How Collaborative Robots Are Building More Efficient Workplaces

Johannes Beekman

The idea of collaborative robots, or cobots, has crossed over from fiction to the real world of production applications. You’ll increasingly find them in manufacturing facilities and warehouses around the world as more and more businesses explore all the possibilities of these smart robots.

How Robots and Cobots Assist Manufacturers

Conventional robots used in manufacturing provide efficiency for assembly line work that’s high risk for humans, such as tasks that require coming in contact with dangerous chemicals or moving machine parts. These robots facilitate high-speed production of high-volume manufacturing and are particularly useful at cutting costs on redundant tasks, giving human workers the ability to work on more in-depth, meaningful work, like data analysis. One limitation of these robust robots, however, is that they are extremely heavy, making them hard to deploy in other applications once they are positioned for an assembly line operation.

The new emerging offspring of these heavy industrial robots is the lightweight, teachable, and mobile cobot, which is designed to work alongside human workers, rather than separately from them as is the case with conventional robots.

Manufacturers utilize cobots to improve production efficiency. They are capable of performing certain human tasks, like tending to computer numerical control machines or performing quality inspections, which allows firms to get more work done with less staffing.

In the larger automotive and aerospace fields, manufacturers are incorporating an increasing number of smart solutions, such as collaborative robots. These machines are capable of performing certain human tasks, which allows a producer to get more work done with less staffing.

Questions for manufacturers to ask when deciding on investing in large robots or smaller, more adaptable cobots will revolve around production speed, volume, and task diversity.

Where Cobots Came From

Cobots originated from a 1995 research project backed by the General Motors Foundation. The concept was to design robotic machines that could safely interact with people and achieve tasks once performed exclusively by humans.

Cobot Safety Standards

Cobots are required to be designed following the safety standards laid out in ISO 10218 and IOS/TS 15066. The safety features embedded in cobots include:

  • Safety Monitored Stop
  • Capacity for Hand-guiding
  • Monitoring for Speed and Separation
  • Limits for Power and Force

Industrial Robots and Cobots

The future of industrial robotics will be toward diverse activity at lower costs. Cobots will be the key to improving profit margins for operations of various sizes. Companies that invest in cobots will have a competitive advantage over those that avoid this technology.

Cobots help manufacturing firms enhance their production efficiency through:

  • Sorting and Installing – Cobots can be designed to accurately pick and place parts in the manufacturing process, especially on a conveyor belt.
  • Machine Monitoring – Overseeing multiple machine processes at once is part of how cobots are revolutionizing manufacturing, as they are able to move supplies to a machine and install or remove parts with high precision based on programming.
  • Packaging – Cobots can now wrap, box, collate or load items in the preparation of shipping.
  • Finishing – Product refinement tasks, such as polishing and grinding, can now be accomplished by cobots, which relieves humans from engaging in dangerous work.
  • Quality Control – The final gatekeeping task of production can now be performed by a cobot, which can completely inspect finished parts to ensure quality compliance and the elimination of human error.

Demand for cobots in the manufacturing community is growing and projected to reach $9 billion by 2025. Major objectives for investment in cobot technology include greater automation, flexibility, cost efficiency, and ease of use. Cobots will likely be embraced by small and medium manufacturers due to their enormous cost-cutting and time-saving appeal. Before investing in cobots, make sure you conduct a comprehensive risk assessment to determine necessary safety features.

Do not underestimate what modern collaborative robots can do for improving manufacturing processes. The global market for robotic systems is expected to rise 45 percent to $36.84 billion by 2026, according to Research and Markets. Over time, cobots will continue to be improved and become less expensive and more valuable to human workforces for getting more work accomplished at a faster pace.

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