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Robotics ROI: The Bottom Line on Automation

by Ronald K. Bryant

Yushin America

SUBMITTED

Making purchasing decisions based solely on price and delivery can lead to a poor return on investment.

Spec List

Creating a list of specifications can ensure all vendors send a proposal that is consistent and meets your minimum needs. Provide the following information when requesting a quote:

  • The robot will mount to a ___ IMM.
  • The IMM has a clamp force of ___ tons.
  • The IMM model is a ___.
  • The distance from the IMMís robot mounting surface to the lowest overhead obstruction is ___.
  • The distance from the IMMís robot mounting surface to the centerline of the press is ___.
  • The vertical distance between the tie bars is ___.
  • The horizontal distance between the tie bars is ___.
  • The robot will release the molded parts:
    a) on the operatorís side of the press
    b) on the non-operatorís side of the press
    c) at the clamp end of the press
  • What is the dimension from the pressís centerline to the outside of the safety door or other obstruction in the direction of robot travel?
  • What are the parts that the robot will be transporting?
  • How heavy are they?
  • How many cavities?
  • Are mold prints available? (Complete prints are not always needed at this stage, but a basic layout is very helpful to determine End-of-Arm Tool design, which in turn permits an estimate of the required robot payload capacity.) What do you expect the robot to do? (Remove parts and set them on a conveyor or bulk pack them? Place component(s) into the mold for an over-molding operation?)

When automating your facility, current perception is leaning toward classifying robots as a commodity, with purchasing decisions based solely on price and delivery. That is a path typically leading to a poor return on investment.

What is the reason for your need to automate your molding process? Sometimes, what seem to be the most obvious reasons truly have no chance of an acceptable payback. Therefore, itís important to document every perceived benefit and pitfall that is anticipated. That list will have a two-fold benefit: First, it will guide you to a sound business decision, and second, it can be a talking point when working with and selecting a vendor. Your list of benefits will guide your vendorís product selection to fulfill your documented needs. Your list of cons may be shortened by your vendorís suggestions of possible solutions that you were not aware were possible.

ROI Ė the basis for your purchasing decision

Before contacting potential vendors, create a list of specifications (see sidebar on next page). That effort will ensure that you receive a proposal that will meet your minimum needs and will be easily comparable between vendors.

When determining the cost savings to enable ROI calculation, donít forget to capture all of the possible savings. Ask the following questions:

  • How many seconds of mold-open time will be saved during each cycle?
  • How many seconds of overall cycle time will be saved during each cycle?
  • How many more saleable parts will be made each month?
  • How many parts are scrapped each month due to the following:
  • a) scratches or blemishes caused by dropping or mishandling?
    b) rejects caused by inconsistent mold cycles?
    c) rejects caused by missing components that should have been over-molded?
  • How many fewer parts will be scrapped each month as a result of the addition of a robot?
  • How many more machine hours will be available for other profitable projects?
  • How many fewer labor hours will be needed each month?
  • What is the current fully burdened cost per molding cycle?
  • Will your current labor be replaced with lower skill level (i.e. lower cost labor)
  • Will your current labor be eliminated?
  • Will your current labor be spread over multiple operations or presses?
  • Do you currently have mold damage due to inattentive employees or processes that are less than optimal?
  • How much floor space will be saved by a reduction in ďWork-In-ProcessĒ inventory?

You may find that it is wise to create several ROI analyses. For example, the first analysis may prove a calculated savings of ďXĒ dollars simply by using automation to remove a sprue/runner from the molded parts. The runner could be deposited directly into a grinder for re-introduction into a subsequent molding cycle, while the parts drop to a conveyor to permit bulk packing. The next analysis may show a calculated savings of 1.6 ďXĒ dollars by also securing the parts with the robotís tooling to place them on a belt conveyor that will deliver those parts for manual inspection and pack-out. This option will permit optimized molding cycles (which will be consistently shorter) and elimination of rejects caused by dropped parts scraping one another. The third analysis may include post-molding operations such as runner removal, inspection with a vision system or vision sensor, decorating and/or packaging. Inclusion of any or all of those operations may significantly reduce the need for manual intervention, improve the quality of your products and even permit you to retain or obtain additional business. That third analysis may provide calculated savings that are three, four or more times that of your first analysis of runner removal.

Before sharing the results of your possible savings, itís important to take an objective look at the skill sets that currently are available to ensure the success of this step into automation. If your facility currently has no hands-on experience with robotics, vision equipment and automated packaging, do not entertain a quick integration or a payback that is close to your calculations. Walk before you run. Unless your personnel have experience with robotics, do not expect to do more than simple pick and place operations with your first foray into press automation. After they have become comfortable with the equipment and it is meeting or exceeding your payback calculations, it will be time to add additional functions like inspection, decorating or packaging. By adding operations to the base knowledge of your employeesí abilities, the likelihood of a successful implementation significantly increases.

Modern robots can have a life expectancy of 15 years or more. They can be retooled and reprogrammed an infinite number of times over their lifespan. Therefore, other factors that should be strongly considered have to do with the manufacturer of the equipment and the organizations providing after-sale support. That support often is thought to be just field service. However, operator and maintenance training is critical, as well as engineering and programming support. These after-the-sale support functions permit you to maximize your investment by maximizing the robotís abilities in a changing environment. When selecting vendors based on a set of specifications and description of desired results, you will drastically improve the value of the results that you will get in return.

An ROI calculator is available at www.yushinamerica.com/accessories/roi-calculator.

Ronald Bryant is Yushin Americaís Equipment Sales Manager. He has decades of industry design experience that includes ultrasonic and thermal assembly, web converting, metal forming, robotics and custom automated machinery. For more information, call 401.463.1800 or visit www.yushinamerica.com.