The term “industrial robot” encompasses everything from robots used in manufacturing to sapper robots used in the military to defuse or destroy ordnance. Robots are used in warehouses to pick, pull and deliver items. There are robot shopping carts and baggage check robots. We’re at the base of the industrial robot mountain in terms of applications. But here’s the catch. Robotic components are expensive. They require electronics, motors, sensors, effectors (elements that can be attached to the robot), pneumatics, hydraulics, wheels, bearings, bushings…you get the picture.
There’s a lot to consider when you’re looking for a competent supplier of robotic components. Here is a basic checklist:
- What’s the depth of the supplier’s experience?
- Can they pull together all the components necessary, or will you need to shop in one place for electronics, another company for shafts and another supplier for motors?
- How flexible can the supplier be? Can they provide prototyping, DFM and final manufacturing? Or are they only capable of churning out your order requirement?
- Do they have access to equipment or access to suppliers who have access to equipment or functions that wouldn’t be gained otherwise?
- Can the supplier work in a range of materials? [Metals, i.e., aluminum, steel, bronze, brass, copper; plastics; composites]
- Can your supplier track the component materials through the supply chain and verify essential regulatory compliance? [i.e. REACH, RoHS and Section 1502 Conflict Minerals]
- Is your supplier ISO and UL certified?
Robotics components are inclined to very high quality manufacturing specifications, requiring modern automation and modern technology capability.
- Does your supplier meet those specific quality metrics required for the product/material you’re purchasing?
Robots or robotics products have a short life span. They’re constantly being updated and redesigned. If you’re making a new robot the valuable life span might only be three to four years. Time to market is very important, which means short lead times are crucial.
- What is the supplier’s on-time delivery to commit?
- How long is the manufacturing cycle time?
- If you have to switch a manufacturing line, how long will it take to make the change?
You want to be able to reach your robotics supplier when you need them. The CSR should be knowledgeable and able to answer your questions – or find someone who can. The process of making parts for robots can be long, with a lot of tweaking. You don’t want to work with a company that goes dark on you.