Caution! Bots at work
With well over 2.7 million industrial robots in the world while robots aren’t exactly taking over they are improving productivity, safety and tackling the labour shortage for the better.
Manual labour in factories, warehouses, and construction requires a lot of energy and time from the human workforce, and automated systems are here and ready to meet deadlines at precision and speed with minimal room for error.
As part of a week-long focus on robotics, TechInformed looks at three robotics use cases that claim to have saved firms extensive amounts of time and money, allowing employees to move to more valuable roles within the workplace.
The building and upkeep of tunnels is a common challenge in the railway sector, which can take time to tackle. It’s also the cause of huge passenger disruption, with tunnel closures cancelling train routes.
According to Network Rail’s network technical head for mining and tunnels David Castlo, the firm is constantly searching for new approaches to enlarge or repair its portfolio of Victorian tunnels.
Enter UK start-up hyperTunnel, an infrastructure tech company that has produced an automated construction method involving a fleet of subterranean robots which, the firm claims, have been designed to build tunnels ten times faster and at half the cost of conventional methods.
According the hyperTunnel, the approach is also significantly friendlier to the environment and uses sustainable materials such as a low-carbon concrete – all without any humans needing to enter the structure during construction.
The first project for the rail company, completed last month, was the 6 metre-long, 2 metre-high and 2-metre-wide tunnel Peak XV.
Using swarm construction methods according to a digital twin, a fleet of ‘hyperBot’ robots enter the ground via an arch of HDPE pipes.
Once inside, the robots 3D-print the tunnel shell by deploying construction material directly into the ground.
While deploying robots to build and repair tunnels may sound like a high-risk solution compared to tried and tested methods, Steve Jordan, co-CEO and co-founder of hyperTunnel, said that the contributing technologies, such as digital twins, robotics, 3D printing and digital underground surveying, supported by AI and VR, were all well-proven in other industries.
“In fact, the hyperTunnel in-situ method is all about de-risking construction projects,” he added.
Quality control & productivity
Gas sensor manufacturer, DD-Scientific, needed an automated solution to complete the repetitive task of sealing its detectors.
The firm’s products range from industrial gas safety to carbon monoxide detectors in the home, and one of the vital features of these sensors is that they do not leak or break.
To ensure this, the company uses a specialised two-part epoxy to seal the sensors, which it initially mixed, metered, and dispensed by hand.
This method, however, is a time-consuming process and the manufacturer enlisted the help of technical resources firm Intertronics – which supplied a preeflow metering mixing and dispensing system that was integrated with a Fisnar dispensing robot to automate the entire process.
The new equipment allowed DD-Scientific to deposit the right amount of metered and mixed epoxy, in the right place, allowing for improved productivity with less room for failure.
According to DD-Scientific data, the time saved by removing the manual processes equated to 23 days a year, and the people involved in the manual process have moved into more valuable areas of the business.
The automation journey does not stop there, as the firm has also introduced other automated steps such as a robot-based camera system that visually checks each sensor’s epoxy for bubbles, and physically picks and rejects any faulty sensors.
Further robots are used for sorting the sensors as a ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ once they have been tested against their target gas, such as carbon monoxide.
Bots for heavy lifting
With labour shortage issues, warehouse operators are increasingly under pressure to maintain efficiency under their roofs while also dealing with increased demand in production.
Lifting heavy goods within an understaffed warehouse cannot be sped up without risking potential hazards. To help with this, electrical engineering firm Iconsys has developed robots to assist with the orders for one of its fast moving consumer goods clients.
The FMCG client was keen to introduce mobile robots within its manufacturing and warehouse facilities to help with the movement of pallets of packed goods.
Before robots stepped in, the warehouse used manual pallet transfers that required full human control. With the maximum weight of a pallet of goods exceeding 180kg, Iconsys designed and integrated a Mobile industrial Robotics (MiR) solution that maintained the pallet loading line.
MiR’s robots are wheeled little autonomous bots that can lift and pull pallets, boxes and other heavy items.
It also ensured that the MiRs included guarding and appropriate control safety features to reduce hazards, and to enable a safe pallet load and off-load.
The MiRs have since addressed labour shortage issues and reduced hazards within the warehouse.
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