Collaborative robots also known as cobots started overtaking the robotic market in 2017 and by 2020 they are expected to have grown to 150,000 units and approximately $2 billion. A few industries have started to use collaborative robots for the introduction of new automation in the future.
Despite living in a world where robots are rapidly becoming a normal part of our everyday life, it is not unusual to hear someone ask what they can do with a robot. This clearly shows that most people don’t understand that there are a variety of applications that can be done by robots. Humans want robots to automate tasks but they do not necessarily know what tasks exactly.
Collaborative robots thrive because of their ability to function in areas of work that were previously human occupied only. Cobots are designed with intrinsic safety features such as collision detection and force feedback thus making them safe to operate alongside humans. Here are some of the best applications where a collaborative robot can come in handy.
Machine tending involves a person standing in front of an injection-modelling machine, a CNC machine or any other similar device for long hours on end to take care of its operational needs. It could either be the replacement of raw materials or tool changes. A collaborative robot can not only offer freedom to the human operator but also tend to multiple machines thus increasing productivity.
This type of application may require a collaborative robot that has an input and output interfacing hardware that is specific to the machine. This hardware is used to indicate to the robot when materials need to be reloaded or the next cycle.
Pick and place
One of the most repetitive tasks that human works perform in many factories is the manual pick and place. While the monotonous nature of this task can often lead to mistakes, the repeated physical motions also have repercussions as they can cause injury or strain. For a first time user of a collaborative robot, this application is a good start.
Pick and place is any task in which a workpiece needs to be picked and placed in a different place. This application needs a cobot that has an end-effector for the purpose of grasping and dropping the object where needed. It could either be vacuum cup or gripper effector.
Finishing tasks being handled by a human operator not only require manual tools but also large amounts of force. Tools used for finishing jobs often vibrate and can cause potential injury to humans. A collaborative robot can provide the necessary force, accuracy and repetition required for finishing tasks which may include deburring, polishing or grinding.
A cobot can either be taught manually to perfume such tasks or through the use of computer programming methods. Collaborative robots made for finishing tasks feature force sensing systems either internally or through the end-effector.
Packaging and palletizing
The packaging and palletizing of products is a subset of the pick and place. Before products leave a factory floor, they need to be properly prepared for shipping. Packaging and palletizing may include the following:
- Shrink wrapping
- Box assembly and loading
- Box collating or placing onto a pallet for shipping
Such tasks involve small payloads and are also repetitive thus making them ideal for collaborative robots. It is essential for any business running a low to high mix of volume production to have rapid product changeover.
For this application, conveyor tracking is needed for the purpose of synchronizing the robot’s movement with a conveyor. If products have a non-uniform shape then a vision system may also be needed.
Collaborative robots are worth all the hype especially in the manufacturing environment which has a plethora of potential applications for them such as in the automotive industry. Additionally, emerging trends in the world of robotics like cobots play a crucial role in the future of discrete manufacturing.