“Handmade” – down the years, the mark of quality for manually produced products. But while art collectors may bid top prices for unique works of this nature, deviations from the norm are at best tolerated in industrial production. At worst, they can lead to manufacturing errors, which are expensive for everyone and cause a lot of frustration. The acute economic damage in these situations can be expressed numerically, but the long-term damage when customer trust and reputations are put at risk can quickly assume existential proportions. An accessible approach to achieve reliable processes is to unify production by automation. For comprehensive quality gains, however, it must also be possible to automate tasks that need sensitivity and a sense of touch.
Whether when “getting from the box”, in packaging, polishing, or precision installation tasks, or even in quality control, companies still rely on their employees’ sense of touch, and good old manual work in many fields of industrial production. In automation, gripping tasks like these were simply not an option.
Industrial robots were too numb and too blind to
- process delicate materials,
- react to irregular workpieces,
- even to act at all in production environments that were not perfectly orderly.
Large companies reacted to this situation by moving simple production steps to low-wage countries, while small companies, with higher labor costs and the usual mish-mash of quality resulting from manual work, barely had a chance in the world market. Costs remained low, but uniform production quality was simply impossible: with increasingly tough competition in the market, this was a fatal state of affairs!
A single idea, as simple as it is genius, will solve this problem in the future: feeling.
More precisely, the sense of touch. In just a few minutes, the HEX-E and HEX-H haptic force/torque sensors give industrial robots the sense of touch they need to handle delicate materials with care, or to work around irregular workpieces.
Precision tasks can thus be automated and consistently high production quality achieved – at low cost. The inspection costs saved and the increase in quality result in a greatly improved competitive position.
Strategic augmentation of process reliability
In addition to specific new automation capabilities, a sense of touch in robots can also represent a strategic advantage for companies: Force/torque sensors measure about 1,000 pieces of process data per second. On the one hand, this allows robots to react in real time where there is acute need, for example if an irregularly processed workpiece is detected. This prevents specific manufacturing errors which in the worst case can bring production to a standstill or even pass through to the customer and endanger the company’s reputation and customer trust. However, the long-term strategic benefit of this type of measurement should not be underestimated. Careful evaluation of process data can strategically reveal disruptive factors in production, such as irregularly machined workpieces, allowing them to be eliminated systematically.
The additional process reliability can not only be measured in concrete savings in quality control and crisis management, but also have strategic benefits in the form of more satisfied customers and a better company reputation regarding deadline accuracy and quality.
Whether this value can be quantified is a question you will have to answer yourself. However, it is undeniably a decisive factor in the future of any company.