Smart Plants Optimize Human And Robotic Processes

Smart plants optimize human and robotic processes

April 20, 2023
Sheila Kennedy says speed, safety, and sustainability features are advancing.

Intelligent manufacturing and warehouse operations augment human talent with robots for process automation. When computer vision, machine learning, and artificial intelligence complement the personal touch, it improves production and intralogistics efficiency and bottom-line results.

Operational efficiency

Delivering robots that bring both brains and brawn to the challenge of managing complex plant workflows is the goal of Zebra Technologies. This includes the ability to make key decisions and direct workflows so they are completed quickly, accurately, and with the synchronization of work best done both by robots and people, says Jim Lawton, the company’s vice president and general manager for robotics automation.

In warehousing, for example, Zebra’s software-driven autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) “can analyze myriad variables, such as which robot is assigned to which task, how many tasks are assigned to that robot, and what is the best route for the robot to take to fully execute the task – whether it’s line-side delivery, kitting, or dunnage to optimize both manual and automated workflows,” he observes. 

The HC30PL human-collaboration robot from Yaskawa Motoman safely enables collaborative fenceless palletizing operations. It natively supports hand-guiding to allow for easier programming, and it can be shifted between collaborative speed in Power and Force Limiting (PFL) mode and full speed in industrial mode as production needs change. 

“The base design of the robot is purpose-built to work directly with humans, including the ability to detect and react safely to collisions with sensors in all six axes,” explains Bill Edwards, senior manager of collaborative robotics at Yaskawa Motoman. It also features pinch-less manipulator geometry, rounded edges to reduce peak pressures, and a smooth surface to help reduce abrasions during contact and aid in cleaning. 

Cut’it! EVO, a robotic packaging solution from Ranpak, automatically cuts cartons down to fit the height of their contents, significantly reducing the average dimensional volume to be shipped. In reducing voids in shipping, the eco-friendly solution lowers fill material and shipping costs. 

According to Luc Smeets, vice president of automation R&D and product management at Ranpak, Cut’it! EVO has a state-of-the-art digital controls system that captures a large amount of useful data, providing detailed insights for business optimization, such as shipping volumes, and visibility into key machine performance metrics to help maintain availability. The data is available within an online reporting environment, or it can be sent directly to the customer’s warehouse control system.

The subscription-based Rapid Machine Operator (RMO) from Rapid Robotics helps to quickly solve labor shortages. The RMO workcell is built on a technical foundation that allows for accelerated robot training and deployment. “We use proprietary digital simulation and virtualized workcell design and construction to solve for the complexities inherent in a custom automation design and deploy a turnkey solution for most manufacturing tasks in days,” says Ruddick Lawrence, co-founder and CTO at Rapid Robotics.

Rapid’s recently announced partnership with Yasakawa Motoman will allow customers requiring higher speeds and bigger payloads to experience the same flexibility and rapid deployment as its collaborative robot (cobot) solutions, notes Lawrence. 

Supporting technology

A strong mobile robot strategy depends on an effective charging infrastructure. Nano+ from Conductix-Wampfler is its newest charging solution for the automated guided vehicle or cart (AGV/AGC) and AMR markets. The compact charging contact product allows battery-driven vehicles to quickly charge at momentary stops during the process, such as at staging areas or workstations, keeping the vehicles on the floor longer and eliminating the need for manual or automated battery swaps.

Nano+ helps to maximize available workspace and drive operational efficiency, says Panos Gamvroudis, product manager at Conductix-Wampfler. “With increased charging performance and an extended lifespan, Nano+ is competitively priced, available with minimal lead time, and can help transform daily operations,” he adds.

Mechatronics solutions offer an alternative to traditional robot offerings for numerous tasks. Beckhoff Automation’s XTS intelligent linear transport system with its No Cable Technology (NCT) extension, for example, acts as a highly flexible multi-robot system. 

“Robots are the right tool in many cases, but due to their footprint requirements, they may not be the best option for all systems,” suggests Jeff Johnson, mechatronics product manager at Beckhoff Automation. XTS with NCT supplies wireless power and communication to end effectors on movers and can incorporate wide-ranging equipment and tooling, such as grippers and vacuums. “This approach replaces inflexible traditional equipment while working seamlessly with other technologies, like our XPlanar ‘flying motion’ system, to enable adaptive manufacturing and production down to lot-size-1,” says Johnson. 

About the Author

Sheila Kennedy | CMRP

Sheila Kennedy, CMRP, is a professional freelance writer specializing in industrial and technical topics. She established Additive Communications in 2003 to serve software, technology, and service providers in industries such as manufacturing and utilities, and became a contributing editor and Technology Toolbox columnist for Plant Services in 2004. Prior to Additive Communications, she had 11 years of experience implementing industrial information systems. Kennedy earned her B.S. at Purdue University and her MBA at the University of Phoenix. She can be reached at [email protected] or

Sponsored Recommendations

Arc Flash Prevention: What You Need to Know

March 28, 2024
Download to learn: how an arc flash forms and common causes, safety recommendations to help prevent arc flash exposure (including the use of lockout tagout and energy isolating...

Reduce engineering time by 50%

March 28, 2024
Learn how smart value chain applications are made possible by moving from manually-intensive CAD-based drafting packages to modern CAE software.

Filter Monitoring with Rittal's Blue e Air Conditioner

March 28, 2024
Steve Sullivan, Training Supervisor for Rittal North America, provides an overview of the filter monitoring capabilities of the Blue e line of industrial air conditioners.

Limitations of MERV Ratings for Dust Collector Filters

Feb. 23, 2024
It can be complicated and confusing to select the safest and most efficient dust collector filters for your facility. For the HVAC industry, MERV ratings are king. But MERV ratings...