How to Maintain and/or Upgrade a Robot

Create a strategic plan to manage the lifecycle of a robot.
#tips #leadership


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Tailoring a strategic plan to manage the life cycle of a robot is easier than many companies think.

Designate a leader. From organization to execution, an ultimate decision maker should manage every aspect of robot maintenance. Also, in the event the scope of a project should veer off course, this designated leader can intervene to make tough decisions.

Follow best practices. Technicians should consider past lessons from previous maintenance sessions and ensure any repair or upgrade is consistent with current manufacturer recommendations. Similarly, give any technicians who will be responsible for maintenance or repair the proper training and tools to complete the job. In preparation, employees may benefit from robot training and a web-based robot maintenance system.

Deploy a smart inventory strategy. To prevent downtime or to avoid costly lead times, technicians should determine parts to order and have on hand. Common items to keep in stock are gaskets, gasket covers, connectors, seals, cables, teach pendants, gear oil, grease for bearings and controller batteries or air filters. To determine when future parts may be necessary, leading manufacturers heavily rely on software-based data collection and visualization tools that visually display the status and health of factory equipment in real time.

Perform a grease analysis. Because well-lubricated robot axes help control friction, vibration and heat, manufacturers should periodically check and re-grease each axis with the recommended OEM grease. Doing this helps maintain proper levels of viscosity in the grease, often preventing costly repairs. While some buildup of ferrous naturally happens, a spike in the content of one or more axes can hint that there is a potential problem with the drive.

Schedule a “holiday shutdown.” While the words “holiday shutdown” may induce panic throughout some organizations, many companies have embraced the concept, where a skeleton crew performs robot upgrades, preventive maintenance and process improvements during a designated period. Because time is limited, management should communicate in advance specific goals with achievable steps. This plan should list the projects to be done, state who is responsible for each task and give a detailed logistical workflow. Also, any external contractors required to help should be scheduled six to eight months in advance.

Meet with an OEM technical manager. Whether your organization will be taking on the responsibility of regular maintenance or an annual shutdown, a planning session with a technical manager from your robot OEM is suggested. Open communication with an expert can guide technicians in emergency situations, as well as aid in executing a successful overall strategy.

Look to the future. While robots have come a long way, they still require regular maintenance to ensure peak performance, maximizing ROI. When the team addresses any issue, the designated leader should record the procedures that worked and what did not. Regardless of the revelations, every employee should be proactive in managing risks for future success.

About the Author

Dean Elkins is a segment leader, material handling at Yaskawa America Inc., Motoman Robotics Division.