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This blog covers numerous topics on industrial automation such as operations & management, continuous & batch processing, connectivity, manufacturing & machine control, and Industry 4.0.

The material and information contained on this website is for general information purposes only. ISA blog posts may be authored by ISA staff and guest authors from the automation community. Views and opinions expressed by a guest author are solely their own, and do not necessarily represent those of ISA. Posts made by guest authors have been subject to peer review.

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Industrial Robot Maintenance Strategies You Need to Implement

Staying on top of industrial robot maintenance is essential for ensuring that the machines perform as expected for as long as possible. If you’ve reached the point where you have robotics in your organization or they’ll be installed soon, knowing which maintenance strategies to use will help you get the maximum return on your investment. Here are some possibilities to consider. 

Decommissioning When Necessary

There comes a time when you may be spending so much on the frequent maintenance for an industrial robot that it becomes more reasonable to decommission the machine than continue to put money toward its upkeep. However, it’s not always easy to know when that’s the right way forward. One thing to consider is that the usable life for robots ranges from five to 20 years based on the purpose it serves and how well it’s been maintained.

However, decommissioning a robot purely because it’s old is usually not a good enough reason to stop using it. Start by calculating how much money you typically spend on replacement parts. Relatedly, have you had challenges finding those components because they’re no longer widely available in the market? You may need to pay more or wait longer for them to arrive in such cases.

Another thing to figure out is whether the industrial robot breaks down more frequently now than in the past. Shorter timeframes between repairs are a sign that it may be time to look at decommissioning the machine. Moreover, costlier and more frequent problems may mean it no longer makes economic sense to keep using it.

Examine whether the quality of the robot’s performance has decreased, too. Such a downward trend may occur because of improper upkeep, so keep that in mind. However, it could be time to decommission if you know the machine is getting the maintenance it needs and the quality is still not as expected. Decommissioning one machine and having a newer one installed to replace it may require a transition period. However, this could be necessary to keep your facility productive. 

Hiring External Professionals to Tackle On-Site Skill Shortages

There has been a robotics boom in recent years, and that trend has brought many associated benefits. However, there are also some downsides. For starters, many companies struggle to find qualified candidates to fill industrial robot maintenance roles. Moreover, it’s not just a lack of people applying for these positions; they may not have a high enough skill level to service the increasingly advanced machines.

These challenges illustrate that hiring on-site personnel is prohibitively difficult. A more feasible solution may be to partner with external repair companies that have employees who understand how to service multiple industrial robot brands.

That makes it easier to stay on the recommended maintenance schedule for the brands and types of robots you have. Manufacturers also have varying upkeep recommendations. For example, one leading brand says maintenance should occur after every 5,000 to 25,000 hours, but the interval varies based on the specific upkeep task.

An on-site maintenance technician shortage could make it difficult or impossible to have the industrial robots kept up on the right schedule. That’s why it’s often wise to avail of professional external specialists who can promptly attend to any needs. You’ll likely find that option is well worth the expense. 

Combining Predictive Maintenance with Remote Access

A predictive maintenance strategy aims to collect data that could show symptoms of possible problems with a robot long before humans notice them. It typically uses sensors that measure things like temperature, vibration, and sound. Those components notify people about anomalies, giving them more time to act before an unexpected breakdown. Statistics indicate people could save 30%-40% more by using predictive maintenance.

Predictive maintenance could be even more effective when it offers remote machine access. A technician could be off-site in such scenarios and still see all relevant aspects of a robot’s performance. That way, they have a good idea of what the problem is and how to resolve it. Such solutions came in handy during COVID-19, but remain relevant.

Didier Saussereau is a Packing Product Manager at Sidel, which offers automated solutions for packaging and manufacturing. Saussereau explained, “Sidel has developed Remote Video Assistance, building a bridge between our specialists and clients. Wherever in the world our clients are and whatever Sidel equipment they have, this solution provides the means to conduct standard-to-challenging operations on production lines.”

Saussereau continued, “We provide reliable guidance with live video sharing through phone, tablet, or virtual reality headsets. Sidel specialists can see what operators see on the equipment to enable them to achieve expert work at any time. This solution extends capabilities to handle any situation across time and distance, such as equipment installation, factory acceptance tests, troubleshooting, maintenance operations, performance analysis, format changeover, line conversion, and equipment retrofit.” 

Exploring Ways to Save Time

You can become more efficient with industrial robot maintenance without cutting corners that could compromise performance. First, assess your current processes. Examine which aspects typically take the most time and why. Then, explore whether any current or upcoming technologies could maximize productivity and reduce wasted time.

For example, one solution called the Robot Fleet Monitor combines digital twin technology with a database of maintenance records and registered machine faults. This product lets people oversee an entire robot fleet via one interface. Data is sent to the cloud via an edge device. The tool also gives users real-time information about when machines exceed tolerances, which may trigger emergency stops. Robots can also report potential faults to the system without humans noticing them.

There’s also the SecondHands project. Researchers hope to build a robot to assist maintenance technicians with routine upkeep. The machine would predict when it could provide the most useful help. From there, it would understand which tasks to engage in to aid the human worker.

The team developing this robot intends to validate it by checking its performance against real-life tasks carried out by maintenance workers trained to fix robotics. It could be a while before this solution is commercially available. However, it’s worth staying abreast of this initiative and others like it to remain aware of potential time-saving opportunities. 

Start Improving Your Approach to Industrial Robot Maintenance

The specifics of how you handle maintenance for robots depend on various factors. They could include the size of your team and how many machines you have, among others. Even so, it’s critical to develop a strategy that gets the desired results. The suggestions here can help you reach that point.

Emily Newton
Emily Newton
Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized, an online magazine celebrating advances in science and technology.

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