Envisioning a robot in a manufacturing setting might conjure images of a large mechanical arm assembling car parts, a cobot welding electronic components, or a machine rapidly packaging food containers. Industrial robots, fully automated machines, perform specialized tasks like pumping, packaging, and categorizing, often operating alone or alongside other robots due to their swift, potentially hazardous movements. Traditional robots have also been perceived as threats to human employment, replacing manual labor in various sectors.
However, collaborative bots, or “cobots,” designed to interact closely with humans, are emerging in commercial environments, offering a different narrative in the realm of automation.
What Are Cobots?
Cobots are robots designed to work collaboratively with humans, serving as assistants or facilitators. Unlike autonomous robots, which operate independently, cobots are developed to be responsive to human commands and actions, expanding the potential applications of robotic automation. The global market for collaborative robotics is expected to burgeon, with its value projected to rise from $1.4 billion in 2022 to $27.4 billion by 2032, reflecting a remarkable CAGR of 36.3%.
How Do Collaborative Robots or Cobots Work?
Cobots, designed with contoured edges, force limitations, and lightweight construction, prioritize safety. They are typically equipped with sensors to avoid collisions with human workers and have safety protocols to shut down upon unexpected contact. Cobots not only execute repetitive motions but are also capable of “learning” and “thinking,” working harmoniously with humans.
Key features of cobots include:
- Supervised Safety Stop: A supervised safety halt where the automaton temporarily pauses operations owing to human proximity.
- Human-Led Learning: A feature that enables machines to acquire knowledge from humans actively leading hardware for a specific process or task.
- Acceleration and Isolation Monitoring: Acceleration and isolation monitoring and force or power regulating to ensure consistent automation performance standards
Technological advancements, such as sensor-based learning systems and artificial intelligence, have expanded cobot functionalities, transforming our work and living environments over the past decade.
Cobot Software Programming Insights
Cobots stand out for their ease of programming, not requiring expert programming knowledge and enabling deployment without a specialized robotic integration agency, thus reducing deployment costs. Cobots are typically programmed using:
- Drag-and-drop software: The simplest technique for programming a cobot is drag-and-drop programming, where user inputs can be converted into code. The user just drags and drops the intended actions, and the cobot will execute them in the appropriate sequence.
- Flowcharting software: Users can create the general structure of the operating system for specific cobots using basic controls to steer the robot towards program goals or tasks. Either method is simple to learn and allows a larger percentage of employees to collaborate with the robot.
- Automation wizard software: Some cobot manufacturers offer application assistants along with a straightforward programming methodology. These specialized software applications direct the user with preset templates, which simplifies and expedites any complex assignment.
4 Benefits of Collaborative Robots
Cobots offer several key advantages for industrial companies:
1. Safety leads to lower costs and better compliance
This category of robotics is intended to work in tandem with human personnel. Cobots use complex visual technology and are furnished with sophisticated sensors, in contrast to more traditional robotics, which may adversely affect a person nearby. This allows them to detect individuals and halt or alter their behavior. Due to these innovations, cobots no longer require enclosures to ensure safety.
Companies can save on costs by simply deploying cobots without added safety equipment. Also, they make it easier to comply with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations as they come with safety standards built in.
2. The ability to work with humans makes cobots extremely versatile
Cobots can collaborate with humans and react intelligently by recognizing their immediate environment. They can be placed on the factory floor to collaborate with other employees almost as if they were staff members. They facilitate the completion of intricate tasks that can’t be completely automated. However, they are also useful during basic, highly repetitive tasks. Using cobots also reassures workers that their jobs are safe and that automation is not a complete replacement for their roles.
3. Easier implementation means faster returns on investment
Collaborative robots have demonstrated a higher rate of return when compared to commercial counterparts. This is largely due to the substantially lowered upfront costs. Also, more duties can be computerized for every robot, and cobots contribute to increased workforce productivity.
For businesses that aren’t in a situation to take a chance on automation spending beyond a point – collaborative robotics deliver solid ROI, usually within only a few months. Keep in mind that since it does not require additional supervision or safety equipment, it further accelerates ROI.
4. Freedom from routine work allows employees to upskill
Cobots were created to be considerably simpler than standard industrial robotics. As a result, you can relieve your staff members from repetitive duties and allow them to become automaton controllers/supervisors with more time to focus on the more pressing assignments.
Intuitive 3D visualizations allow users to navigate the robot arm to the appropriate waypoints with minimal effort. Alternatively, they can use the navigation buttons on a touch-sensitive tablet to “teach” the cobot automation steps. As a result, employees have more time and bandwidth to upskill.
Potential Limitations of Cobots
While cobots offer numerous benefits, they cannot fully replace traditional industrial robots, especially in handling larger loads and operating at higher speeds. Additionally, transferring a cobot and altering its functions may require additional safety certifications, demanding more time and effort.
Since safety is the most important goal of a cobot, pace is secondary, particularly when more safety precautions are exercised. Cobots typically move between 200 and 250 millimeters every second, a rate four times more sluggish when compared to standard industrial robots.
Remember transferring a cobot and altering its functions or tool set often calls for supplementary security certifications. Due to some precautionary approval, businesses might have to spend more time and effort.
In Summary: Cobot Applications and Future Trends
Cobots find applications in various sectors, including:
- Food handling: Automation in the food sector is more complex than in other industries due to the problematic nature of robotics working directly with food products. This can be addressed by cobots and their unique gripper capabilities.
- Plastics manufacturing: The plastics business is characterized by its high-mix, low-volume production pipelines. It involves a vast selection of products in relatively small quantities. This form of production technique can be challenging for conventional automation, given that processes often change – but can be successfully tackled by cobots.
- Pharmaceuticals: The pharmaceutical industry routinely deals with significant quantities, making precise inspection crucial. Further, the error margin has to be as small as practicable. Automated cobots, working alongside humans, can adhere to these standards.
There are a host of applications for collaborative robotics. Demand for cobots will increase as automation progresses and more sectors acknowledge the increased efficiency of these robotic assistants. They work in conditions where industrial machines are either hazardous or unproductive. The prospects for collaborative robotics, both within and beyond manufacturing facilities, are truly astounding.