Posted: June 30, 2023
The manufacturing space is ever-changing, and collaborative robots are one of the newer ways manufacturers are starting to see value from robots on the factory floor. Different from industrial robots, collaborative robots provide numerous benefits for manufacturers, can be used in a variety of applications, and are only continuing to grow in value with time
Collaborative robots - nicknamed cobots, are designed to work alongside humans with a primary goal of completing simple, menial and repetitive tasks.
Cobots are engineered to function autonomously and can be programmed similarly to their industrial robot counterparts. Cobots are not limited to simple tasks, but are particularly beneficial to the manufacturing processes and come in the same form factor as small industrial robots - enabling them to perform similar tasks. This allows employees to focus on more complex, cognitive tasks, enhancing the overall efficiency of the production process.
The primary difference between industrial robots and cobots is human involvement. Industrial robots are designed to replace human employees and must operate in a separate workspace, while collaborative robots assist workers and can safely complete tasks alongside them. Unlike industrial robots, cobots are smaller in design and are equipped with either torque sensors in the joint or an array of strain gauges in the base to help detect collisions. Cobots can also be programmed like industrial robots based on their application and processes being performed. Integrated into an entire system, cobots can operate autonomously or with human interaction.
Cobots are beneficial to the manufacturing process by offering up an alternative to larger scale industrial robots. While the cost savings with cobots may not be recognized long-term, the up front expenses of not needing specialized guarding and other safety equipment is of consideration depending on the facility layout.
Workplace safety and improved efficiency continue to be top priorities for manufacturers around the globe. Similar to industrial robots, cobots improve employee safety by reducing the repetitive strain that can lead to fatigue and injuries over time. Whether it's handling heavier loads or working in uncomfortable positions, cobots work alongside their human counterparts to help alleviate these stresses on the body.
As a result, improved ergonomics in the manufacturing process also decreases downtime and increases the level of continuous output. Much like industrial robots, cobots can operate with a high degree of precision, performing repetitive tasks and increasing the efficiency of your operation.
Often smaller and more lightweight than their industrial counterparts, cobots offer up another level of flexibility. Their size and design allows them to be moved throughout a facility much easier, giving the manufacturer an option to reprogram and deploy on another part of the line.
Similar to industrial robots, the goal of leveraging a cobot is to increase productivity through automation. Depending on the configuration, cobots deliver manufacturing facilities with efficiency gains while working alongside employees or working in a fully autonomous environment. Collaborative robots can be safely placed directly next to humans, meaning they can do valuable work with less space required. Plus, the cobot’s success with repetitive tasks can help humans focus on thought-intensive work and therefore improve productivity.
Cobots were created with safety in mind - torque sensors are used to interpret collisions and stop the robot when this occurs. Since robots are incapable of fatigue, cobots are able to perform their simple, repetitive tasks for longer periods of time. This compensates for the breaks humans need to take, and ensures greater quality for these commonplace steps in production.
Cobots are generally not more cost-effective than industrial robots, but do offer a lower barrier to entry for some manufacturing facilities. Depending on the intended use, oftentimes, industrial robots require a larger investment overall which can tie up capital that could be used elsewhere in the facility. While cobots can appear to be a lower price point for manufacturers seeking to add automated robotics into their processes, over time it might not be the best solution. Working alongside a robotics integrator who can become familiar with your processes and intended output will be best suited to develop a solution that not only meets your short term goals, but is helping to future proof your manufacturing by delivering you with the optimal solution.
Another major benefit to collaborative robots is their ability to be utilized in a variety of manufacturing applications. From assembly lines to quality control, there are a few key applications within the industry that cobots best fit within.
Collaborative robots are ideal for pick-and-place applications as they help to reduce employee fatigue, improve ergonomics, and improve accuracy by doing the heavy, and often repetitive, work of lifting objects from one location and placing them to another.
Collaborative robots can be integrated into manufacturing assembly and production lines for a variety of uses, materials and parts to be handled.
For both quality control and inspection, cobots can be a helpful addition to the manufacturing process by improving worker productivity through reduced testing time and error rates.
Since cobots can perform a variety of tasks, such as picking, packing, palletizing, sorting, and more, they can be flexible to the changing demands of material handling applications. Collaborative robots work alongside human employees to improve accuracy, efficiency, and safety. For example, cobots can help human employees pick, pack, and sort orders in an e-commerce warehouse to get orders out the door quickly and accurately.
Cobots are only gaining traction in the manufacturing space and will likely continue to become more popular with time. In the future, manufacturers will likely see cobot use within AI and IoT to further optimize the production process. A cobot’s capabilities with human collaboration will also keep growing as the cobot’s strengths develop and its assistance with tasks expand.