I thought I would share some more of the questions I get and the answers to them. Keeping in mind each application is different some of the general ideas are universal. I welcome your questions so please feel free to ask any you have no matter how simple or complex.
What can you automate? The short answer is anything. There are videos online of a robot making custom omelets on demand so it would seem anything is a good answer.
What makes sense to automate? That is a better question and one that will get you more information in its answer. While you can automate most anything it will not always be wise to do so. If you have a customer that orders 20 parts a year automating that would not be the best choice. If you have a core product that you produce in volume and there is a reasonable projection it will continue or increase over time that would be a good place to look. Making that core product more predictable and reducing the labor involved tends to be wise long term.
What about complex projects or problems? If you have a knowledgeable partner to work with you can over come near anything. Complexity on its own is not a reason to shy away from automating or improving a process. Just be weary of any one who just keeps telling you "no problem".
I need speed! You can have speed with the related "But" that it comes with. Speed is expensive and it is universal and not just in automation. While your run of the mill Toyota may be a good car its not setting any speed records but they tend to be affordable. Bugatti on the other hand can set you up with a land based rocket but affordable will be no where in the equation. You can get a machine that is super fast but it will carry the price and specialization it comes paired with.
What about programming? With a CNC style machine you will not need a super specialized person to do just programming. In reality a better person is one who knows the parts and the process. A person with basic computer skills such as email and internet use can be trained to make and edit programs in short order. I would much rather have a person that knows the parts as an operator. You can use a dedicated programmer if you wish but its not required. More or less the same will apply to robotic systems. It will take a little longer but its not due to difficulty but rather a more detailed process. Robots tend to get used in more complex situations with more steps or processes and it just takes more time to make and edit the programs. Much like all things you get better and faster with time and practice.
I need to sand and polish can I do both? Short answer is yes. While you can do both if quality is the goal you will want to separate the processes. The dust from sanding can contaminate the buffing operation causing finish defects. Its not always possible or practical to separate the steps and in that case you have to be more diligent in housekeeping. Good dust collection will also play a role in keeping defects to a minimum and it is a point that should not be over looked.
These are just a few more of the more common questions and again feel free to ask any you have. Automating a process can seem an impossible challenge but it comes down to working with some one who has experience and can guide you and help you avoid the pitfalls.