July 6, 2022
Beginning with Bots
The 5 biggest advantages of cobots - Unchained Robotics
Collaborative robots - cobots for short - are industrial robots that have far more safety features, are lighter, smaller and slower than traditional industrial robots. Why the interest in these new robots when more traditional models can move much faster and lift heavier loads? Their smaller size, weight and speed limit cobots in some areas: They have a shorter reach than traditional industrial robots. Their traditional relatives can lift more weight. They are not able to keep up with the high cycle times that traditional industrial robots can operate at. However, collaborative robots do have some advantages over traditional industrial robots. The 5 most important advantages, are listed here.
- Are space efficient
- Have a fast return on investment (ROI)
- Are flexible
- Can solve pandemic problems.
Before we elaborate on these advantages, a note: Both cobots and traditional industrial robots have their advantages and disadvantages. Which robot is better suited for a specific use always depends on the application on the one hand, and on the requirements you have for it on the other.
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1. Cobots can be used collaborativelyIt's no surprise - it's in the name after all - but cobots can be used collaboratively, i.e. together with human workers. Some are talking about Industry 5.0: After Industry 4.0 brought digital technologies like AI and IoT to manufacturing, the next step in development is to put the focus back on humans and their specialized skills. But what does that mean exactly, and why would you want humans and machines to cooperate?
Employees are still an important factor in the success of companies, so training them and taking steps to increase their productivity should be a high priority for employers. However, many tasks in production are not only characterized by monotony, they can also result in health problems. That's why helping employees perform repetitive tasks with robots is one way to relieve the former. This frees up workers to take on more mentally demanding tasks. This increases their productivity, which makes for greater satisfaction.
Collaboration instead of substitutionCrucial here: Robots do not replace people. In an ideal task distribution, they take over processes that have a negative impact on the physical and mental health of workers. They, in turn, can use their special skills - flexibility, creativity and judgment - more efficiently.
The collaborative use of a cobot thus frees humans from tasks that they are happy to pass on in most cases. If the company communicates openly with its employees, the latter can also suggest on their own initiative where the use of a robot would make sense, because ultimately they know the processes best. This is important in an economic situation in which many production jobs remain open, because it makes the employer and the workplace more attractive.
Collaboration can look different ways: Humans could assist the robot and prepare further processes. This is recommended, for example, in assembly processes where the parts to be assembled are difficult to access or very small, but also if the environment is dangerous for humans.
In any case, it must be kept in mind that the safety of employees is a top priority. Although they have far more safety features than traditional industrial robots, a risk analysis should still be conducted for any use of a cobot.
2. Cobots are space-savingThanks to their built-in safety features, collaborative robots no longer require a physical boundary around their work area - provided that a thorough risk analysis shows that the built-in features are sufficient to guarantee worker safety.
So if strict, physical boundaries - fences or Plexiglas barriers, for example - are no longer necessary, the limited - and expensive - space on the shop floor can be used more efficiently. While traditional industrial robots also have models that require more or less space, their overall small size and flexibility (see below) also makes it possible to integrate cobots into the existing production layout without making major changes.
This is especially important for small and medium-sized companies, which often have relatively small production facilities where the available space must be used as effectively as possible.
3. Cobots have a fast ROIThanks to their small size and usually simpler installation, collaborative robots are usually less expensive than their larger cousins. This advantage is particularly evident in a quick return on investment (ROI): various sources estimate that the average ROI for cobots is between five and eighteen months[i].
In some circumstances, an investment in a cobot can pay for itself in less than a year, which is significantly faster than the often very complex and expensive traditional robots.
This also makes cobots particularly interesting for small and medium-sized companies, because the high initial investment in previous robot cells can be a strong deterrent if there is a lack of liquid funds.
Another option that is currently gaining momentum is the ability to rent or lease collaborative robots. This trend is also known as Robots-as-a-Service (RaaS). Especially if you only need the robot for a short time, this can be an attractive option.
4. Cobots are flexibleTo survive in the current economic climate, flexibility and adaptability are critical to respond to rapid changes and shorter life cycles.Collaborative robots are well suited to keep up with a world - and production - in flux: Unlike traditional industrial robots, cobots are easy to use even for robotics laypeople, and, most importantly, they are highly flexible to use.
This comes in part from the fact that they are very easy - and quick - to reprogram. In some cases, new movements can be programmed in by having a human worker go through the movements with the robot and memorize them. In this way, the mass production that has dominated robotics so far can become mass customization.
On the other hand, it is possible to mount collaborative robots on mobile platforms thanks to their small size.
This means they can be deployed easily and quickly at different locations, which can be particularly advantageous at (seasonal) peak times to cope with a sudden increase in the number of orders.
5. Cobots can solve pandemic problemsThe current Corona pandemic is having a major impact on the economy - that's no secret. New challenges have arisen and old problems have been amplified. However, the use of robots - especially cobots - can help solve them.What impact the pandemic will have on the robotics industry itself can only be conclusively said in the future. However, robotics manufacturers are seeing increased interest in their products and investment in research and development is not significantly different than the previous year[ii].
Keeping a distance and disinfectingCobots can help humans cope with the new reality of the pandemic while also protecting them. One example is using a cobot to collect throat swabs to test for COVID-19. Using the robot can protect medical personnel from infection and also takes work off their hands[iii]. Another example: In some hospitals, robots are used by UVD to clean rooms and equipment with UV light. The number of orders for such robots has risen sharply since the start of the pandemic, according to the British news channel BBC[iv].
Bringing production homeAnother problem that was exposed by the pandemic, but was already noticeable beforehand through trade wars and political tensions, is the sensitivity of global production chains to such major events. At various points, the desire arose to bring at least parts of production back to the home countries, where direct influence can be exerted. This reshoring can be made possible by automation - economically speaking - because the use of robots can offset the high personnel costs in industrialized nations.
ConclusionCollaborative robots offer a variety of advantages. In many cases, these make them one or even the best option for automating processes.
They open up the possibility of cooperation between humans and robots, making the most of their respective strengths.
Cobots are space-saving, which makes them particularly useful for smaller production sites.They are usually inexpensive and their integration is also less complex, which is why they pay for themselves quickly.
They are flexible to use and can be quickly adapted to changes in the production process.
Collaborative robots can solve some of the problems that the COVID19 pandemic has exposed or created in the first place.
However, it is always important to be clear about what requirements you have for a process and a robot, because collaborative robots also have their disadvantages.
So, what now? Start exploring the world of cobots on the Unchained Robotics Platform!
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