How cobots are helping to transform industry

What are cobots?

Collaborative robots or “cobots” are robots that have been designed to communicate with, and to operate alongside, humans in the workplace. Cobots are not built to replace humans but rather to augment and enhance human capabilities. In doing so, they provide increased strength, improved data capabilities and more accurate precision that will help to transform a number of industries.

Cobots offer a host of advantages that make them ideal for working alongside human operators – they are lightweight, smaller in size and energy-efficient. By definition, they are collaborative, enabled with constructional and operational mechanisms to qualify as a safe companion for co-working in the same time and space as human operators.

“The future of testing: automation and collaborative robots” Vivek Jaykrishnan, Senior Director of Technology, Digital Engineering & Manufacturing Services, Capgemini
Omron TM series collaborative robot

Cobots in a post-pandemic world

As businesses begin on their road to recovery in the wake of the Coronavirus, it is apparent just how important automation and technology is to this recovery. Cobots offer a real opportunity to transform industries after the Coronavirus by:

1. Encouraging social distancing

Typically, working in a factory or on a production line requires workers to operate machinery and undertake tasks whilst in close proximity. However, with an increased need for social distancing, this way of working is not suitable and so an alternative is required. As cobots work alongside humans they promote social distancing as fewer workers are required and offer a unique alternative that will not compromise output in the same way that reductions in staff alone would.

2. Increasing efficiency

After a period of downtime caused by the pandemic, businesses will understandably be keen to get up and running as quickly as possible to compensate for this period of inactivity. By using cobots that can enhance the work of humans, greater consistency, increased accuracy and faster processes can be achieved. This is essential for high quality output and ensures that increases in demand can be met without being affected by labour shortages, sickness and human error.

3. Offering flexibility

Cobots provide an automated solution than can be implemented quickly and efficiently. With setup often only taking a few hours, manufacturers can use cobots in a flexible way by quickly repurposing them depending on changing requirements. This flexibility is invaluable post Covid-19 where cobots can be redeployed on different production lines and for different uses as required. Cobots, unlike traditional robots, are often much smaller and require far less training by users offering greater flexibility during periods of uncertainty. This flexibility and ease-of-use is ideal for all industries but may be of particular interest to smaller companies that have not previously used automation.

Cobots transforming industry

Cobots are being used extensively across a number of diverse industries including:

1. Healthcare

Over the last few years the healthcare industry has become increasingly digitalised with the introduction of e-prescriptions, automated billing and electronic medical records. The use of cobots has been no exception. Cobots have been transforming the healthcare industry in a number of ways by improving lab testing, providing automatic patient monitoring and assisting with surgery.

Cobots are used for a range of tasks including carrying supplies throughout a hospital and monitoring patients whose records are then automatically updated. This has been invaluable when dealing with the sheer quantity of cases during the pandemic as nurses can monitor patients simultaneously and will be notified when human intervention is required. Cobots are ideal in biomedical applications that require sterile environments which can be achieved more easily with robotics than with humans. They have also been invaluable for reducing social contact and limiting the spread of the Coronavirus.

2. Construction

Working in the construction industry can take a toll on workers given the hazardous environment, the need to lift heavy objects and strains caused by repetitive tasks. With the introduction of cobots however many of these tasks can be automated including wielding, laying bricks and pouring cement. Often quality improves as a result of greater accuracy, assembly processes are completed more quickly and risk of personal injury is reduced.

3. Food production

In food production, work is usually carried out on a mass scale meaning that plants would be unable to fulfil the volumes of product required without automation. Capable of use in a number of applications cobots can be used to spray bread rolls, to scan items and to stack and pack products. Cobots also help to eliminate waste in food production as workers are more susceptible to error especially when dealing with large quantities of delicate items such as eggs.

Collaborative robots are ideal in food production as they can work quickly in environments with unpleasant conditions such as extreme temperatures and hazardous materials that may not be suitable for workers. By carrying out repetitive tasks, they also further promote health and safety as the risk of injury and strain on workers is reduced. With greater consistency, high quality and less risk of spoilage and contamination, cobots are increasingly becoming invaluable to the food industry in terms of both production and logistics.

Enhancing the workforce

Whilst some workers may be sceptical about the adoption of robots in the workplace and fear that their jobs are at risk, the same concerns are not applicable with cobots. Rather than replacing humans, collaborative robots work with them undertaking repetitive tasks so that engineers can focus on more complex work that may require ingenuity and manual dexterity. With additional resources required to operate and program cobots and with time saved by no longer carrying out repetitive tasks, automation often offers workers the opportunity to upskill, becoming more technical and progressive. Consequently, production lines are more efficient improving workplace satisfaction and increasing productivity.

Cobots, Industry 5.0 and the future of industry

Cobots are efficient, flexible and cost-effective. Whilst trends towards digitalisation and robotics have been growing over recent years, the Coronavirus pandemic is accelerating this change as manufacturers work to overcome downtime incurred, without compromising on output and quality. Equipped with smart technology, collaborative robots offer unrivalled sensing capabilities making them aware of the people, location and context around them. As a collaborative device, cobots are optimised for safety so that they can work alongside humans safely and effectively. 

As more companies embrace automation and artificial intelligence (AI), collaborative robots are becoming more commonplace and used in a multiple sectors from sports to digital marketing the Breakthroughs in edge computing are making cobots smarter, adding flexibility and leading the era of Industry 5.0, representing a symbiotic relationship between robots and humans. With human capabilities enhanced by collaborative robots, the factories of the future will be smarter and far more efficient.

For further information on cobots and to discover the exciting range of products that Distrelec offers visit our website now.

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