Automation has seen massive growth over the last decade where a variety of industries have unleashed the vast potential of robots. Amongst various implementations, collaborative robots (cobots) have seen an accelerating growth in adoption over the years even though they are relatively new.
According to Loup Ventures, cobots contributed to about three percent of robot sales in 2018, but are expected to increase significantly to 34 percent by 2025. Why?
Compared to the large and bulky industrial machines, cobots are designed to safely operate in close proximity to humans to complete tasks. Traditional industrial robots are often mammoth-sized machines that are static and difficult to repurpose and reprogram. By contrast, cobots are compact and flexible and can operate without safety cages or fencing directly alongside people (upon risk assessment), thereby reducing footprint and space usage.
Cobots can be deployed on a wide variety of tasks and are easily redeployed when there is a change in the tasks required.
Cobots, unlike humans, do not suffer from fatigue and can work 24/7/365, repeating each task in exactly the same way. Therefore, with none of the human errors caused by fatigue, cobots provide higher business productivity, efficiency, and product quality.
Most industrial robots offer a payback period that is too long to justify the investment. Whereas for cobots, the average payback period is as short as twelve months, making them more accessible to growing enterprises.
Cobots are highly flexible, allowing them to be reprogrammed for different tasks if manufacturing processes change, making them more investment-worthy.
What are the applications of cobots?
There are many collaborative robot applications across all industries.
Cobots, in general, are able to improve efficiency and safety of many industries by assuming dull, dirty, and dangerous work. These include assembly, dispensing, finishing, machine tending, material handling, welding, material removal, quality inspections, and more. The three common classes of cobot deployments are material handling, assembly and quality assurance, and material removal.
In manufacturing, material handling refers to the movement, protection, storage and control of materials and products throughout manufacturing, warehousing, distribution, consumption, and disposal. This is often one of the most dangerous jobs in manufacturing as materials such as metals, plastics, and other substances can pose a great risk to human workers. Additionally, many material handling tasks are repetitive, which can give rise to repetitive strain injury and errors due to fatigue. Manufacturing plants that use robots see significantly fewer workplace injuries.
In JVC Electronics Indonesia (JEIN), workers were performing menial and repetitive tasks such as soldering, separating cut pieces of Printed Circuit Board (PCB), and attaching a glass display on the car stereo units. JEIN manufactures over 400,000 products each month to serve global customers and this requires a fast turnaround time with minimal defects, to consistently meet production targets. The adoption of UR3 cobots relieved workers from handling these repetitive and high risk tasks, which emit hazardous fumes and dust particles.
“One of the key features of the UR3 robot is its force control for adaptive safety; it senses external forces and stops immediately when a collision is detected. Our workers are able to work in close proximity with the cobots with no safety guarding after an initial risk assessment,” said Sukijan, Plant Supervisor at JEIN.
Assembly and quality assurance
Universal Robots’ cobots are specifically designed to work alongside human employees and relieve them from tedious and difficult assembly jobs. This includes welding small pieces together, drilling screws, and similar assembly tasks.
Cobots can also be used to assist with quality assurance during the production process. Unlike humans, cobots perform the same task the same way, every time, without growing tired or suffering any loss in performance. For example, cobots can place a vision device in the same location for as many measurements and positions on as many workpieces as needed – all without optical recalibration.
Blue Star Limited is a leading manufacturer of air conditioning and commercial refrigeration products in India. A vital task in the plant is the copper tube expansion, which was done manually. The repetitive task is mentally and physically stressful, and as a result the plant faced issues of quality rejection. This is a task which requires human intervention and heavy industrial robots may be unsafe. Blue Star needed a solution where robots and humans can work together to complete the task safely, and hence chose to work with cobots. The company increased their production by 10 percent and eradicated quality rejects, delivering their vision of high-quality products.
Other tasks that are also crucial to production can be handled by cobots. For example, material removal by robots is needed for any process that involves filling moulds. These cobots can assess the moulded piece and take care of trimming any excess metal or plastic without damaging the part or subjecting human workers to the risk of injury.
Meanwhile, cobots fitted with dispensing tools and hardware can be used to add glue or other adhesives, while cobots fitted with a sanding kit from the UR+ platform can be used to polish pieces for a bright, smooth finish.
Cobots are growing in presence and popularity mostly due to an increasingly budget-friendly price tag, easier programming which reduces implementation and training time, and safety qualities. With these factors in place, cobots are expected to be major contributors to the growth of manufacturing, assembly and other industries.
Article by James McKew, Regional Director Asia-Pacific, Universal Robots
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