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The Pitfalls of Smaller Automation

Posted by Mike Bonner

Feb 12, 2020 8:15:00 AM

With robot costs in the tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars, automated dispensing used to be the domain of large, well-financed companies in industries like automotive, aerospace, aeronautics, etc.

But all that is changing.

Over the last few years, companies like Fanuc, Kuka, Motoman, and even Durr have introduced small, inexpensive robots specifically adapted to industrial finishing and dispensing operations. With costs in the thousands, or in some cases just hundreds of dollars, this has changed the face of the companies that can consider automating these mission critical processes.

The Advantages of Automation for All
This means that even small companies with limited resources can enjoy the benefits of automation in their dispensing operations. The primary benefit, of course, is repeatability. The path, speed, distance and angle of the nozzle to the part can be duplicated time-after-time-after-time.

Not only does this eliminate the variability associated with human operators, it also frees up these folks to apply their skills to more productive tasks – like determining the best path, speed, distance and angle of the nozzle to the part that the robot should follow to produce optimal results. This not only improves the quality of existing parts; it also shortens the time required to introduce new parts into the process – and that can lead to more business overall!

A Double-Edged Sword
While the benefits of automation are irrefutable, so are the shortcomings. If the wrong path, speed, distance and angle of the nozzle to the part is programmed, the robot will repeat the same mistakes over-and-over-and-over! And, like any process, when one set of variables are controlled, others come to light as issues. Those large companies, well-heeled in the practices of automation, have already learned many of these lessons – but not so the smaller newcomers to the scene. The tough reality is that, regardless of the size of the dispense, the same problems plague the process.

Common Dispensing Challenges
Issues that the novice may not immediately consider when making the transition from operators to automation include the effect of viscosity on the process. For instance, the program may produce perfect results in the morning when the fluid is at a higher viscosity yet fail in the afternoon when warmer temperatures cause the viscosity of the fluid to decrease. This can cause defects like run and sag in a finishing operation.

Issues with varying substrate temperature may also come to light. Similar to our previous example, an adhesive bead may maintain the perfect profile in the morning when the part temperature is lower and keeps the glue cool/viscous yet this same bead may begin to slump in the afternoon when warmer parts reduce the viscosity of the adhesive causing it to quickly lose its shape. This can result in poor adhesion and sealing properties, or even aesthetic issues as the glue flows into areas where it does not belong.

“The Vicious Circle” is a Misnomer
It’s the typical cycle of continuous improvement. You identify the biggest problem you are facing, and you implement a solution to fix it only to find that another problem arises to take its place!
You may think of it as a “vicious circle” but that’s self-defeating.

The fact is that you are now able to see the issue(s) that the original problem was masking. And if you can see them, you can address them. They become your next challenge. But on each cycle, you get better. Your process outcome improves. Your eye becomes more critical and you see the next problem (which wasn’t even on your radar before) as essential to eliminate!

Choose Your Partner(s) Wisely
One way to accelerate your progress is to choose the right partner for your automation project. It’s important to involve someone who has the experience to point out things you may not have considered before and can suggest solutions – maybe from the outset – to the problems that you will face in the future. This often is not the lowest bidder. A bid may be higher because the bidder has walked your path and understands your future. They may know that you can save time and money with a little proactive planning and a few additional expenditures up front.

That’s the member you want on your team…

Topics: Temperature control, Point of Application, paint and coating, Industrial finishing, automotive painting, industrial painting, robotic painting

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