The march of collaborative robots is quickening pace, as automation specialists launch products and manufacturers embrace early adoption
The march of collaborative robots is quickening pace, as automation specialists launch products and manufacturers embrace early adoption.
Typically fitted with a suite of sophisticated sensors that enables them to react quickly to what is going on around them, collaborative robots (cobots) can be operated in shared workspaces with humans, without the need for safety fences. This frees up valuable floor space within production plants and improves operational efficiency and workflow.
Early industrial uses have included a host of repetitive and arduous tasks, including loading spare wheels into the boots of cars, and for workpiece loading on machine tools.
As sensor technology improves, so more automation companies have started to unveil cobot products. Last year Fanuc launched a cobot with a protective ‘soft-skin’ that had the ability to lift payloads of up to 35kg. It has now followed that with a smaller arm that can lift up to 7kg.
Fanuc’s managing director Tom Bouchier said cobots would become an indispensable part of production, opening up a new era for manufacturing: “They enhance machines with vision, force sensors, and artificial intelligence, greatly improving the rate of production. This makes processes more cost and energy efficient, and reduces waste.”
Bouchier said that cobots would also make life easier for factory floor staff. “Improvements in collaborative working practices can make vast improvements to labour conditions, making it healthier and cleaner. In cases where handling manoeuvres have been carried out by muscle power, these can now be performed by the robot. Human workers can be upskilled, opening up more desirable job opportunities.”