Collaborative Robots and Their Impact on Manufacturing


Posted on: March 15th, 2021

For decades, industrial robots have focused on increasing speed and payload capacity. Over this time, these robots have gotten bigger, stronger, and more dangerous, while their programming languages have only become more complex.

To address these safety issues and simplify implementation, manufacturers are increasingly integrating industrial collaborative robots, or cobots, into their production processes. Below, we explain in greater detail the many capabilities of cobots and how they can provide a safe, flexible, and cost-effective solution for automating hundreds of industrial tasks.

What is a Collaborative Robot?

Typically, when manufacturers think of robotic integration, they think of more traditional industrial robots that are built and programmed to perform tasks at a distance from workers on the factory floor. As previously mentioned, these robots can often be large, heavy, fast, and very strong — qualities that make them hazardous to humans and require them to be surrounded by fencing or other barriers.

A cobot, on the other hand, is a type of industrial robot that can work safely alongside people. Unlike traditional industrial robots, a cobot does not have to be isolated within a safety cage. Rather, a cobot’s technology and software is programmed to “sense” when it has collided with a person, object, or anything unexpected and come to an immediate halt. This “collaborative” nature, as its namesake implies, allows machines and humans to work side by side on the same task at the same time and in the same area, such as a work cell, station, or work bench.

Practical Applications of Cobots in Manufacturing

Similar to traditional industrial robots, there are a wide variety of applications for cobots across all industries. Below, we outlined some of the many uses of cobot deployments in manufacturing.

Assembly

When it comes to increasing speed or improving accuracy on the assembly line, cobots typically fall short compared to traditional industrial robotic arms. However, for certain assembly tasks or tight situations where it might not be possible to have a robot operating behind a safety barrier, cobots can prove beneficial. For instance, cobots can be used for a variety of part fastening or joining tasks, such as screwing, dispensing, welding, and inserting, to name a few.

Material Handling

Material handling can be one of the most mundane, yet dangerous tasks on the factory floor. Materials like metal and plastic can be sharp or heavy and pose risk to human laborers. Not to mention, many material handling jobs are repetitive, which can cause strain on employees.

That’s where industrial cobots can come into play. When it comes to palletizing, stacking, or moving heavy materials, cobots can easily lift and transport them using mobile robot platforms. Meanwhile, machine tending tasks, including those that involve CNC machining or electropolishing, for example, are also within the capabilities of a cobot.

Testing and Inspection

In today’s competitive marketplace, customers demand the best products. Before any product leaves your factory, testing and inspection are crucial to verifying quality. Whether you need to incrementally track progress on an assembly or you need to perform one specific test, cobots can carry out the quality control checks within your manufacturing process. These can include but are not limited to part identification, presence/absence monitoring, probing and gauging, and more.

The Future of Cobots in Manufacturing

Cobots make up about 3 percent of all robot sales today – a percentage that is expected to increase to 34 percent by 2025. One major growth factor, as mentioned, is the advancing capabilities of cobots. Industrial robotic companies like FANUC are continuously upgrading and releasing new lines of cobots that are quicker and easier to program. This can not only reduce implementation time but also your upfront automation investment.

In addition, the shrinking price tag of cobots can allow for greater accessibility to manufacturers large and small. Over the past decade, the price of cobots has decreased significantly, making them more accessible and easier for manufacturing companies to justify when considering an investment in automation.

Integrate Cobots in Your Facility

As your manufacturing company seeks to automate processes through robotic integration, you may be wondering if cobots are right for you. At SDC, you can trust our team of experts to evaluate every new project and integrate the best robotic technology for the application. Our controls engineering team has the experience and training to successfully recommend, implement, and program the optimal robotic package, regardless of supplier and brand.

Contact SDC today to start exploring the benefits that industrial robots can have on your manufacturing processes.