With the rise of AI and automation, the introduction of robotics in the manufacturing industry is a topic that I think a lot of us have been thinking and talking about lately.
Although the implementation of such complex ideas and technologies is something many of us find hard to wrap our heads around, it's why why we have professionals like Ron Borne to help us out.
With 20 years of experience as a senior technical specialist in the automation and robotics packaging industry, Ron’s passions lie in topics related to machinery and his expertise has led him to develop programming that drives projects for some of the world’s most well-known brands.
Working with brands such as Costco, Cody, L’Oreal, Siemens, and even the US Mint, Ron has worked his way up through his passion and in-depth knowledge of the robotics industry.
Speaking with Ron was a great experience and gave me insider view of the robotics industry, take a listen...
Below are some highlights from our conversation - you can listen to the full audio on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Soundcloud. And be sure to subscribe to our channel to get the latest episodes as soon as they drop.
On the Evolution of Packaging Machinery
“So machinery has evolved quite a bit over the years. It used to be that machines didn't have PLCs. A PLC is a programmable logic controller. So it is the computer that lives within the machine or the brains behind the operation. That's what you would put your code into today and it will then talk with or communicate with the other devices on that system. What it was before that though, was a bunch of wires and relays and mechanical timers that were kind of jammed in a box and that's what made a big mechanical piece of equipment work. And that piece of equipment would be cam driven a lot of the time. That got changed when PLCs came around because PLCs are programmed in a language called ladder logic. When you look at a ladder logic program, it replicates the relays and the wires inside of an old-school type of cabinet that had the old timers, relays, and wires… To this day we use ladder logic quite a bit, along with other languages. Of course, the big change now is that are a lot fewer moving parts, now you'll have a robot in place of a fixed or mechanical pick and place. In the past, a mechanical pick and place had a start point and an endpoint and it would always go from point A to point B over and over again very repeatedly. Now with a robot, you can adjust that start and end point, and you can have positions in between anywhere that you would like for different operations. That's what allowed the evolution of a big mechanical monster that was picking up packaging, putting it back down into a carton, and sending the carton along the way to maybe a whole other cell that did a visual inspection or labeling operation, to a much smaller footprint of a machine using a robot that can pick up this part. The robot can go over to a labeler, over to a vision inspect, have all that process done before it puts it into a carton and sends it down the line.”
On the Value of Robots in Manufacturing Facilities
“Robots have changed the landscape of manufacturing facilities quite a bit in the fact that they can change to different products much faster and much easier. They can save on energy. With robots energy consumption can now be reduced because of the fact that you don't need quite as many gizmos if you will, to do the same operation that you can do with much less equipment.”
On The Importance of Robots in the Beauty Industry
“In the beauty industry, as you know, there are powders and liquids and they need to get into containers, and they need caps to put on the containers. In this industry, I've gotten to see it go from basically the capper and the filler on a conveyor and a lot of people on the end of the line trying to fill cases up as quickly as they can to what we'll now call hard automation, which is more of a pick and place and statically driven. With those old systems in place, the changeover could take hours, because the next product may need a different type or size of gripper.
Now there are automated lines that will change their product on the fly… you can start introducing the new product, and there will be sensors, cameras, and fixturing, that the robots will self-change over. The robot can go and get a different head that it needs that's in a fixture, it knows where that is, it'll go and acquire that itself, come back to its pick or place position, wait for the new product to show up, and start packaging that product. So it's really come a long way in just what I've gotten to witness in the past 20 years.”
On Automation vs. Robotics
“Automation is more of a big umbrella if you will, which robotics lives under. Automation can be anything from the equipment that we're speaking about to your email right now, your Outlook 365 is using, you can use automation with that and automatically sort your emails. Automation and robotics go hand in hand. You're automating the robots is what you are doing. You are maybe bringing in different conveyors and different devices, cameras, labelers, and inkjet printers, and then use the robot to perform functions with those devices… In general, the automation and robotics have allowed companies to utilize their workers and produce more products. As we have more people on our planet now, we require more products at the end of the line. So automation and robotics allow you to get more of the quantity at the quality you were expecting off of the end of that line and It also keeps workers out of harm's way.”
On Collaboration between Humans and Robots
“A robot in a vision system is going to pass along exactly what it's told to pass along, nothing less, nothing more. So it takes away some of the ambiguity in a quality inspection. The way that I see robots and people interacting has changed over the years. And today it's more where a person can be working on a line next to a robot now that they do have collaborative robots, meaning they can work with people. So there's a risk analysis done if a person is in the vicinity of that robot, considering what the robot is actually doing, and if can it harm the person that's near it. The human and robot will work together to help with heavier loads to increase speed, and to help with inspections, to keep the project moving forward… Additionally, in any kind of cold or flu season, if you can keep people from having to sit right next to each other to work, by separating them with robots doing some of that manufacturing, the company itself will see a more steady production rather than, saying, this week our product throughput was really low because we had half of the facility out with the flu or with a cold or whatever happened to be going around.”
On How Robots Can Help with Efficiency
“I'm excited to see where AI and ChatGPT go, and where that takes my position… Not too long ago you would be spending most of your time in the mechanical and the electrical phase of the system…Nowadays the mechanical and electrical is much faster than it used to be because of AutoCAD or because of solid works such as 3D design and the ability to print parts with 3D printing. It makes workers' processes a little bit faster, as the programming's got a little more intensive or extensive… So at the end of the day, that means we can produce a system in a shorter amount of time for our end user.”
You can listen to the full episode here.