems for value-added processes that allow manufacturers to achieve more consistency and flexibility in production than ever before.

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