How to increase workplace safety with mobile robots
With increasing pressure on manufacturing globally, processes must get increasingly lean and responsive.
The knock-on effect can be higher demands on employees in a sometimes risk prone environment.
Given that the International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that about 2.3 million workers around the world fall victim to work-related accidents or diseases every year, more must be done by businesses to protect their workers.
At the same time with employment at a record high, many employers are also struggling to find enough workers to fill jobs that can at times be repetitive, boring or injury-prone. In fact, a recent survey of top-level decision makers in global manufacturing, including Toyota, Siemens and DHL, found that 85% aren’t sure they can hire the right people.
One way to remove workers from less appealing environments or tasks is to include more collaborative robots into the technology mix. The latest generation of autonomous mobile robots (AMRs), can take on low value tasks and allow their human counterparts to take on more rewarding, complex work, in safer, cleaner and more productive work environments.
What’s more autonomous mobile robots are easy to integrate into the shop floor and work collaboratively with humans, creating an optimal working environment. They can be programmed specifically to the needs of the workplace so that they can integrate quickly and safely to independently transport goods or materials. This can also help prevent injuries such as musculoskeletal disorders, which can be common in manual laboring.
AMRs can be programmed to travel to the worker, rather than the other way around. The worker can then retrieve items and scan them from the robot receptacle, or scan items into the robot bin for delivery elsewhere. This makes the order picking or receiving process much more efficient and improves accuracy while reducing movement.
Because the autonomous mobile robot assumes most of the heavy lifting duties, there is a reduced risk of injury to the workers. Many mobile robots can transport up to 1,000kg, and have crash avoidance systems that reduce the chance of a spill.
Workers will have less risk of back injuries, falls, or other issues related to moving products.
The MiR1000, for example, has a payload of 1,000kg (2,200lbs) and can automatically pick up, transport and deliver through dynamic environments, removing humans from roles where there can be a risk of collisions or strain injuries.
Fatigue is directly linked to increased workplace accidents and injuries. AMRs can help by taking on tiring tasks, as well as signaling if incorrect items are scanned, or moved without scanning. Both systems can help keep workers alert and reduce fatigue related errors.
Safe driving pattern of AMRs
So, AMRs can help optimize the overall safety at a workplace. Because AMRs are integrated into processes where they work with people or alongside people without safety measures, AMRs need to be used in a way that always is safe. The safe driving pattern of MiR AMRs is ensured by a multi-sensor safety system including laser scanners, 3D cameras and proximity sensors that feed data into a sophisticated planning algorithm. This lets the robot know where it is driving, if it should adjust its path or make a stop. At the same time, MiR robots have further features to make sure they can make a safe decision even if e.g. the laser scanners stop working. These groundbreaking features mean MiR robots are probably the safest AMRs in the world.
However, it’s not enough to be the safest on the market, employees must also feel comfortable in understanding or believing this. So MiR AMR also have humanized features like indicators for braking and turning that workers recognize for intuitive collaboration. While traditional technology will still play a place in the modern shop floor, adding AMRs to the mix will help keep staff healthy and safe by taking on repetitive, risk-prone work while reducing the risks of collisions that can be caused by human error.
It’s therefore no surprise that 63% of business leaders within manufacturing think that AMRs would help improve worker safety, according to the industry report.