The simple answer is to use both and add Human-Robot Collaboration (HRC) to supercharge productivity. Whether industrial or collaborative robots are considered for automation projects, one type fits all are not the answer, and now the lines are blurred more than ever. The plant managers are faced with selecting the best technology to improve production in the manufacturing plant they run and it’s not always easy or apparent to pick the correct type of robot to invest in. An excellent place to start is to look at payload, safety requirements, programming expertise, consider the production speed, and volume rates when deciding between cobots and traditional industrial robots. Cobots are best suited for high mix, low volume production, while conventional robots are meant for low mix, high volume production. Using the best of all three maximizes flexibility in production demands is the most cost-effective choice.
What is very clear to many manufacturing companies is that to keep competitive, they must be agile to respond to the ebb and flow in production requirements, add the new requirements of mass customization and it turns into a scheduling ordeal. Some other pressures on manufacturing include idle equipment, increased labor cost and shortages, unreliable workforce as well as worker health issues that arise from low-force movements such as twisting, pinching, and flexing performed repeatedly over long periods as these movements can cause repetitive strain injury (RSI). Large manufacturers will have to adapt and leverage AI to optimize machine learning as well as monitor the overall operating environment with new protocols such as OPC UA. The operational and production data is monitored and collected using a PC and an Ethernet connection to collect a variety of data points. These two new technologies, integrated with the manufacturing process, will create a continuous feedback loop and remove bottleneck without human adjustments.
Manufacturers compete via productivity, flexibility, and agility and need to react to high and low market demands without hiring new workers. The proof is in the numbers, the International Federation of Robotics predicts that the next year 2020, over 1.7 million new robots will be installed in factories worldwide. The collaborative robot segment of the industrial robotics market is forecast to reach $5 billion in revenue by 2027 and accounting for 30% of the total robot market.
Robots are a vital element to achieve such competitiveness, especially if they can share the workspace with humans on the shop-floor, making a co-working partnership via (HRC) type robotics or cobotics. The best way to implement robots is by taking the best traits of humans and robots, then exploiting the dexterity of humans and the capacity of robots to produce flexible and repetitive work. Cobots are becoming more popular because they are easier to deploy with many of the same benefits as industrial robots but are less expensive in many ways for all manufacturing companies, regardless of size.
Industrial robots are heavy, permanently mounted, and are designed for high-volume, high-speed production; this makes them hard to redeploy and inflexible for multiple applications. The large mass of the arm and speed of the robot movements make it must be caged for safety. Machine builders and integrators often do the conception of design, programming, installation, and commission the system for production run as well as integrating them with other production equipment. These characteristics make traditional industrial robots best suited for production processes that will continue unchanged for years, where the return on investment (ROI) will also take many years to be recouped often costing upwards of $120,000.00 for a small system.
Collaborative robots or cobots offer many benefits over industrial robots yielding a hybrid workforce of collaborative environments for humans and robots to improve efficiencies and remove non-value-added operations. Cobots reduce the added costs associated with traditional robots like; difficult programming, long set-up, caged work cells, and long ROI. Cobots are lightweight, easy to move from one work cell to another, and don’t require hard-wiring since this robot plug into the wall outlet. The average price of a 5 Kg payload lightweight collaborative robot is $20,000 and with some end of arm tooling a cell can be up and running for under $30,000, this makes the ROI fast and affordable even for small manufacturers that run small-batches with high mix runs to help them compete regardless of the size of the manufacturer. To find out more about collaborative robots and specifications, visit the AUBO Robotics products page.
Robot buying decisions will be less about the type of robot and more about the application being automated and return on investment. The combination of new technologies such as AI, advanced software, and hardware are blurring the lines between cobots and conventional industrial robots.
The fact is that large companies are now outpacing small to medium manufacturers in purchasing cobots and implement them alongside the existing legacy equipment to take advantage of both types of robot technologies.
The low cost of collaborative robotics helps companies to gain a competitive advantage in a manufacturing environment while reducing repetitive tasks as well as the 4D’s (dirty, dull, delicate and dangerous) with a quick ROI. Workers will not miss the 4D’s, but management needs to shift the workers’ mindset from losing the old job to learning a new job skill. Existing workers will adapt quickly when passion is shared to embrace new technology effectively, ensuring a successful project.
Below are some of the main benefits of collaborative robots.
Cobot programming lets operators without programming experience, trained by example they can quickly set-up to have the robot working in production and it can also be rapidly redeployed in other tasks rapidly, allowing for fast changeovers. The intuitive icons on the HMI simply move the robot arm to desired waypoints, touch the arrow keys on the touch screen HMI pendant and or use hand guiding function that allows the human operator to teach the cobot a path to follow; another programming method is ‘track record’ where you simply move the cobot arm by hand through the motion path needed. The cobot learns the path and can be inserted in between precision waypoints in the program.
COLLABORATIVE and SAFE:
A collaborative robot doesn’t mean a safe robot, cobots are power and force limited so they can operate without safety guarding but only after risk assessment. Risk assessments could require the addition of extra safety features like area scanners and or lower operating speeds. The TS-15066 guidelines supplement the ISO-10218 machine directive requirements to ensure that any machines classed as collaborative meet specific safety requirements. When selecting a collaborative robot it is important to have all the third-party certifications from reliable companies such as TUV SUD, UL, and SGS to ensure that robots meet industry standards.
The initial purchase cost of a cobot is much less compared to industrial robots, but it doesn’t end there, more advantages include, low energy consumption often less than 1000 watts to run, small footprint to minimize floor space requirements.
What applications are cobots used in?
PICK and PLACE:
Pick-place and assembly are the most common application that requires repetitive tasks performed by both machines and humans. Low volume batch items were historically this was done by humans while high volume batches require non-flexible hard automation. Now with the lower volumes, the need for fast changeover and advanced end-effectors cobots are a clear choice regardless of industries like packaging, logistics or manufacturing.
Machine tending is the second most popular application for cobots. The cobots ease of programming allows CNC operators to quickly set up, program and run a batch of parts while freeing up human operators to do other tasks or run multiple machines increasing throughput. Mobile robots are now working in harmony with cobots delivering raw materials and removing finished parts to CNC machines leading to even greater productivity.
PACKAGING and PALLETIZING:
The third in line and closely related to the pick and place application is the packaging and palletizing of products. Before finished products are distributed, they must be properly prepared for shipment. This includes kitting, boxing, collating and palletizing items before shipping. These tasks are repetitive and involve small payloads, making them ideal for cobots. Vision systems are often combined with cobots to optimize non-uniform packaging and box shapes.
Forth in line are process tasks that require the robot to follow a fixed path smoothly and repeatably; these include welding, gluing, and dispensing operations. Most often, simulation software is used for this application and it seamlessly integrates offline programming, simulation and code generation, delivering quick, and error-free robot programs in the manufacturing environment.
3D metrology inspection cameras used in conjunction with cobot arms can make for a fast and easy way to quality inspection of parts. Mounting a high-resolution camera on cobots can automate the process for fast inspection and quick change over of different part batches.
The use of cobot adoption will increase as they become commonplace in non-manufacturing sectors, i.e., food processing, medical, and logistics, since they are lightweight, flexible, and easy to set up, making them attractive to all companies which may not have previously considered using robots. Many new startups have come into the market since the cobot was introduced including fast food systems, bartending, robot as a service (RaaS) and many others in the works.
Regardless of what systems are implemented, the human-robotic collaboration will reduce costs, increase productivity for any production runs. By combining advanced technologies, all companies can yield savings well past 100% only limited by organizational competencies.
By, Peter Farkas VP International Sales and Marketing