The short answer: nothing. If you’re in the market for automation, any robotics company would be happy to start from scratch with you. Guaranteed.
However, if you’d like to get your feet wet and do some thinking on your own before you find yourself face-to-face with someone who wants to sell you a robot, here are a few steps to help you get started.
Understand Your Existing Workflows
First, think about all the tasks that comprise your lines – from unloading a truck, to unpacking pallets of parts, opening boxes, loading product onto a conveyor, every step of assembly, to packing, storage, palletizing, shipping… everything.
Identify Possible Applications
Second, make a list of the tasks that suspect would be most beneficial to automate and most conducive to automating. Remember, most automation projects won’t aim to automate every single piece of your operations; you’ll want to pick out the tasks that are the most repetitive and require the least skill, or that machines might be better suited to performing, so you can let your people focus on things that are trickier. Once you start conversations with automation companies, you’ll be able to gain a lot more clarity on the pros and cons of automating a given task, and whether or not it will be easy to do. Still, lack of expertise is no reason not to get started brainstorming and hypothesizing about where to begin.
Know Your Constraints
Third, consider the constraints of the project. Questions you’ll want to answer are: How much are you willing to spend up-front? (You won’t need to spend anything up-front for Tutor cobots; they work for $12/hr, flat.) Would you be willing to take your facility offline while a project is set up? (Tutor doesn’t require any downtime to get things rolling.) How would you measure the success of a system: in reducing the hassle and logistics of hiring; in increasing throughput; in lowering the cost of operation; in greater reliability or fewer mistakes? What metrics matter?
Fourth, start doing some research! Google around for some companies that seem to offer something similar to what you’re looking for, or even try to figure out what type of automation your competitors are using. Don’t worry if you feel like you don’t even know what you’re looking for; just learning about what technology exists will help you narrow down your priorities and become more comfortable in this world.
Here are a few key terms and concepts to help in your search:
A “cobot” is a “collaborative robot,” which means it’s safe for people to work alongside. A traditional robot needs to be kept away from humans since it can’t detect any kind of collision, and is therefore dangerous. A cobot can work on a mixed human-and-robot process.
An “artificially intelligent” or “AI” system is simply one that learns from experience; one of these systems takes in data (sometimes on-the-spot and sometimes beforehand), extrapolates new ideas and conclusions by processing it, and then uses what its learned to handle data that is similar to the data it’s seen before. Since AI systems are built to be good at different things, “AI” is really just a category of technology than a specification, and tends not to suggest any particular capability.
"Add-ons," "apps," "caps" or "modules" often refer to pieces of software and hardware that enhance what a robot can do. Lots of the time, the robotic arm hardware is the piece of the system that gets the most attention, since it’s tangible (and sexy and expensive). However, an arm is nothing without the software brain that tells it what to do, and that brain is often a separate entity. One arm can run all different kinds of software, just like how an iPhone can run all different kinds of apps. You’ll need to evaluate the strength, reach, and reliability of a robotic arm separately from its ability to do the jobs you need it to do.