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What are Collaborative Robots?

The first industrial robot was deployed in 1961 at a General Motors plant in New Jersey. The Unimate was invented to pick up molten hot door handles and drop them into a cooling solution. This once was the job of a human.
Now, more than 60 years later, collaborative robots are designed to safely work directly alongside human workers to complete a task that cannot be fully automated. In other words, we still need people for some tasks, but robots and people working together are many times a better solution.
Cobots can be deployed in almost any industry and sector to take on dull, dirty, and dangerous work currently done by humans. Cobots are equipped with advanced vision and other sensors for work that is finely tuned, accurate and adheres to a steady cycle time. Cobots are quick learners, taking their instruction from the people who use them. When properly programmed, cobots become excellent collaborators and co-workers.
Will cobots take over the jobs of humans? Not necessarily. Cobots can actually increase the job satisfaction of manufacturing workers who often face endless, repetitive tasks better suited for a cobot. For instance, a worker may perform several repetitive tasks all day on one manufacturing line. With cobots taking over those tasks, that same worker could manage the cobot and other tasks across several production lines, while improving the efficiency of the plant, and the job scope and satisfaction of the worker.

Industrial Robotics

Why invest in Cobots for Automation?

There was a day when robotics was for the highly capitalized large plants. Yet, here are seven reasons why your company – even smaller to mid-size manufacturing facilities — should consider investing in a cobot program.

Consistent Results

There are no vacation days for cobots. No sick days. They don’t become tired or have “a bad day.” They love monotonous tasks, and they can do them hour after hour, day after day, without diminished quality. They are consistent performers who can work as long as you need them to work.

Easy to program

Non-engineers can now program cobots as easy as programming a wireless device or any other intuitive electronic item. With moderate training, anyone on the production floor can learn to program a cobot. The Omron Techman has hand guiding features where the robot learns by example where to move, where to pick up, and where to place.

Cobots are versatile for different applications

Cobots are flexible and programming them for a task does not require a manufacturer’s technician. This creates a “utility player” on the production floor. As needs change, so can end effectors and programming, leaving a cobot available to perform different tasks on different days if the production schedule warrants. Pick and place, assembly, machine tending, packaging and palletizing and surface finishing are just a few of the applications best suited for cobots.

Short deployment time means master ROI

The longer it takes to set up automation, the more expensive the initial investment gets. Initial investment can by high if it takes a long time to set up automation. Cost creep comes in the forms of additional staff training, production stops and externally hired techs to help with the installation. Cobots come with out-of-the-box functionality and can be preprogrammed at the factory or by your automation integrator to allow for 1-hour setups. ROI comes faster when the complexity is simplified.

Increase productivity and optimize processes

Imagine doing the same repetitive task over and over – focus and safety is an issue in these types of jobs. Ergonomic challenges can create injuries and days lost for employees. Cobots perform processes where a human worker might lose focus, become tired (and unsafe), or have diminished performance. Cobots can change tasks without training, and change jobs without pushback. And if workers embrace cobot not as a threat to jobs, but as a productive co-worker, the production line is optimized and the workers enjoy additional job satisfaction.

Four Scenarios for Cobots

It has been noted in a scholarly study of collaborative robots, done by Dr. Shirine El Zaatari of Coventry University, that there are four distinct collaborative scenarios for humans and cobots:

  • Independent: A human operator and a cobot work on separate workpieces, independently, and on their individual manufacturing processes. The collaborative element constitutes the shared workspace without cages or fences.
  • Simultaneous: A human operator and a cobot operate on separate manufacturing processes on the same workpiece at the same time. Concurrently operating on the same workpiece minimizes transit time, improves productivity and space utilization, but as such, there is no time or task dependency between the humans and the cobot.
  • Sequential: A human operator and a cobot perform sequential manufacturing processes on the same workpiece. Here, there are time dependencies between the processes of the operator and the cobot; often the cobot is assigned to handle the more tedious processes, which may also improve the operator’s working condition.
  • Supportive: A human operator and a cobot work on the same process on the same workpiece interactively. Here, there may be full dependencies between the human and the cobot, as one cannot perform the task without the other. At the present stage most examples of cobots deployed in industrial settings are related to the ‘independent’ or the ‘simultaneous’ collaboration scenarios. Most advanced research projects, aiming to break new ground, can be categorized as striving for ‘sequential’ or ‘supportive’ collaboration scenarios.

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