Industrial robots were once strictly limited in mobility and functionality. However, recent innovations in robotic technology have paved the way for more agile and practical robots used alongside human personnel in industrial facilities. These machines are known as collaborative robots—or cobots—and promise a number of advantages over traditional manufacturing robots.
Cobots: An Overview
Although there are many types of collaborative robots, the broader category of cobots is defined by certain characteristics—namely, the ability to work alongside human operators. To facilitate this function, cobots have advanced capabilities in terms of collision detection and automatically safe stop when they come into physical contact with a human worker.
Cobots vs. Robots
By the working definition, all cobots are robots, but not all robots are cobots. A cobot must meet all safety requirements such as in standards ISO 10218 and more importantly ISO/TS 15066 to work in close proximity to people. Any robot that does not meet this qualification is not a cobot in the strictest sense, even if it is safer or more mobile than a standard industrial robot.
Benefits of Cobots
Cobots can be a valuable investment for facilities that perform frequent, repetitive tasks. The main benefits include:
- Lower error rates. Human workers often become fatigued when executing repetitive or menial tasks. This mental fog can be harmful in many manufacturing processes, leading to errors that a cobot would be able to prevent. Cobots can also facilitate quality control so that mistakes are caught before they reach customers.
- Greater ease of use. Many can be programmed by mechanically moving the robot through the desired action. Solutions like this are highly flexible and easy to implement with little to no training.
- Lighter employee burdens. Cobots do not experience repetitive stress injuries or sustain acute injuries when working with heavy or awkward loads. They can assist or replace workers in positions where these are a concern.
Applications of Cobots
Cobots are best used to replace people in repetitive, time-intensive labor tasks. These applications, which include pick-and-place packaging, sorting, and packaging, can be done more efficiently by robots, often with less of a chance for error. This frees up human operators to focus on jobs that are harder to automate.
Other common applications for cobots include tasks that require a high degree of precision that would be difficult for a human to accomplish quickly and accurately. This is often the case in quality control tasks or electronics manufacturing. In these situations, a cobot with advanced optical recognition technology can be used to optimize the process.
Some cobots put more emphasis on the “collaborative” element. For instance, Ford uses specialized cobots to help technicians lift and fit heavy automotive components. Cobots might also install a part that’s been fitted by a technician, place a component in front of an employee for processing, or work concurrently with an employee on a single sorting task.
Collaborative Robots and Product Design/Development
At The Hendey Group, we have extensive experience in designing and engineering robotic solutions for automation applications. The knowledge and skills gained from this experience allow us to understand the nuances of designing and building a collaborative application and the value of using cobots in industrial operations.
A key constraint in any product development process is the eventual method of manufacture: delivering a design that is impractical or overly expensive to manufacture benefits nobody. With the growing trend of collaborative robots on the factory floor, some otherwise difficult designs are cheaper and easier to manufacture, broadening options for manufacturing projects.
Partnering With The Hendey Group
No matter where you find yourself in the product development process, the experts at Hendey can help you bring your concept to fruition. We provide services to help conceptualize, sketch, and prototype new ideas, as well as support throughout the manufacturing and marketing stages. We also offer guidance with automation and industrial robotics, including novel technologies such as cobots. To enlist our support with any element of product design, contact our team with details about your needs.