Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized Magazine. She has over three years experience writing industrial topics for the manufacturing, energy, and supply chain industries.
Lean robotics is revolutionizing the way manufacturers optimize their value streams. Most manufacturing professionals are widely familiar with the lean methodology and its core principles. Applying them to robots takes those ideals to the integration of robotic cells in the value chain. There is exceptional potential here to increase benefits while decreasing waste in the form of materials, money and energy.
Lean robotics can truly transform the manufacturing process, from development to production to fulfillment. In fact, robotics is projected to become a mission-critical component of global supply chains in the years ahead. Value streams that incorporate robots already can improve their processes by implementing lean principles. There are a few core areas where manufacturers can see significant growth and development through lean robotics.
Lean manufacturing emphasizes reducing waste, however possible, to the benefit of the customer and the manufacturer. Robotic cells can be an invaluable asset when it comes to cutting waste due to the precise and refined nature of automation. For example, robotics can drastically reduce human error.
Lean robotics is not about the complete removal of employees from the manufacturing process. On the contrary, it is about blending robotic and human talents. Steps of the value stream where manufacturers are seeing significant waste can act as a red flag that those specific cells may benefit from mechanical integration.
It can be challenging to identify where robotics would function best in the value stream. The lean methodology provides a framework for pinning down opportunities for robotic integration. The seven major wastes are a particularly good place to start. These include inventory, waiting, defects, overproduction, motion, transportation and over-processing. Robotic cells can keep everything moving smoothly and constantly, with little to no error or defects, thanks to robots’ ability to complete repetitive tasks with consistent precision and accuracy.
Optimization of AI Applications
AI has proven extremely useful in robotics and manufacturing. Combining all three could prove highly beneficial to manufacturers. AI takes the physical capabilities of robots and adds an additional layer of functionality by giving them the ability to learn and make logical conclusions.
One niche of AI-robotic technology that is particularly well suited to manufacturing is visual inspection AI. This kind of AI uses advanced optical sensors to analyze objects and assess them for defects or imperfections. This can give the value stream a significant increase in speed and productivity.
A visual inspection AI can analyze a computer chip in seconds and sort it based on whether it is defective or not. Identifying flawed products rapidly in this manner allows for swift replacement or repair, which decreases the time spent on making corrections and the energy wasted on finding them. Machine vision is revolutionizing manufacturing through highly efficient processes like these. Robotic cells already increase efficiency and output while reducing error, and AI takes those benefits to an even greater level.
Greater Employee Value
The lean robotic cell integration approaches tangents from the traditional method of installing automated systems into cells. This typically consists of bringing in an expert to install the new integration, who then leaves after everything is set up. Employees don’t learn anything new from this short experience, and lack of training on the new robotic cell can leave them ill-equipped to work beside it.
This is why lean robotics prioritizes humans over robots. The focus of maximizing value in the lean methodology applies here in that maximizing the value of a robotic cell integration relies on bringing employees into the fold. Experts have even described humans as the heart of a lean system. Collaborative robots, or cobots, are preferred in lean robotics because they maximize both human and robotic skill sets.
The lean principle of minimizing waste could apply here as well. Lean emphasizes converting as much money and energy as possible directly into the customer at the end of the value stream. Untapped potential from the optimized collaboration of humans and robots creates energy that is wasted by way of never being unlocked or utilized.
Manufacturers will benefit from implementing robotics with the lean methodology through the increased output and profits generated by a value stream where humans and robots collaborate effectively. Employees will feel more valued as well, since cobots do not threaten the displacement of human jobs.
The Future of Robotics in Manufacturing
Robotics has been altering the fabric of the manufacturing industry like few things since the First Industrial Revolution. The fourth will see even more integration of robotic systems in the value stream, but lean robotics methodology can ensure manufacturers and employees benefit from those innovations.
The advantages of incorporating robotic cells into the value stream are exciting, with opportunities for cutting-edge AI implementation as well as cost-saving strategies and dramatically reduced waste. Lean robotics has a lot to offer in the manufacturing sector and is sure to become an industry standard.