Manual vs Robotic Screwdriving: Which is Better?
Posted on Apr 30, 2021 11:21 AM. 5 min read time
You worry that your screwdriving assembly operation is inconsistent.
There are often breaks in production and the output of your screwdriving task varies throughout the day.
Even worse, people are developing problems like repetitive strain injury (RSI) after performing the screwdriving action for hours on end.
Is it time to move to automated screwdriving?
How do robots compare to manual screwdriving?
The problem with manual screwdriving assembly
When there are production issues in a manual screwdriving process, it can be hard to work out the root cause of those problems.
Why does productivity change throughout the day?
What causes the persistent quality inconsistencies?
Who is responsible for the situation?
You don't want to think badly of your people, but you might start to wonder if they are just not doing their jobs properly. You might even wonder if you need to hire new people to perform the screwdriving operations.
The need for robotic screwdriving systems
The truth is that humans are not well suited to jobs like screwdriving.
Repetitive screwdriving actions are much better suited to robots, which can perform them with a high level of consistency for hours and hours every day.
Robotic screwdriving systems provide a way to improve your assembly operations and the lives of your human workers, who can then be moved to more intellectually stimulating, less injury-producing tasks.
Plus, the reliability and accuracy of robotic screwdriving systems cannot be surpassed by a human worker over a long shift, no matter how experienced or skilled the person may be.
The pros and cons of manual screwdriving
Screwdriving assembly tasks have been carried out by human operators for centuries, since screws were first invented (most likely in Ancient Greece).
Surely, there are good reasons for choosing manual screwdriving?
Advantages of manual screwdriving
Yes, manual screwdriving does have some benefits including:
- Flexibility and adaptability — A human can easily adapt what they are doing to suit the changing needs of the assembly task. After all, we humans excel in our flexibility!
- Ability to see quality issues — With a human, you get two abilities in one. A person can notice obvious quality defects as they are performing the screwdriving task.
- Problem-solving — If an aspect of the assembly doesn't work for some reason, a person will be able to figure out what's wrong and solve the problem.
- Can handle imperfect parts — Any small imperfections in a part that could affect the screwdriving task will naturally be overcome by a person's adaptability.
Disadvantages of manual screwdriving
However, some key disadvantages come from opting for manual screwdriving:
- Inconsistent quality — Humans are not robots. We don't perform actions in exactly the same way every time. Even the most skilled craftspeople will have inconsistent quality over time.
- Productivity fluctuations — We all know that we are more productive at some times of the day than others. This is not a good thing for screwdriving assembly where we usually need consistent throughput.
- Musculoskeletal problems — The human body has not evolved to perform repetitive motions for many hours a day. When humans perform repetitive screwing motions, it eventually leads to injury.
- Boredom— Screwdriving is not an intellectually stimulating task. As a result, people understandably get bored doing it. And this leads to quality problems.
The pros and cons of robotic screwdriving
The alternative to manual screwdriving is to instead opt for robotic screwdriving. This option is now more accessible than ever thanks to easy-to-integrate application kits for collaborative robots.
Advantages of robotic screwdriving
There are various great benefits to using robotic screwdriving including:
- Full efficiency all the time — Unlike human workers, a robot will run at its full efficiency for the entire time it is operational. And nothing is stopping you from running it 24 hours a day.
- Consistent quality — A robot will perform the same screwdriving motion exactly the same way every time, producing a very consistent level of quality.
- Reliable operation — Robotic screwdriving is just more reliable than manual screwdriving. This effect is especially noticeable in the long term thanks to the robot's consistency.
- Better accuracy — A robot can position the screw down to a sub-millimeter accuracy and will place it in exactly the same position every time.
Disadvantages of robotic screwdriving
Of course, there are potential disadvantages to any new solution. Some considerations for robotic screwdriving are:
- Requires a robot — Robotic screwdriving, of course, requires a robot. This means you need to invest in the robotic platform. You should first make sure that this makes sense in terms return on investment.
- Needs robot programming — All robots need to be programmed. This is a simple task when you use a screwdriving application kit, but a robot can't just walk up to a bench and start screwdriving as a human could.
- Unfamiliar to employees — If you haven't used robots in your facility before, your people might be uncertain about it and be concerned that the robot will disrupt their way of working.
- Potential resistance — This uncertainty may lead people to resist the introduction of a screwdriving robot into their workplace, fearing that it may take over their job. This requires you to take a proactive approach to explain the benefits of the robot on their day-to-day life.
Manual vs robotic screwdriving: Which is better?
It's impossible for me to tell you right now whether manual screwdriving or robotic screwdriving will be better for your unique situation. Only you know the constraints of your own operation and your needs for assembly automation.
If your company makes a completely handmade, artisan product where every screw is always placed in a different location on each unit, manual screwdriving might be the better option due to its flexibility.
However, if consistency, accuracy, and productivity are important for your screwdriving operation, it's worth considering robotic screwdriving.