With the advancements in technology and the growth of industrialization, different manufacturers use collaborative robots in different ways, even for similar operations. Collaborative robots are highly flexible, making it easy to use them very differently in low-volume/high-mix manufacturing environments. This easy adaptability of cobots is what makes them popular.
If you are new to Collaborative robots, a cobot is a small industrial robot that can be used to automate different tasks in a company or manufacturing floor. It is made with user-friendly and safety features that make it safe to work next to human workers.
If you are thinking about automating your work environment using collaborative robots, working with a commercial vendor like Universal Robots gives you a chance to have professionals examine your work area to identify areas that can benefit from automation.
Finding the right place for a collaborative robot
Common jobs best suited for collaborative robots include highly repetitive tasks and high-risk jobs for human workers.
A simple online search will give you ideas of how other companies deploy collaborative robots in their spaces. Some of the areas that can benefit from the use of collaborative robots include:
CNC machine tending
You can use collaborative robots for picking and placing of unfinished parts in a CNC machine. This is one of the most repetitive tasks on a manufacturing floor that requires accuracy, making collaborative robots the perfect fit. Cobots can open and close CNC machine doors, making the process easy to fully automate.
Assembly and rotation
Collaborative robots can be used for parts assembly and rotation, making a job essier to complete by human workers.
Collaborative robots can also be programmed for injection molding machines tending processes.
It is important to understand why these areas require automation when deciding on the processes in your company that require robotic automation. The best processes to automate using cobots are those that present the best automation opportunities.
Factors to pay attention to include:
- Processes that are time-intensive – collaborative robots are best deployed for time-intensive steps. Good examples include temperature sensitive materials and parts that require queueing. Automating these processes will free the human worker to work in other areas in the warehouse that require human labor to complete.
- Tasks that require multiple operators – collaborative robot are also ideal for tasks that require more than one human worker.
- Rule-based operations like sorting operations
- Repetitive motion processes
By assessing different areas that require automation, you are able to identify risks that has gone undetected and use collaborative robots can mitigate these risks.
How to prioritize
With many processes taking place in an industry, the best jobs to automate with collaborative robots are those that require reduction in labor time, movement, steps, and even costs. By understanding which areas require reducing, you are able to narrow down your options.
You also need to determine why you need to automate a process and quantify your goals and measure the possible success automation can bring. Also, consider available resources including time, funds, existing workers, training, and your workers’ ability to learn new skills.
Collaborative robots safety and risk factors
ISO 10218 has information and guidelines about robotic designs and manufacturing. For a robot to be collaborative, it has to perform its functions safely in the presence of human workers. ISO 15066 offer more details on the manufacture of collaborative robots in line with current robotic technology.
According to collaborative robot manufacturing companies, cobots are inherently safe human-friendly robots. They come with inbuilt safety features that makes them safer than traditional industries robots. This makes it possible to use cobots without fencing and caging them.
The four major capabilities needed for a robot to be collaborative include:
Hand guiding capabilities
This feature is needed for programming and cobot teaching in sequencing. Collaborative robots need to have safeguards for hand guiding.
Hand guiding can be done after activating the speed and force limits and bringing the robot to a stop. For the process to be a success, an operator needs to select the hand guide mode.
Safety monitoring stop
Collaborative robots must be able to automatically stop when a human worker invade the cobot’s safety parameters. Collaborative robots have a safety software that enables them to slow down or stop its operation until the working parameters are safe again.
Safety monitoring stops are important aspects for any collaborative robot. They are what make it possible for a robot to be used on the same floor as human workers.
Speed and separation monitoring
Collaborative robots are made with motion sensors that make it possible for them to track the proximity of human workers to the robotic hand. Cobots can work in safety zones where they reduce the speed to accommodate the presence of human workers in specific work areas.
Power and force limiting
Collaborative robots need to have power and force limiting sensors that prevent possible collisions or force overload. Power and force limiting sensors are designed with round edges and sensors to dissipate force in the robotic arm joints.
The main reason for the ISO/TS 15066 guidelines is to mitigate the possibility of injury or pain to the human worker whenever there is contact between them and collaborative robots.
Motion and proximity sensors are some of the ways cobots manage to ensure safety for human workers. Common collaborative robot sensors include:
- Accelerometers – used to detect bumps and any movements near the robotic arm
- Grippers with tactile sensitivity – make it possible for the robotic arm to ‘feel’ what they are touching and thus adjust the grip when needed.
- Cobots are fitted with 3D vision cameras that help to detect the presence of objects
- Current feedback sensors
- Force torque sensors
- Laser sensors that trigger an action whenever they are breached
In many ways, the ISO safety guidelines and inbuilt safety capabilities in collaborative robots make them safe when working next to human workers.
Automating a process in your company does not mean that collaborative robots will replace human workers. More often than not, automation processes involve automating certain operational steps to improve output and boost workflow.