An Electronic Manufacturer’s Guide to Modular Robots

An Electronic Manufacturer’s Guide to Modular Robots

Feb. 1, 2019
Ready for robots? Here are three things to think about before implementing systems using these modular systems.

Technological advances within the electronics industry have driven manufacturers to redefine their production processes. By improving the speed, flexibility, and efficiency needed to support new processes, modular robots make it simple to stay one step ahead of modern innovations. Better yet, electronics manufacturers don’t have to sacrifice one of the most important ingredients to success: precision.

Eager to reap the rewards of modular robots? Consider the following best practices before bringing robots aboard. From carefully considering product lifecycles to establishing a strong market presence, these tips are crucial to sidestepping potential issues throughout the implementation process.

1. Plan to repurpose.

Make no mistake—reach and payload are important factors to consider when choosing between modular robots. But if that’s all you have in mind, you may be missing out on the opportunity to earn greater bang for your buck. New technology is being rolled out at a rapid pace within the electronics industry. The result? Shrinking product lifecycles.

Make the most of the electronic sector’s short product lifecycles by investing in robots that can be repurposed. Instead of searching for solutions that are only adept at developing a current piece of technology, use robots that can contribute toward the second, third, and even fourth lifecycle of different electronics. Whether it’s a soldering controller or high-performance motors and inverters, automated solutions are poised to deliver state-of-the-art electronics with the highest degree of accuracy.

Considering how quickly the electronics industry is progressing, chances are you’ll be able to implement robots with a longer lifespan than most product lifecycles. This luxury promises to go a long way toward keeping costs down over time. Resources previously spent on additional robots can now be allocated to more pressing matters. Take advantage of such benefits by thinking about product lifecycles as you shop for modular robots. The more consideration you give to repurposing, the easier it will be to maximize your budget.

2. Choose the right supplier.

With more robots being sold each year, you likely won’t run short on options anytime soon. Regardless of whether you’re looking to increase efficiency or improve worker safety, chances are several different options can help get the job done. But while a number of products are able to accomplish many of the same goals, solutions providers who carry an entire manufacturing portfolio tend to be few and far between.

Pave the way for success by working with suppliers who can cater to your every need. From implementing robots that live on the factory floor to integrating new software systems, there’s plenty that needs to be taken care of before a manufacturing plant is up and running. Keep an eye out for a supplier who can provide most, if not all, of your required product portfolio.

Selecting the right supplier is a critical step to leveraging electronics moving forward. Rather than struggling to ensure alignment and technological compatibilities at the product- and system-integration levels, you can speed up the production process by working with a solutions provider who represents an entire manufacturing portfolio.

3. Make your presence known.

A multi-faceted approach to electronics manufacturing is becoming more popular—and for good reason. Cost savings coupled with greater efficiency continue to push production abroad. Although research and development may be based in Silicon Valley, countries like China, India, or Taiwan might be the site of actual manufacturing. Such a setup, however, opens the door for potential problems later on.

Both physical and intellectual resources need to be accessible to ensure seamless robotic integration later down the line. Avoid any issues that could arise from a global manufacturing network by developing a presence in both the origin as well as the destination. Even if production occurs in a different country, insight into how things are going can limit issues during modular robot implementation. Establish clear lines of communication so that any necessary information gets passed along.

If implementation isn’t going as planned, the research and development department may need to get in touch with product development. While thousands of miles may separate the two teams, there’s no reason communication should come to a halt. Minimize the chance for confusion by making resources from each part of the production process available at all times.

What to Watch For

Remaining aware of potential pitfalls can increase your chances of successful robotic implementations. Among the most significant issues to keep an eye out for is the expansive growth of automation within the electronics industry. For some applications, ROI isn’t always front and center. Other factors—like worker safety or ergonomics—take precedence over improved productivity. One such example is vision-guided vehicles, or VGVs.

(Courtesy of Seegrid/YouTube)

Despite its ability to increase workplace safety and accuracy, a VGV usually lacks the flexibility to keep pace with human-operated vehicles. If left unaddressed, such shortcomings turn into major issues moving forward. A supplier portfolio that consists only of VGVs won’t offer much help when it comes to satisfying increasingly stringent customer demands.

While a VGV may be the right choice weeks from now, steady growth within the electronics industry promises to bring new requests. Minimize your potential for an ineffective supplier relationship by considering the solutions you need today as well as what challenges tomorrow may bring.

It’s easy to see why modular robots have garnered attention in recent years. From increased speed and flexibility to an uptick in efficiency, there are more than a few ways modular robots can improve electronics production and ultimately impact your bottom line. Take full advantage of all that modular robots have to offer by first taking robot selection, product portfolios, and market presence into account. Just as these three steps limit problems during the implementation process, remaining conscious of changing consumer demands makes it easier than ever to bring aboard modular robots in the right way.

Flo Acuna is Technical Account Manager at KUKA Robotics.

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