Collaborative robots bring efficient and cost effective automation to small- and medium-sized manufacturers. More commonly known as cobots, these machines work right alongside your existing workforce – assisting with repetitive or potentially harmful tasks instead of replacing valuable workers. Many manufacturers see automation as a great way to increase productivity and bottom lines, but are unsure where to get started or where to go from the automation they already have. Cobots offer the best solution to this common problem.
Deciding what tasks can be automated with cobots is an important first step. Though this might seem like a simple issue, there are a few things you should consider before installing your first cobot:
- Cobots are best suited for tasks that your workers can perform by hand. Most mid-sized cobots have about the same reach and lifting capacity as the average worker. Cobots come in a few different sizes and payload capacities to suit your automation needs.
- Cobots operate at similar speeds to humans. The gains in productivity predominantly come from the reduction in the amount of time taken between tasks and the increase in time that a cobot is available for work. In many cases, cobots can work around the clock with little to no assistance from a human operator. Of course, there is some variation from task to task.
- Cobots are ideal for repetitive, manual tasks. While cobots have a large amount of tech onboard, tasks that require critical thinking or analysis, extremely fine dexterity, or problem solving skills are not well suited for automation. There are technologies that allow cobots to perform more advanced inspection or material handling. Once you have a few automation projects under your belt, these kind of projects might be more your speed.
Once you have decided what you can automate, the next important decision to make is the location of your cobot’s workspace. Cobots are designed to be inherently safe – that is to say that cobots have built in safeguards and safety systems to prevent them from damaging the parts they work with or harming people working around the cobot. These safety systems can be further fortified by connecting additional safety sensors to the cobot. These safeguards allow most cobots to be deployed without a safety cage or complex guarding often associated with traditional large-scale automation. No guarding means a smaller workspace footprint – these machines are not going to take up a large amount of valuable space on your manufacturing floor.
The next task to tackle is actually telling the cobot what to do. Programming the cobot might seem to be a daunting task for some manufacturers. The truth is that with a very small amount of training, most factory workers can be trained how to operate and program a cobot in just a few hours. This ease of programming not only allows you to quickly automate tasks, but also makes it easy to redeploy the cobot at various places around your manufacturing floor. Unlike traditional robots, cobots are so easy to program that they can be useful to automate even short run manufacturing projects. Part of the programming process is figuring out what needs to be attached to the end of the cobot arm to allow the cobot to do its work. There are a wide variety of the type of end-of-arm tooling we call “grippers” on the market today. These grippers can be powered by compressed air, vacuum, or electricity and can be used to pick up, move, twist, or otherwise manipulate parts. Many manufacturers use 3D printers to make “fingers” for their grippers or custom attachments for their cobots that perfectly suit the task at hand. However, many of the grippers available on the market today can be used right out of the box to pick up and manipulate items.
Cobots can be set up to easily communicate with your other machinery, too. From mimicking simple human actions like pressing the start button on a CNC machine to more complex tasks like advancing a conveyor belt to bring parts down an assembly line, the onboard signal and information-processing systems are flexible yet powerful. This connectivity is important since cobots will likely be working alongside at least one other piece of equipment.
Have questions about installing a cobot at your business? Robot27 can help. From designing fully engineered automation systems to providing the training you and your staff need to successfully set up a cobot on your own, Robot27 specializes in providing the assistance you need. We work with manufacturers small and large to make sure that their cobot automation projects are a success. For more information, please reach out to us on the Contact Us page on our website.