Daryl Luke, Global Castrol Product Manager, explores the barriers that industry may face with the increased adoption of robots.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution is well underway, and robots are one of the key technologies shaping the factory of the future. But implementing these machines is just the first step. Robots may not come with the same needs as human workers, but aftercare is crucial to keep the growing automated workforce running as efficiently and effectively as possible.
When it comes to robot maintenance, people often look to the design elements of their machines to address key challenges, overlooking the crucial role that the right lubricant plays.
Castrol’s recent study, Robots on the Rise, gathered insights from a panel of experienced robot, automotive, and electronics OEMs about the challenges they face when it comes to robot aftercare, specifically in relation to lubricants. As the adoption of automation increases, so too does the demand for high-quality aftercare products; one leading automotive OEM reported that over 60% of their lubricant budget goes on robotics.
Our research explores the top three customer considerations when selecting a lubricant for their robotic workers.
When it comes to automating manufacturing processes, unexpected downtime is every manufacturer’s worst nightmare. A single minute of interruption can cost an automotive manufacturer roughly US $ 22,0001. Therefore, the ultimate objective of any aftercare product is to prevent this.
Robots of different brands do not vary much in function, but they do in reliability and the same can be said for lubricants. The expert panel interviewed for our study reported that, when it comes to reliability, the number one concern is protection against leakage. Where this results in product damage, the wastage, and subsequent expense, can be significant.
Another key consideration is that lubricants should enable robots to perform with extreme precision, ensuring a high-quality end-product. This is particularly important in low-temperature conditions, where the congealing of lubricant can trigger over-torque or collision alarms. Choosing a solution that prevents wear is also important, not only in enabling precision, but in helping robot manufacturers reach their service interval goal of three to five years – or 20,000 working hours – before a lubricant change.
The role of industrial robots is to increase production efficiency, and the right lubricant is key to achieving this. But production time and cost are no longer the only considerations for OEMs; a recent survey by Castrol revealed that more than nine in 10 manufacturing professionals (92%) believe sustainability requirements will be important in the process of choosing a lubricant, and that energy saving is the top priority.2
Advanced lubricants have a significant role to play in optimizing the energy efficiency of robots by reducing friction and, consequently, lowering temperatures and the mechanical power required. And, crucially, by increasing robot accuracy, lubricants also help to minimize waste. The positive knock-on effects for the environment – and for business – are clear.
The third key challenge aftermarket customers face when it comes to robot maintenance is convenience. Manufacturers are looking for lubricants that are easy to use and long-lasting, making the maintenance process as simple as possible.
Working out which type of lubricant is required for each robot on your factory floor – and furthermore, each axis of each of those robots – is time-consuming and creates room for error. A versatile and brand-agnostic product minimizes the impact of using the wrong lubricant, helping to tackle the convenience challenge.
Ultimately, the most important solution to these challenges is product development and innovation. As robot design continues to evolve, continuous research and development is crucial to supply aftermarket customers with a product that meets their changing needs.
But we are always working on next-generation products that will solve these challenges, and collaboration between lubrication suppliers and end-users is crucial to this ongoing project. Castrol partnered with Kuka, one of the world’s leading suppliers of intelligent automation solutions for industrial manufacturers, to develop a lubricant with optimized additive levels that minimizes wear while reducing leakage.
The factory of the future is here, but it is crucial that we keep pushing boundaries and asking, ‘what’s next for automation’.
Castrol Global Product Manager
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