Manufacturer Survey Details Impact of Robotics Integration on Facilities and Workers

Striking the Balance Between Safety & Efficiency
Robots are inherently dangerous, but because of manufacturers’ commitment to safety, industrial accidents involving robots are rare. In fact, if you do the math, with roughly 250 million vehicles in operation in the US, you’re about 150 times more likely to be killed by a car than by a robot. However, as the use of robots skyrockets, what does need safeguarding is the interaction between humans and their robot peers.

Despite headline grabbing attention when accidents do occur, the reality is that the number of robot-related injuries has fallen drastically during the past couple decades, with just 20 since 2004 according to OSHA. That data supports why 63% of manufacturers surveyed noted they are at least ‘moderately satisfied’ with their safety when interacting with robots. However, the legacy robot safety that many of these manufacturers rely on, while often effective, is focused on keeping robots completely siloed from their human coworkers.

Figure 4: What are the robots’ safeguarding measures currently in place with in your facilities?

In fact, according to the study’s findings, fully fenced caged environments (41%) are still the most used safeguards in manufacturing facilities today. This approach was used significantly more than less restrictive safeguarding measures. 17% of manufacturers said they use light curtains, and 14% noted they rely on area scanners as safeguarding measures. Meanwhile, pressure sensing mats, power and force limiting (PFL) robots, and “other” safeguarding methods garnered 9% of responses each.

So while most manufacturers are keeping their workers safe through caged environments, they are becoming incredibly inefficient from a modern manufacturing standpoint when it comes to other areas such as speed, efficiency, and flexibility. The result can mean curbing a lot of the benefits that manufacturers were seeking to gain by increasing their use of automation and robots in the first place.

In fact, according to the study’s findings, fully fenced caged environments (41%) are still the most used safeguards in manufacturing facilities today.

With 44% of manufacturers noting that they enter workcells at least every 1-2 hours, it’s not surprising that an additional 63% report that their workcell safeguarding solutions pose challenges in the form of limiting flexibility, increasing human workloads, constraining space, and slowing down production time.

Manufacturing Automation Fig.  5

Figure 5: Breakdown of the challenges caused by current robot workcelling safeguarding solutions (of manufacturers reporting challenges).

Efficiency Challenges
Manufacturing AutomationCalling into question the efficiency of these safety measures even further, 81% of manufacturers said they deal with robot-led production shutdowns. Some even on an exceedingly frequent basis. More than a fifth of respondents said that nuisances with their current robot fault work safeguarding methods cause production to shut down at least every couple of hours. An additional 21% said this occurs “a couple of times a day.”

An increase in faults coupled with more tasks for human workers slows down production time, which of course, increases expenses. These increasing costs are something that nearly all global manufacturers are struggling to deal with alongside supply chain constraints. In fact, manufacturers noted that “reducing the cost and complexity of manufacturing” was one of their biggest challenges over the next six months to a year. The 33% describing these production cost problems were just behind those that noted supply chain constraints (34%) and that hiring and training skilled workers (37%) were some of their biggest challenges.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.