How to master robotic cable management for better manufacturing workflows

  • Articles
  • Feb 06,24
In this article, Emily Newton presents some best practices in robotic cable management for ensuring smoother workflows when interacting with industrial machines.
How to master robotic cable management for better manufacturing workflows

Robotic cable management is an essential part of using advanced equipment safely and productively. Following some best practices will encourage smoother workflows when interacting with industrial machines.

Pay attention to the cable length 
People must ensure the cable is long enough for the robot to have enough freedom of movement for the desired application. Some products — such as robotic arms — only come with cables of specific lengths, which may mean you need to move the machine or its workpiece so the arm can move smoothly during its task.

If the cable is too long, it could become kinked or get caught on objects as the robot moves. However, when it is too short, there is an increased risk of excessive strain.

Those needing additional advice about the best cable length for their desired applications should consider speaking to a customer service representative from the robotics company to have in-depth conversations about their intentions. Then, they can get tailored information incorporating aspects like the facility’s size and other nearby equipment.

Take care when fixing cables to the robot
A typical robot arm can have multiple cables and types going to the wrist. One popular robotic cable management approach is to use cable ties to keep the wires close to the robot’s surface. However, David Rochette — a technical trainer at Robotiq — said people opting for plastic cable ties can tighten them too severely.

He recommends Velcro ties or clip holders because they are less likely to put too much force on the cables when securing them. Damage to the wire or its jacket can occur internally before you notice it on the outside, making it necessary to find solutions to hold cables securely without harming them.

Ensure the robot’s cable can withstand the expected workload
Robotic cable management can only go so far if people put their industrial machines through unreasonable tasks. They must understand the power cord’s characteristics and check that they match the robot’s typical use. Go through this process anytime the facility invests in a new model or starts using an existing industrial machine for a new task.

You may notice the wires associated with the parts of the robot doing the most movement are thicker than others. Mechanical cables usually have diameters larger than 3/8 of an inch, allowing them to withstand tension during usage. Some also have coatings, making them more flexible and corrosion-resistant.

Train workers to check cables
Working safely around robots requires knowing how to inspect them for abnormalities before each use. Checking for issues such as loose bolts, leaking oil or other fluids, and excessive vibration will increase the chances of industrial robots maximizing productivity. Staff should also examine all the robotic cable management accessories, ensuring they are still working as expected.

When it comes to power cords, people should look for twists, tangles, fraying, breakage or anything else that could compromise the robot’s performance. The enterprise should also have a user-friendly process for reporting problems and scheduling maintenance when required. Regular care is an important part of reducing downtime and ensuring the robot lasts as long as expected. 

Use a labeling or color-coding system
Since robots can have so many different cables, it is practical to have a visual system for quickly identifying them. Besides making maintenance easier, this approach can accelerate troubleshooting, allowing people to see which wire has the issue and what it controls.

One option is to label them, but if that becomes too cumbersome, another easy method is a color-based system. Use a tag or tie of the same hue for each type of power cord. Make sure to have a legend near the robot so people can quickly match the color to the function, even if they are relatively unfamiliar with how the machine works.

Choose tension-relieving robotic cable management options
Properly managing robotic cables means understanding which activities or movements exert the most tension and exploring solutions to reduce it. David Sandiland — robotics product and sales manager at igus — explained how cable construction differs significantly if it runs in one direction rather than being a torsion-running type.

Sandiland clarified although having the proper torsion is an important aspect, so is finding cable management solutions to relieve as much mechanical stress as possible. Corrugated hoses are popular, but they resist torsion and bending and will not move along with the robot. If the management strategy has enough flexibility to accommodate those forces, it will reduce the associated tension, making the wire less likely to break.

Focus on continuous improvement
Besides implementing these suggestions, consider how your brand could enhance its existing robotic cable management strategy. What is working well and which problems cause the most downtime? Have new products recently arrived on the market that could get better results? Ask for feedback from workers, too. Their input may highlight aspects not previously addressed. When everyone at a company takes cable management seriously, they create an environment where robots can provide the maximum return on investment and become regular parts of the workflow with less downtime.

About the author:
Emily Newton is a tech and industrial journalist and the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized Magazine. Subscribe to the Revolutionized newsletter for more content from Emily. 

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