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COLLABORATIVE ROBOT Q&A

One of our newer employees, Roxanne Raye (Simulations Engineer), recently attended the RIA’s Collaborative Robot Workshop, held in conjunction with the AIA Vision Show, in Boston, MA. Roxanne sat in on several of the lectures pertaining to collaborative robots and came back with answers to five of our most burning questions:

1.       What industries are most interested in collaborative robots?

Companies are looking for collaborative robots to fill the gap of applications that couldn’t be automated in the past due to economics, ergonomics, space use, or manual complexities. While some of these areas can be filled by using a standard robot in a collaborative work space (area scanners, light curtains, speed separation, etc.), many first time robot users are attracted to the ease-of-use models collaborative robots are embracing.

In particular, the electronics and healthcare industries are very interested in collaborative robots* because of their portability, small assembly capabilities and quick teach times, as are low volume shops looking to expand or seeking a cost effective way to keep pace with growing demand. Large industries, like aerospace and automotive, are looking at how collaborative robots can automate processes that previously couldn’t have been automated. Manufacturing in general is considering how to utilize mobile robots beyond material handling applications.

2.       Where do most companies want to leverage collaborative robots?

Smaller companies that are new to robotics are very interested in the easy-to-program features and the ability to integrate collaborative robots with existing equipment without alteration. Larger, more established companies that are familiar with automation are attracted to the savings on floor space and guarding while maintaining or improving safety (ergonomics).

At JR, we try to funnel all potential collaborative robot applications into one of the following application styles:

Application Style

Sample Application

Human Robot Collaboration (HRC)

Human and a robot assembling a part together

Rapid Training

Needing lead through teach process

Floor Space Reduction

Doing a process without a fence

Additional Dimension of Robot Perception

Meshing gears together in an assembly

 

If a process only requires a single application style, then we will usually recommend a standard industrial robot with additional sensors and/or intelligent programming. The benefits of collaborative robots become apparent when a process requires that two or more application styles to be combined together.

3.       What collaborative robot brands do you think are the largest in the automation industry?

It is very difficult to find any quantitative data - most companies do not publish sales numbers broken down to robot models. I’d say that Universal Robotics has the biggest outreach across all industries. Their robots are fairly inexpensive while still being effective, so more companies are willing to take a short term risk with them. Heavy industries are looking at FANUC’s collaborative robot (CR-35ia) and small assembly is looking at ABB’s dual arm model (YuMi). Very complex applications are leveraging the incredibly powerful java-based programming language that the KUKA iiwa’s operating system provides.

4.       How is safety different in collaborative applications and how are risk assessments conducted?

All aspects of engineering systems for collaborative robots is different than standard industrial robots. As an example: a robot’s end-of-arm-tool (EOAT) is normally just designed for functionality. In collaborative robot applications, the EOAT has to be designed for functionality while simultaneously ensuring that there are no pinch points or sharp corners – slightly increasing the overall engineering time.

Regarding the specifics of risk assessments, there still isn’t a lot defined beyond analyzing the process with the new safety specifications in mind. At the RIA Conference, there was a lot of conversation on how to minimize risk with collaborative robots, in terms of tool and fixture design, motion planning, and environmental set up. Additionally, there was discussion of who is responsible for a risk assessment during a Q&A at one session. The panel agreed that the customer is ultimately responsible for the assessment, especially if they plan to redeploy the robot to a new task or location. However, many first time users are going to be inexperienced with how to analyze robot risk, so the issue remains difficult to directly answer.

5.       Is general collaborative robot momentum increasing or decreasing?

There is definitely still an increasing movement towards integrating collaborative robots. I think that many companies continue to see collaborative robots as a hot “buzzword” and are interested in integrating collaborative robots into machines now that safety specifications are being released and the major robot companies (such as FANUC) are developing collaborative options. I think that we will see another year or two of relatively flat collaborative robot sales while the industry determines where to apply the collaborative robots.

In looking at the overall industry, collaborative robots should still be considered very recent additions. Universal Robotics released their UR10 model and Rethink Robotics released Baxter in 2012. KUKA released iiwa in 2014 and ABB’s YuMi and FANUC’s CR-35ia robots were released in 2015.

Collaborative robots have an immense potential to be a disruptive technology – because of that, JR is continuing to invest resources into better understanding so that we can enable our customers to best leverage technology.

Have questions of your own regarding collaborative robots? Our team can help you understand the risks and rewards. Email [email protected] today!

JR Automation partners with the world's leading manufacturers to design, build, and integrate custom automation solutions. Headquartered in Holland, Michigan (USA), we have more than 1,200,000 sq. ft. (111,000 sq. m.) of office and production space around the world and more than 2,000 dedicated team members. We've handled even the most technically challenging large-scale projects, and you'll find our solutions operating 24/7 on 5 continents.

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