As part of a series of Industry 4.0 articles to help manufacturers embrace the fourth Industrial Revolution, we will be going through some concepts, theories, and practical examples. Some of the articles include those about Industry 4.0 success stories, Equipment-as-a-Service, Industrial Internet of Things, Big Data, and more. To keep up with the series, sign up for our newsletter.
Factories in many countries are all looking at using Cobots in their supply chain; we’ve covered this several times in our monthly Industry 4.0 news round-up. It thus seems essential to give a primer on this popular wave of digitalisation hitting the factory floor.
What are Cobots?
In a nutshell,
Cobots are easily-programmed, collaborative robots that are built to work alongside a human operator.
They’ve actually been around since 1997, but just haven’t gotten popular until recent years due to the general stigma surrounding anything to do with the word ‘Robot’. As Industry 4.0 started to be on the tip of everyone’s tongues, cobots came into fashion.
As per Automation.com, cobots ‘free(ing) robots from their cages and enab(ling) humans to work alongside robot counterparts in a diverse range of applications. Rather than working in a caged off area, cobots are designed to collaborate with human workers and enhance the production teams’ capabilities rather than replace them.
The reason that cobots are utilised, are listed in a 2018 Forbes article:
- Easy to program: No programming expertise is needed to set up and operate cobots quickly. Often, they are virtually plug and play or easily programmed through a tablet or by adjusting the cobot's arms.
- Fast to setup: Unlike traditional industrial robots that take weeks to be operational, the setup time for most cobots is just a few hours.
- Flexible: Traditional robots are often bolted to the floor and deployed for a particular application. Cobots are flexible and mobile, don’t require a lot of space and can be redeployed very easily to support new and multiple applications.
- Safe: Cobots don't need safety cages to keep your human workforce safe on the job when they are working. They can sense obstacles and adjust their speed or reverse to avoid crashing into humans (or other obstacles).”
Cobots in Action
There are many industries in which cobots are used, but there’s always one thing in common: most cobots would be implemented on the factory floor.
There are medical device manufacturing cobots that help with transporting delicate parts, to automate bending cells, and more, while other uses for cobots include manual tasks that are more problematic for workers or products. Power and force limiting, speed and separation monitoring, and hand-guiding are common uses for cobots in factories. This frees up time for the worker to focus on higher level, safer tasks.
Cobots in 2019 and beyond
So far, Cobots have been used in companies such as Amazon, Ford, and more, but the base of cobot implementation are in small and midsize enterprises (SMEs). As per Robotics Business Review and Interact Analysis, there are predictions that larger OEMs will start adopting cobots as well, especially since they can be used in specific, individual workstations when needed.
At the same time, forecasts show that 30% of robots sold by 2027 will be collaborative, with the automotive and electronics sectors driving most of the growth.
With this being the case, manufacturers in those sectors should be looking at cobots to help them gain the upper hand (for now), instead of allowing themselves to fall further behind.