Cobots in the shared manufacturing workspace

In 2016, there were around 1.8 million robots working in various industries around the world, this figure is predicted to rise to over three million by 2020. Cobots or co-robots, short for collaborative robots, are now working side by side with humans in a huge variety of industries.

Traditionally, robots have not been able to work closely with humans due to safety concerns. But thanks to advances in sensor and vision technology, new light-weight, mobile robots no longer need to be confined to safety cages, and can work in collaboration with their human counterparts.

What are the advantages of working with Cobots?

Working side by side with humans, Cobots are able to complete more complex or repetitive tasks where precision and accuracy may be open to human error. Unlike their predecessors, Cobots don’t require complicated programming by highly qualified operators before they can be used. New patented technology, intuitive interfaces and 3D visualisations also mean that Cobots can be set up easily and respond to variations in the work flow quickly.

Furthermore, Cobots don’t require ongoing safeguarding. This means they can relieve their human colleagues by carrying out monotonous and ergonomically unfavourable tasks.

Cobots in manufacturing

In manufacturing, Cobots are much more versatile than humans. Where a human may take months or even years to retrain, a Cobot can be reprogrammed in minutes. And by incorporating Cobots into the workplace, highly skilled human workers can make use of their superior speed, strength and precision.

All Cobots are fitted with force sensors at their joints. This means they can work at full speed, accomplishing tasks that would take a human worker much longer to complete, and yet stop immediately when they detect non-standard activity in their work environment.

Cobots in food manufacturing

Cobots can be incorporated into the food production process easily. Their high-precision mechanics and sensors combined with complex controls and measuring technology allow them to work in tight spaces and integrate efficiently with automated platforms.

They can also be used in some of the more dangerous aspects of the food industry to eliminate risks to human workers. For example, butchery on an Industrial level has often been difficult to automate since each animal carcass varies in size and dimensions. Robotic manipulators and vision sensors can now be used to automate higher risk activities like rib cutting, which previously involved a human worker operating a high-speed circular saw for several hours at a time.  

Fruit and veg have always posed a problem to automated processes due to their insufficient uniformity and delicate nature, so one of the biggest steps forward has been Cobots with advanced gripping technology combined with sensors which allow for the picking, selecting and packaging of organic foods. However, the perfect design for handling fruit and veg may not be one which imitates a human hand, but rather one similar to an octopus’ tentacle with various suction cups to allow it to alter its grip each time.

Cobots can also prove useful in certain environments which would be unfavourable to human workers; being able to work in extreme temperatures or low-oxygen settings means they can replace the need for humans wearing protective clothing.

Every day, Cobots are changing the way we work in all different industries. For an insight into how technology developments can improve your company, you can register for the PPMA Show 2018 at NEC Birmingham, UK from 25 to 27 September 2018.