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Collaborative Robots Emerge As A Powerful Resource for Electronics Manufacturing
June 14, 2021 Blog

Authored By: James McKew, Regional Director Asia-Pacific Universal Robots

With ongoing trade tussles around the world and protectionism escalating, the demand for electronics has skyrocketed as well. From semiconductors, to embedded systems, to IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things), IoT of consumer electronics, and simple board electronics found even in toys, the field of electronics manufacturing traverses a wide spectrum of sophistication and scale. With the pandemic still raging worldwide with no end in sight, skilled labour has become a prized pursuit due to social distancing, travel restrictions, and border shutdowns. How then, can electronics manufacturers keep up the global demand while living with ever-increasing constraints?

One of the pegs in the puzzle can be collaborative robots (or cobots). In a 2021 report by analyst firm Interact Analysis, it was postulated that cobots are likely to grow between 15 to 20 percent year-on-year to 2028, where the automotive and electronics sectors as the largest adopters of such technologies.

Cobots and safety at the workplace

For cobots to fit into a safe, productive, and agile electronics manufacturing environment, there are 2 industry standards to consider – the ISO 10218 standard for requirements and guidelines for recommended design and safety measures, and the ISO/TS 15066 technical specifications for safety requirements, both defined by the International Organisation for Standards (ISO).

Universal Robots (UR) cobots conform to both ISO 10218 standards and the ISO/TS 15066 technical specification for safety, so electronics manufacturing plants that require precision with zero compromise to safety, can easily program and deploy such cobots, with tasks ranging from cutting, soldering, printed circuit board (PCB) handling, touchscreen testing, parts insertion, dispensing and inspections.

Since cobots are generally much smaller and lighter than heavy industrial robots, they can easily introduce these to production and assembly lines with minimal downtime or redesign, with the same reliability and productivity offered by larger robots. For extended applications, the UR+ ecosystem allows comprehensive and certified application kits and peripherals to work seamlessly alongside cobots.

What’s more, human operators can be freed from repetitive, dirty and even dangerous tasks to pursue more skilled tasks, where cobots work alongside human operators. As cobots can work extended hours or even round-the-clock, they help electronics manufacturers keep costs down and profits up.

Increasing productivity by 31% at Koyo Electronics

When Koyo Electronics Industries in Japan experienced a surge in demand for its in-car touch panels, it responded by re-allocating workers away from manual post-production inspection tasks to address bottlenecks elsewhere. Subsequently, that decision led to skilled labour shortages on repetitive, end-of-line touch panel testing processes.

Koyo Electronics Industries needed to deploy automation that can handle the range of forces suited for touchscreen inspection applications. The company determined that it could deploy compact cobots safely beside humans without the need for safety fencing after a risk assessment, so that they could avoid significant changes to existing production lines. The company chose a UR3 cobot, which comes with built-in adjustable force mode capabilities, numerous safety features designed to enable safe human-robot collaboration, all in a space-saving footprint.

The end results were superb – where the cobot deployment increased productivity by 31 percent. The number of people required to handle touch panel inspection tasks was reduced to one, freeing workers to focus on more ergonomic and higher value tasks, including cobot operation. Additionally, the return on investment (ROI) was achieved in just twelve months.

JEIN shaved operational costs by more than USD 80,000 per year

Driven by the need to increase productivity and achieve consistent output while maintaining demanding turnaround times, Indonesia-based manufacturer JVC Electronics Indonesia (JEIN) decided to replace time-consuming manual screwdriving tasks with automation.

Impressed by the versatility of UR’s cobot platform, which can be fitted with a variety of end-effectors suited to different tasks, the company deployed seven UR3 cobots on its electronics production lines, on applications such as screwdriving, to soldering, to pick-and-place, and especially repetitive and un-ergonomic tasks such as separating out pieces of PCB, and attaching glass displays to car stereo units.

JEIN has witnessed improved production processes and enhanced worker safety, while reducing yearly operational costs by more than USD 80,000. Each deployment frees workers to focus on higher-value tasks, while simultaneously improving consistency and reducing the time per task by 50 per cent.

Universal Robots continues to keep pace with the electronics industry and its robotics needs, by understanding the global and local electronics industry challenges, and everyday pain points. Now, UR cobots are found at the heart of successful, real-world electronics manufacturing deployments across the globe. Every implementation is unique, but the overall results are clear; a boost in productivity, improved quality outcomes, reduced human errors in repetitive tasks, and enhanced working conditions.