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Cobotics: Improve Production with Human-Robot Collaboration

Cobotics is making automation more attainable for the manufacturing sector. Collaborative robots, or cobots, are often a better investment than industrial robots for small- and medium-sized manufacturers.  Cobots are easier to deploy, use less energy, and are easily programmable, which allows them to perform multiple functions. Additionally, the average return on investment of cobots is one year, meaning they’re a profitable endeavor for manufacturers of all sizes.

Aside from being a good investment, cobots are usually a more cost-effective option. Though the initial price of a cobot may be more than that of an industrial robot, the overall price when including safety measures, integration and installation, and programming costs equates to a much higher investment for an industrial robot. The capabilities of cobotics have led to the increasing use of this technology within the manufacturing industry. And now that collaborative robots are more commonplace on factory floors, manufacturers are starting to see the benefits of human-robot collaboration.

Man and Machine Collaboration

The differentiating factor of cobots is that they allow for collaboration between human and robot workers. These robots work in direct collaboration with humans to improve productivity. Not only can cobots work in the same environment as humans without barriers and safety fences, but they can also interact with human workers during the production process.

Since collaborative robots were designed specifically to work alongside humans, they have several features in place to foster a safe working environment. These include a sleek structure that doesn’t have any pinch points or sharp edges to help avoid any accidental injuries while in close proximity to humans. Cobots that work in the same environment as humans but do not interact with humans have additional safety measures in place, including built-in sensors. If their sensors detect a human presence, the cobot will switch to a slower work mode or stop altogether and resume when the human worker moves away.

Pre-programmed safety measures aren’t the only feature that allows cobots to work alongside humans. Collaborative robots are easy to program, configure, and calibrate. Most human workers within a manufacturing environment can learn how to program a cobot, because the programming technology is graphically based with function icons and process sequencing flow charts that make it easier to understand. This promotes collaboration with these robots because a human worker can make small adjustments to improve performance or even repurpose cobots to another task if necessary.

Improving Operations with Cobotics

Cobots are an extension of a human labor force, which is especially helpful to the manufacturing industry right now. Manufacturers are currently facing a shortage of skilled labor and are turning to automation to supplement production. Collaborative robots can work alongside humans on the production line to improve efficiency even when there are fewer workers.

Since cobots often take over repetitive tasks that don’t require much creativity or critical thought, they allow human workers to concentrate on those more complex tasks. This results in increased efficiency from robot workers and from human workers who enjoy completing work with higher added value, allowing manufacturers to ensure all necessary tasks are complete even with a reduced labor force. Additionally, doing more value-added tasks improves job satisfaction and leads to better employee retention.

Aside from creating better working conditions for human workers, implementing cobots also improves overall production operations. These robots improve efficiency by taking over repetitive manual tasks and by continuously working. Cobots don’t need to take breaks or vacations like human workers and can keep a production line moving 24/7.

Collaborative robots also offer more flexibility for production operations. As mentioned, cobots are easy to program and reprogram, allowing workers to change their function and repurpose them to a different task. This helps manufacturers ramp up or ramp down production as needed based on changing demand. Cobot operators can also adjust a robot’s programming over time to try to improve performance. This flexibility helps drive continuous improvement and leads to new strategies for optimizing performance and enhancing production operations.

Another way cobots help with production is by improving product quality. Robots make significantly fewer mistakes than human workers. Once an operator programs a cobot to do a specific task, the robot completes that task with a high level of accuracy. In addition to producing better quality parts, cobots are also able to complete more accurate quality checks for products coming off the production line. Both of these quality controls reduce the number of defective parts during production, improving overall product quality while simultaneously reducing waste.

Cobotics in Manufacturing

Promoting human and robot collaboration in manufacturing facilities through the use of cobots helps to optimize production efficiency. Collaborative robots are safe to work with, easy to program, and economical, often costing less in the long run than industrial robots while having a faster return on investment. Manufacturers are using cobotics to combat the skilled labor shortage, improve production efficiency and product quality, and maintain flexible production operations — allowing an easier response to demand.

To learn more about cobotics and meet with innovative cobot and automation suppliers, attend Smart Manufacturing Experience.