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Getting Started On Collaborative Robots? Here’s A Step-By-Step Guide.


Image: FUJIFILM Industrial Division, Cobot at an exhibition

Automation, along with disruptive technology is affecting our daily lives, and perhaps our livelihoods. It improves productivity and lowers costs significantly.


Yet, manufacturers, especially in Southeast Asia, have been slow to embrace industrial automation as many lack the know-how and experience. Also, they fear that the process will be complicated.


So where is a good point to start in automation? Collaborative robots.


Collaborative robots, also known as cobots, are robots that are made for human interactions directly or in close proximity. In most cases, cobot takes the form of a robotic arm and mimics the mobility of a human arm.


According to The Federation of International Robotics, cobots will account for nearly 35 percent of global robot sales by 2025. These robots are specifically designed to collaborate with human operators, boosting their productivity. Yet, the cobot trend has yet to pick up fully.


“Probably only 10 percent of our target market knows about collaborative robots.”

- Jürgen von Hollen, CEO of leading cobot manufacturer, Universal Robots


If you are the 90% who wants to learn about collaborative robots and how to integrate them into your business, this is the right place to be. Whether you are an SME or a large corporation, there is a suitable cobot for you.



Onboarding a Collaborative Robot


Step 1: Define the Robot’s Task

Or rather, define your problem. Which process would you like to automate?


Cobots are suited for repetitive, unergonomic activities, and also for high mix low volume production. They are especially useful for awkward angles with their higher flexibility, allowing for higher productivity.


Some common applications include:

  • Assembly

  • Pick-and-place

  • Quality Inspection

  • Packaging: Boxing, Shrink-wrapping

  • Process: Glueing, Welding

Out of these applications, pick & place, assembly and material handling are estimated to remain as the three main uses of collaborative robots. They account for 75% of cobot revenues in 2018 and are projected to hold a 68.4% share in 2023.


Other interesting applications include flipping burgers and frying eggs.


Of course, the list is non-exhaustive. Notice that these applications are largely tasks that do not directly add value to the products. That’s because these non-value-added tasks are easy for cobots to perform, as they are repetitive. With this, humans can be liberated from doing these tedious work, and move on to do higher skilled applications.

However, it is essential to note that environments that are congested and inconsistent are tougher to utilise these cobots. Other restrictions include complex sensing, moving objects, and interactions with other machines.


Step 2: Find the Right Manufacturer

There are over 150 cobot manufacturers currently, and a list can be found here. With so many manufacturers to choose from, it is important to keep in mind the robot’s task in step 1.


Here is a curated summary of 5 cobot manufacturing companies and their key features:


KUKA

  • Central, key technologies for a wide variety of tasks involving cooperation between humans and machines

Universal Robots

  • Most established with the highest market share

  • Great range of products, for businesses of every size

  • Safe, flexible, and easy-to-use

Image: Universal Robots, Using a robotic arm from Universal Robots

Automata

  • Affordable, lightweight and small footprint

  • Most suitable for SMEs

  • Enabling rapid changeovers and painless operation

Jaka

  • New player

  • Includes wireless connection and remote motion planning

  • Adapts to harsh environments like high temperature, high noise, high cleanliness, dust

Flexiv

  • Adaptive robots, which are specialized robots that can perceive their environment and adapt to it in real time

  • Incorporates AI and Machine Learning

  • High tolerance for position variance, disturbance rejection and intelligent transferability


Whether it is for a simple pick and place or more complicated material handling, there is a cobot that is suitable for you.


Step 3: Programming the Robots

After choosing the robot, we have to program the robot.


Unlike traditional industrial robots that take weeks to be operational, the setup time for most cobots is just a few hours. However, the software for cobots may require more time to learn, calibrate and adjust to fit its application.


Common Issue: Integration to Current System

Warehouses and factories which were built without the consideration of these cobots may be hard to integrate. That is why selecting the correct task to automate is important.


Common Issue: Tedious Calibration of Software and Hardware

Also, different robots from different manufacturers could be used for different applications, which then each uses a different programming language. For a more streamlined approach, a central control system should be considered.


Step 4: Training the Robot Operators

Since these are collaborative robots, the human aspect is equally important. Human operators are able to handle and use these machines.


Common Issue : Technical Staff Training

Robot programming used to be only done by technicians and had to go through hours of training. This increases the downtime and investments needed for a higher ROI. However, with the latest technology, these robots have a simple way to operate.


Image: Universal Robots, Working together with a cobot from Universal Robots

Step 5: Automation Completed

With that, the automation set up is complete. It's important to note that automation is not linear. As technology progresses and updates, the robots and the software have to adapt and upgrade.



How Collaborative Robots Can Help


1. Works Across Different Functions

Think the robot might fit another step on the production line? Easy! With the mobility of collaborative robot and the easily programmable system, the same robot is re-deployable and can be used for multiple functions. This is even more useful for products that are of high mix, low volume. This way, the same robot can be reused across multiple functions, reducing the equipment downtime when production levels are reduced during some time of the year. As demand fluctuates in turbulent times, the robot is easily reprogrammed into other uses, maximising the ROI of the equipment.


2. Reduces Technical Training Time

As the current market is experiencing a major shift in the labour market, re-skilling workers is a major issue. With such collaborative robots and integrated automated systems, productivity of the company is boosted.


Usually, operators have to have enough training and experience to use a teach pendant. Lowers the barrier to getting these robots and hiring employees without robotic expertise or programming skills. A tablet and a pen is all the operator needs to seamlessly control the cobot. Plug and play, as simple as that.


3. Empower Employees

Cobots mainly take over jobs with repetitive motion.This reduces work-related injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome, hernias and back pain. The Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed that about 40% of back injuries and discomfort was due to work in American workplaces in 2018. Now, with cobots, workers can be free to do more creative tasks and also are generally healthier, taking less sick leaves due to workplace illnesses.


Conclusion

New technology brings about new opportunities. Implementing new solutions to upgrade equipment is not easy. Having considered the problem, the right manufacturer, the suitable programming and training system, you are now more equipped to start designing a productive workspace.


About Augmentus

Augmentus offers the leading full-stack code-free robotic automation platform that enables anyone, even those with no robotic experience, to develop robotic systems. We have partnerships with the world's leading robot manufacturers and automation providers to empower manufacturers to recoup ROI faster by lowering time, cost and skill barriers in robotic automation.


Augmentus ushers in a new era of human-machine interface, enabling 10X faster system deployments and saving thousands of automation costs within weeks of integration.


Visit our website for more information or book a demo to experience it! Similarly, you can join the community to be updated on recent news and developments within the industry, ideas for your automation solutions, early access to beta launches, and even exclusive inside news!

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