These robots are keeping their human co-workers safe

Thanks to the cobots entering the factory floor, manufacturing jobs are not only becoming more interesting – they’re becoming safer too.

Traditional industrial robots are big, fast and efficient – they get the job done. However, their design and speed mean not only do they have to be kept behind cages, but they’re also unable to take on smaller routine tasks, leaving workers to take the strain.

Enter the cobots.

These smart, agile robotic arms are taking automation and safety to the next level. Working closely alongside humans thanks to their risk-reduced design (which must comply with ISO 15066 regulations), cobots are able to carry out the repetitive processes with ease, boosting production and minimising injuries and incidents.

Here are five cobots taking on potentially hazardous jobs and keeping their human co-workers safe.

1. UR3, UR5 and UR10

Universal Robots, Odense, Denmark

Technology: Intelligent robotic arm with six articulation points, a wide scope of flexibility and 3D visual sensors plus add-ons such as grippers. Uses machine learning and is programmable by tablet or touch.

Application: Food production, furniture and equipment, electronics manufacturing, metal and machining, automotive and supply chain, plastic manufacturing, medical packaging.

Task takeover: Pick and place, injection moulding, CNC and palletising, assembly, polishing, machine tending, screw driving, lab analysis and testing, glue dispensing and welding.

Safety credentials: URs feature 8 safety-rated features that can be adjusted to suit the application – for example, they can work in reduce mode when a human enters the work zone. All have built-in force-sensing, causing them to automatically stop when they encounter obstacles. 80% of UR robots operate with no safety guarding after a safety assessment. They can reduce RSI and other lifting injures, as well as workplace accidents such as laser arc eye or flash burn.

2. Baxter and Sawyer

Rethink Robotics, Boston, Massachusetts, US

Technology: Dual and single robotic arms with seven degrees of flexibility, embedded vision and force sensing. Intelligence and machine learning is enabled through the Intera software platform.

Applications: Automotive supply chain, electronics manufacturing, general manufacturing, metal fabrication, packaging and co-packing, plastics factory automation.

Task takeover: CNC machining, loading and unloading, metal fabrication, moulding operations, packaging, PCB Handling and ICT, test and inspection.

Safety credentials: Baxter and Sawyer work at human speeds, which helps operators avoid contact. They also use Series Elastic Actuators (SEAs) that flex and absorb energy on contact. Other safety features include emergency stop and manual brake release, internal checking systems that disable motor power if errors are detected, and light sensors to signal intent.

3. IRB 14000 YuMi

ABB, Zurich, Switzerland

Technology: Dual-arm robot with dextrous grippers, parts feeding systems, accurate camera-based part location vision plus smart flexible software control, SISTEMA. Programmed through teaching.

Applications: Computer, communication and consumer electronics manufacturing, automotive supply chain, healthcare and pharmaceutical manufacturing, toy industry, watch industry.

Task takeover: Small-parts assembly, testing and packaging.

Safety credentials: YuMi has an ‘inherently safe’ rating, meaning it poses no threat to humans even with contact. As well as speed limited movements it has soft padding to absorb impact. By taking over highly repetitive, precise tasks, YuMi eliminates the need to constantly turn and lift, relieving repetitive strain injuries in small-parts assembly workers.

4. CR-35iA

FANUC (Europe), Echternach, Luxembourg

Technology: Single smart robotic arm with 1813mm reach that uses hand-guided machine learning for simple programming. Vision and 3D area sensor add-ons. Works with FANUC software.

Applications: Automotive manufacturing and supply chain, packaging, distribution, metalworking, electronics manufacturing, chemical manufacturing.

Task takeover: Automotive assembling and machining; machine tending and inspection; picking, packing and palletising; dispensing.

Safety credentials: The CR series has built-in safety features such as collision stop protection, anti-trap protection, push-back function, force and 3D sensors and dual safety check system. It eliminates the need for humans to handle dangerous parts and substances or lift heavy objects. This protects them from strain and work-related injuries.

5. LBR iiwa

KUKA, Augsburg, Germany

Technology: Single intelligent robotic arm with integrated, sensitive joint torque sensors in all seven axes. Programmed by guided learning and powered by KUKA Sunrise control technology.

Application: Automotive manufacturing, electronics manufacturing, logistics processes, consumer goods, aerospace manufacturing, plastics, healthcare, machine tools.

Task takeover: Machine handling; picking, packing and palletising; assembly; application of coatings, adhesives, etc.; inserting; mounting; measuring, testing and inspection.

Safety credentials: LBR iiwa’s torque sensors enable it to respond to even the slightest external force for collision protection. It can also reduce velocity immediately to avoid injury. Its lightweight, streamlined design eliminates human co-worker injuries, including crushing and shearing. It can reduce RSI as well as workplace accidents.

While cobot technology was envisaged out of a manufacturing need and is currently used predominantly within industry, these smart, agile robot co-workers are beginning to improve workplace safety across many other sectors too, from construction to healthcare to retail.  Watch this space.

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