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How Robotic Bin Picking Affects Your Other Processes

Alex Owen-Hill
by Alex Owen-Hill. Last updated on Sep 18, 2020 9:58 AM
Posted on Sep 18, 2020 9:58 AM. 5 min read time

You're thinking about adding robotic bin picking to your operations.

But, you're concerned…

There are certainly some positive benefits that you can see with bin picking. It looks like a good option to improve productivity, reduce the preparation steps in your automation, and take advantage of the latest robotic technology.

But, how will the bin picking robot affect your other processes?

Will the robot disrupt everything and require you to make big changes elsewhere?

How will the robot impact the product flow and productivity?

What changes will you have to make to accommodate it?

Any time you add a robot to an existing process, it affects your operation in some ways. This is a good thing — after all, if there was no change, what would be the point of adding a robot in the first place? However, people are sometimes uncertain about adding robots because they worry that their entire operation will be turned on its head.

Bin picking is a very new application in robotics. As a result, it is understandable if you are still unclear on how it will impact your operations.

Bin Picking_Robotiq_URPhoto: Universal Robots USA

Bin picking: Will it solve your problems or be a headache?

For the sake of argument, let's say that there are 3 types of people when it comes to considering new robotic applications:

  1. Technophile optimists — Some people believe that a new robot application will solve all of their problems. Bin picking is a new, exciting, and potentially game-changing application for businesses and these people want to get started with it as soon as possible. They don't think much about how the robot could impact their other processes.
  2. Robot skeptics — The people on your team who have been working in the industry for, say, 30 years may be more skeptical about their benefits. They have experienced robot deployments in the past and they have seen that the promise is never as rose-tinted as others might believe. They imagine that the robot will completely disrupt everything.
  3. "On the fencers" — The majority of us will be somewhere in the middle. We recognize the benefits of the bin picking application but we have some uncertainty about how it will affect the existing processes that we have spent so much effort to design.

Yes, bin picking could certainly be the answer to the problems that you're looking to solve.

But, it's true that the robot will affect your other operations.

Just not as much as your skeptics might think…

The great thing about modern robot bin picking

Until very recently, bin picking was still a very experimental application in robotics.

Although there were some commercial solutions available, they were complex, clunky, and costly. You had to invest in a lot of expensive sensing and lighting equipment just to allow your robot to perform a bin picking task.

Recently, things have changed. As a 2018 article in AssemblyMag explained "Today’s bin picking technology is dramatically different than what was available a few years ago."

With today's solutions, you can now access the power of robot bin picking in a quick-to-deploy, cost-effective application package that almost anyone in your team will be able to operate.

As a result, bin picking robots are much less disruptive than they were in the past.

Even so, a bin picking application will still affect your other processes.

7 ways that bin picking will affect your other processes

Here are 7 examples of the impacts that robotic bin picking can have:

1. Reduced need to arrange items

The robot will be able to detect and sort items presented to it even when they are piled into a box. This means that you will no longer need to arrange the items by hand for them to be processed by the robot, as you would have done without bin picking. If someone was doing this manual sorting task previously, they will need to move to another task.

2. Speed up downstream operations

A bin picking robot may operate more quickly than the previous process that carried out the task. This may affect downstream operations as they will need to keep up with the increased throughput caused by the robot. Sometimes, extra automation is required downstream to handle the higher workload.

3. Faster programming process

If you were using a robot previously, you will probably find that the programming is faster with bin picking. For example, you no longer need to use a depalletizing routine to take the items arranged in a grid for the robot. The programming process itself will thus get shorter.

4. Different flow consistency

Similar to the increased speed of operations, you may also find that a bin picking robot changes the consistency by which products are fed into the downstream processes. These processes will have to adapt to this new cadence or you may end up with piles of inventory building up between processes where previously there was none.

5. Diversify product lines

One of the great benefits of bin picking is that it allows you to quickly and seamlessly change between product lines. The robot detects what type of item it is handling and passes it off to the correct downstream process. If you want to take advantage of this benefit, other processes may need to be changed to accommodate it.

6. Less orientation handling

In the past, you might have needed systems in place to handle products that arrived at your automated processes in different orientations. With a bin picking robot, this will no longer be a problem as the robot will detect objects in any orientation. Those other systems won't be required anymore.

7. Requires compatible packaging

You might think that a bin picking robot will be able to take any box, crate, or package piled high with items and be able to handle them with no problems. In some cases, this may be true. However, you will still have to pay attention to the way the items are presented to the robot, even if you don't need to arrange them carefully as you would have done without bin picking.

Your questions about bin picking in your business…

Do you still have questions about how bin picking could affect the other processes in your specific situation?

Ask them in the applications thread of our DoF robotics forum, or contact one of our integration engineers and they'll help you out.


What could you use bin picking for in your business? Tell us in the comments below or join the discussion on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, or the DoF professional robotics community.

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Alex Owen-Hill
Written by Alex Owen-Hill
Alex Owen-Hill is a freelance writer and public speaker who blogs about a large range of topics, including science, presentation skills at, storytelling and (of course) robotics. He completed a PhD in Telerobotics from Universidad Politecnica de Madrid as part of the PURESAFE project, in collaboration with CERN. As a recovering academic, he maintains a firm foot in the robotics world by blogging about industrial robotics.
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