The Use of Cobots Could Impove The Human Element of Manufacturing

A growing number of jobs that can be automated are being taken over by industrial robots. This trend may be concerning for those who work in those businesses but are promising for companies who are attempting to balance their production investments. In fact, the Boston Consulting Group recently stated that the investment in these types of robots would increase by 10 percent every year for the next 10 years.

This increase in production would occur over the 25 biggest exporting nations and would eventually take over 23 percent of all manufacturing jobs. This level is a 13 percent jump over the current rate and could be problematic for many individuals. For example, unskilled laborers may find themselves struggling to find work or in a more competitive environment to find jobs. However, it may also be favorable to those who do get jobs and is a definite advantage for manufacturing companies.

Why Cobots are Taking Over

There are many reasons that companies are turning to robots instead of humans for menial labor jobs. For example, a robot is a lot easier to program when the manufacturing process changes. All it takes is an afternoon of reprogramming, and the robot will be ready to do an entirely different job at an increased efficiency rate.

Human workers attempting the same change may struggle in a way that robots don’t. For example, a worker who is used to specific manufacturing procedures may find that new and adjusted ones don’t make sense to them. They may stick to their old ways or mess up the new ones and decrease efficiency in unexpected ways.

That said, it is obvious the humans have advantages that robots do not possess. For example, their problem-solving skills make them a valuable asset when a robot runs into an error. A programmed robot cannot adjust their production method if there is a mistake and will compound the problem by sticking to their programmed ways.

Thankfully, new advances in manufacturing could not only offset the loss of human labor that has plagued the industry but also makes these robots more efficient and effective. New technologies are focusing on integrating robot and human labor in a method that enhances both. These new systems operate using what are known as cobots.

Cobots May Help

Collaborative Robots, also know as Cobots, are a robot that is designed to work alongside a human co-worker. The idea here is to create synchronous operation method that takes advantage of the precision of the robot and the intelligence of a human worker. Often, these cobots are used to enhance the ability of a worker in a multitude of ways, such as improving their precision when working with delicate items.

A growing number of industries are turning to cobots as a way of integrating human labor into their facility without making their robots obsolete or unimportant. Beyond that advantage, cobot operation improves the efficiency of an automated process by allowing a human to correct mistakes as they occur and to use their problem-solving skills in an original matter.

For example, a cobot could be used on an automobile assembly line to attach bolts to specific areas of a vehicle. An automated robot could do this on their own but may fail if a minor issue, such as a leaking hydraulic line, takes it out. However, a cobot allows a human to work at the speed of a robot while looking for and repairing common issues like that.

That said, a cobot is typically a good middle-ground between a human and robotic laborer. Humans are best for detailed work that requires a comprehensive understanding of how a piece of machinery works. On the other hand, robots are best designed for repetitive tasks that don’t have a lot of variation and which rely mostly on speed. A cobot can help relieve physically-taxing situations and make it easier for humans to finish their work on time.

The Nature of Cobot Sensors

Another interesting element about cobots is that they possess a variety of sensors that help to improve their safety and their operating efficiency. These sensors are placed in their joints and will stop their moment they sense any kind of impact. This type of operation is critical when working near or with a human because it can prevent them from causing serious injuries.

They are also crucial for a cobot that may be moving to various parts of a facility with a human worker. The sensors will detect any physical contact with inanimate objects, meaning that they won’t cause any severe damage during their operation. As a result, they can fit into a variety of different working situations quite quickly.

These sensors can also detect non-traditional issues that may pop up in a manufacturing environment. For example, some have detectors that can gauge gas leaks and other types of problems. This detection will allow the cobot to warn their operator and let them get out of an area quickly and without serious personal injury.

A Lightweight Design Improves Safety

Cobots are designed to be very lightweight and easy to move from one area to another. This lightweight design makes them nearly portable and increases worker safety. For example, they won’t injure a person simply by moving into them. This safety is enhanced by their protective sensors and the high-quality way that they keep people from getting a serious injury.

That said, even a lighter design can’t keep a fully-loaded cobot from injuring a worker. In these situations, it is wise to have the worker move the cobot while standing away from them at a slight distance and using physical barriers, such as walls, as a way of guiding their movements. In this way, they can operate their cobot without injuring themselves or others.

Even better, this lightweight and simple design make cobots cheaper to buy and maintain than other types of fully-automated robots. For manufacturers who are looking to cut their bottom line as much as possible, this is a significant benefit. In fact, many of these robotic workers can be programmed using an app from a smartphone or tablet, which further decreases their operating costs by avoiding the use of specialized programming experts.

Other Advanced Techniques Used With Cobots

A multitude of new and advanced technologies are coming out every year to improve cobot operation. For example, they can be fitted with circuit boards, feedback mechanisms, suction cups, 3D vision, and other items to improve the efficiency of these cobots and to make them easier to use.

For example, feedback mechanisms could allow a cobot to do simple repairs on their own using the input they receive while operating a machine. While they couldn’t gauge the issue on their own without human help, they could do a dangerous or repetitive repair without causing severe injury.

Companies such as Rethink Robotics and Trelleborg Sealing Solutions are also working to create unique interface systems that allow one worker to operate multiple machines. They are also learning how to teach these cobots a person’s working habits, which will enable them to recognize a person and adapt to their unique techniques.

All of these advances and the many benefits of cobots make them an exciting and compelling way for manufacturers to decrease their operational costs. Beyond that, they also provide a coherent and easy-to-understand operational method that can cut costs and keep many of your human workers employed.

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