While technologies such as robotics and automation were already on the rise before the pandemic, the ability of manufacturers to implement these technologies and ramp up production during the COVID-19 crisis became crucial in a number of industries. For manufacturers of vital medical equipment that faced unforeseen spikes in demand, it turned out to be a deciding factor. Integrating advanced manufacturing technologies into production steps that traditionally depend on human skills, is not only enabling manufacturers to respond quickly to the pandemic, it can also help them to gain a competitive advantage in post-COVID times and be better equipped to avoid future crises.
In the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, one of the main challenges, caused by unprecedented demand for essential medical products, was the shortage of components. At the same time, the manufacturers’ flexibility to adapt and develop agile production lines played an equally critical role.
The well-known benefits of robotics, automation and IT-based manufacturing technologies include increased productivity and profitability. With the emerging industry 5.0 approach that puts workers’ wellbeing at the centre, these technologies could be further improved with new human-centric workflows and human-robot-co-working. As a result, the benefits include a positive impact on workers’ experience enabling human interaction whilst following social distancing rules during a pandemic.
Inspired by industry 5.0, ENGINEERING, HSSMI, MTC and STAM explored and tested ways to integrate automation and smart human-machine collaboration. To demonstrate how automated manufacturing systems can be reconfigured quickly, these CO-VERSATILE partners looked at utilising MTC’s automated robotic manufacturing cell and integrating innovative technologies to set up a rapidly configurable production system. The system enables immediate reconfigurability through simulation and modelling, user-friendly off-line cell re-programming and digitalisation of shared best practices.
The team of CO-VERSATILE partners worked collaboratively and achieved the following objectives:
Upgraded cell hardware Integrated new software packages
Designed new HMI screens for monitoring and controlling operations
Used robot simulation environments to support and speed up robot cycle definition
Identified three different layouts as most significant and implemented them in a simulation environment
Optimized O-ring fitting process through changes to component design and layout within SCALP cell
Installed vision software for quality inspection using in-house developed "VisionTools"
Performed online and offline programming using integrated Robot Integrator Library package mxAutomation
Switched over process analysis to adapt cells to new product variants.
To ensure the availability of medical devices in high volumes when they are needed most, it was essential to achieve fast repurposing of the robotic cell set up to another compatible cell and with that increase the overall production. ENGINEERING, HSSMI, MTC and STAM worked together to find the right balance and the best combination of automated and manual production steps and to capture and share best practices to achieve replication of the solution by future partners and customers.