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Collaborative Robots: Enhancing Safety and Efficiency in Manufacturing

Automation has become essential in many fields of industries. It allows processes to function with increased efficiency and productivity. Industrial automation is a field that deals with the automation of industrial processes and machinery to reinforce manufacturing, material handling, and quality control processes.

 

Demand for automation is driven by the need to free humans from dirty, dull, or dangerous jobs; to improve quality by eliminating errors; and to cut manufacturing costs by replacing increasingly expensive labor with cheaper machines. Robotics is one example of technology used in the automation process.

 

A robot, is any automatically operated machine that replaces human effort, though it may not resemble human beings in appearance or perform functions in a humanlike manner. A robot is a machine—especially one programmable by a computer—capable of carrying out a complex series of actions automatically. A robot can be guided by an external control device, or the control may be embedded within.

 

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.

 

Collaborative robots, also known as cobots, are robots designed to work alongside human workers in a shared workspace, such as a factory or warehouse, to assist with tasks that are either too dangerous or difficult for humans to perform alone.

 

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.

 

Unlike traditional industrial robots, cobots are designed to be safe and user-friendly, with sensors and software that enable them to recognize and respond to human presence and movements. This allows cobots to work alongside humans without the need for protective barriers or other safety equipment. Cobots are typically smaller and more flexible than traditional robots, making them well-suited for a variety of tasks, such as assembly, packaging, and material handling.

 

As the world continues to fight the rapid spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, robotics and automation have been playing a huge role in ramping up the production, handling the supplies, and even disinfecting hospitals. Cobots are adopted widely by SMEs as well as large size enterprises because of its low-cost and numerous benefits. They are also used by major car manufacturers to improve productivity and enhance the quality of the vehicles. Further, workers have to stand beside the machines for a long time during their maintenance, which hampers their productivity

 

Collaborative robots can automatically perform machine maintenance tasks during off-hours without any supervision. This significantly improves the productivity and profitability of an organization. Moreover, growing adoption of cobots in financial sector like banking or NBFCs to perform monotonous cashier functions are expected to contribute towards the growth of the collaborative robots

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.

However, Cobots have limited speed, and thus not suitable for high-speed applications. Also, they cannot operate independently, since majority of them either do not possess selflearning capability or has it to a very limited extent. These are few factors expected to restrain the market growth to some extent.

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.

 

For more detailed information about collaborative robots technology and applications please visit: Collaborative Robots: The New Era of Human-Robot Collaboration

 

Global Collaborative market

The global collaborative robot market was valued at around USD 1.2 billion in 2021 based on Statzon aggregated data. Also, in the same year, the sales volume of cobots reached a total of 32.300 units. The market value experienced a significant increase from the previous year, and this trend is expected to continue in the future with a 40% CAGR during the next five years.

 

The demand for automation is a key driver for the industrial robot market to grow. This also applies to the cobots market. But cobots offer low capital investment and a high ROI, making them more attractive than traditional industrial robots. Cobots also have a more comprehensive range of applications in the industry. They can be easily repurposed and utilized for multiple activities. They can also be conceived, implemented, and deployed more quickly than regular robots. The adoption of new digital industrial technologies such as 5G, industrial IoT, and many others also contribute to the fascinating growth of the cobots market.

 

The Cobots application market segment is usually differentiated into six categories: material handling, assembling and disassembling, welding and soldering, dispensing, processing, and others. Out of the six, material handling and assembling & disassembling categories are the most common type of applications, accounted for almost 50% of the market share.

 

Material handling cobots boost efficiency to produce greater quality at a faster rate. More companies are adopting these robots for various material handling purposes such as packaging, palettizing, pick and place, and machine tending. Assembly and disassembly applications are an everyday use of cobots in the automotive industry as cobots can manipulate assembly tools like a nut runner. They can also move materials to and from assembly stations using a special gripping attachment.The electronic and automotive industries are the two important end-users of cobots, with 32% and 18% shares of the market, respectively. Cobots are utilized in the automotive sector by major vehicle manufacturers and numerous OEMs that sell automotive parts to these car makers.

 

Cobots with payload capacity up to 5kg account for 45% of the market. However, cobots with a payload capacity between 5 to10kg are the fastest-growing segment until 2026. Advances in robotic hardware enable cobot companies to produce higher payload cobots with long reach without sacrificing accuracy, speed, or repeatability.

 

Regional Outlook

North America and Europe combined are expected to account for about 62% of the global cobot market. American and European manufacturing companies were the early adopters of cobots by introducing Industry 4.0 manufacturing principles. North America controls 33% of the global market share in 2021, followed by Europe in the second position with a market share of 29%. However, Asia Pacific is the fastest-growing region, where growth stems from factors such as a growing need for automation and increased demand throughout diverse industries. The top 5 fastest emerging markets are all coming from Asia, with India expected to have the most rapid growth.

 

Leading market players analyzed in the report include ABB, Nachi Robot System, Yaskawa, Universal Robot, MRK- Systeme Gmbh, KUKA AG, FANUC, and AUBO robotics.

 

References and Resources also include:

https://statzon.com/insights/global-collaborative-robot-market-is-forecasted-to-reach-2-3bn-by-2025

 

About Rajesh Uppal

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