A collaborative robot or cobot offers a whole host of benefits that boost production and make the investment highly profitable. However, it is good to remember that a robot cannot always be used in manufacturing a product. A digital twin is a quick and easy way to find out whether a robot could be an option.
At its best, a cobot is just what a production team needs. It is a reliable, hard-working and cost-effective colleague. A cobot does not take breaks or fall ill – even if it has to work two or three shifts. Nevertheless, when considering a robot investment, you should always keep a cool head. Cobots are not automatically suitable for production use.
A digital twin and virtual modelling are an efficient way to establish how and to what extent a robot can be used in production. At the same time, the feasibility assessment provides the opportunity to assess the economic viability of the planned investment.
Production booster or bottleneck?
A typical first step in a feasibility assessment is the virtual modelling of the site. Once the digital twin of the site is ready, the robot candidate is placed in the modelled environment. Now work can begin to investigate how well the robot really fits the bill. The safety assessment to establish the compatibility of the robot cell with its intended environment is an important part of the design process.
The first aspects to be looked at are, for example, the robot’s reach, lifting capacity, speed and safety. Is the robot capable enough to manipulate objects, or will it instead cause a production bottleneck? Some stages of assembly can be too difficult, if not impossible, for a robot. One example of such operations is connecting various wire harnesses, where human dexterity far outshines a robot with its sensors.
In a virtual model, the cobot can be quickly and easily placed at various locations while the software provides continuous feedback and information on what works and what does not. The robot can also smoothly be replaced by another one on the go, which makes it quick to find the optimal alternative among a wide variety of robots.
The feasibility assessment can also include calculations of the costs related to the investment and the installation and commissioning of the robot. When estimates of the cobot’s impacts on production efficiency, for example, are factored in the equation, it is possible to calculate the payback time for the investment.
If the feasibility assessment carried out using a digital twin proves that the robot is a feasible option, the profitability of the investment is already practically guaranteed. The company can rely on the robot to function as expected also in its real physical operating environment.
Of course, sometimes a robot proves to be an unprofitable investment: it may not be faster than a human, after all, or it is simply unable to carry out the intended operations. This can also be considered a good outcome, as the industrial company avoids making a bad investment decision thanks to the information provided by modelling.