What Does Collaborative Robot Mean? Everything You Need to Know About Cobots
Back in the late 18th century, the First Industrial Revolution was a game-changer for manufacturers and factories. Since then, manufacturing processes and factories have taken advantage of both machines and manpower to maximize productivity. Over time, manufacturers have adapted to the latest technology made to make production faster or more effective and safer to the manpower on the work floor.
And at this day and age of smart technology, AI, and more, manufacturing companies are now welcoming the next big thing for efficient production. Enter: collaborative robots, or cobots. Here’s what you need to know about collaborative robots and what they can do for your production.
What Does Collaborative Robot Mean?
Simply put, collaborative robots are robots that can safely work alongside and with a human. While there are some machines already in manufacturing that require humans for it to operate, cobots interact with a human and work alongside the same step of their production.
Another difference is that collaborative robots are built for safety, so the chances of workplace hazards while interacting with cobots is relatively low. The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists 23.5 percent of non-fatal injuries coming from contact with equipment. Collaborative robots are built to reduce the risk of that in the workplace based on how it’s built and operated.
Collaborative robots are made with lightweight materials and constructed to have rounded edges. These can avoid and accidental injuries while handling these robots in the workplace. To make it safer, cobots have a speed and force limit when moving and have sensors to determine key safety features.
Because of their safety features, people in manufacturing can operate directly with cobots rather than the former safety measure of locking robots in cages or rooms to operate to ensure no one gets hurt by their weight or fast movements.
Around five percent of global industrial robot sales are cobots. In 2018, around 14,000 cobots were installed in various industrial centers; in 2017, this was only 11,000. This may not seem like a lot on a global scale, but the industry was valued at $580 million and expected to reach near the tens of billions by 2024. But for now, that means collaborative robots account for roughly five percent of industrial robots all around the world. Given the increase, the demand is expected to rise in 2019 and 2020.
Collaborative Robot Origins
Collaborative robots were invented in 1996 due to an initiative that began two years earlier. In 1994, Prasad Akella of the General Motors Robotics Center, later with a General Motors Foundation research grant in 1995, wanted to find a way to make robots and people work safely together. The first collaborative robot was invented in 1996 by Northwestern University professors J. Edward Colgate and Michael Peshkin and patented a year later.
The first collaborative robot had no internal power source that could move on its own. To make it safe, it was the human that had control over its power. Back then, it wasn’t called collaborative robots or cobots, but “Intelligent Assist Device.”
Colgate and Peshkin would go on to create their own company, Cobotics, to produce the first cobots used in the manufacturing industry. They were used in an automobile company’s final assembly line. The company was bought by Stanley Assembly Technologies in 2003. Since then, other companies have gone on to develop different types of collaborative robots to meet the demands of various industries.
The International Federation of Robotics (IFR) classifies robots into two types: robots used in manufacturing, and those used for domestic and professional purposes. Most collaborative robots fall under the first types.
Like other machines used in manufacturing and industrial uses, collaborative robots have different applications depending on factors like their adaptability, size, mobility, and safety features. This helps streamline the process of producing manufactured foods by using machines to make certain processes faster, also known as the concept of automation.
Humans can do most of the tasks in a production line, but many robots today were invented to do certain tasks faster and more efficiently. However, while studies suggest that around 8.5% of manufacturing positions will be automated by 2030, there are just some tasks that require both human and robots. Given that a lot of robots’ processes aren’t safe to work with humans (e.g. sharp metal edges, fast movement, machine temperature), there’s a growing need for cobots.
Collaborative robots are mostly used in logistics (moving and carrying heavy loads), manufacturing (assembly, welding, painting), and industrial purposes, but they’re also used for other applications. Cobots can be used by consumers or for public use such as serving as information robots or serving as moving security patrol in guarded facilities. This takes care of the more minor steps to production and operation and making it faster for human labor to handle the more complex processes robots can’t do (for now, at least). Some of their tasks include:
- Full logistics process – picking, sorting, and packing goods, avoiding injuries associated with heavier loads or dealing with dangerous products that have safety risks.
- Quality control – collaborative robots can work for a prolonged period of time with consistent performance while minimizing human error. This ensures a standard level of quality on the manufacturer’s part.
- Machine tending –cobots can replace human workers in repetitive and potentially dangerous work of loading and unloading parts from a milling, brake press, CNC, plastic molding, or other machines. Also improving production capabilities such as product output, quality, and consistency.
Like ordinary industrial robots, collaborative robots can work both on its own, before, or after a human finishes their task, or alongside a human.