You can see that a technology is an important one when people begin to address its benefits throughout the industrial spectrum and assess their risks. Today we are living fast paced technology driven era. Humans and machines are working together closer than ever before. Therefore it is important to discuss the importance of collaborative robots (cobots) and how they are different from the traditional industrial robots.
Before we dive into the article, let’s take a step back inside our imaginary time machine and spiral down memory lane.
First let’s define the star term found throughout the article. The definition of a robot.
A robot is generally defined as a complex machine driven by a programmable code. Robots are able to perform automated actions or tasks within the defined parameters found in a programmable code. The first digital robot was developed in 1954 by George Devol. The robotic arm was used to lift hot metal pieces from metal casts.
Today, we are mainly accustomed to two types of robots; industrial and collaborative robots (cobots). Both industrial and collaborative robots are designed as digital manipulators. Robots are used to reshape and improve the manufacturing industry. In general the concept of cobots was developed on the idea to make robots safe to work. Yet many industries do not fully understand how cobots are different from industrial robots.
Classic industrial robots are powerhouses. They are giants that move quickly and often with dangerous tools. Industrial robots carry out pre-defined task without taking into account the human factor. Therefore industrial robots are risk averted. They are also unidirectional, as they can autonomously perform one task and provide one output. Industrial robots cannot learn from their environment. Therefore they cannot adapt to the environment. Industrial robots require a high degree of real estate as the need to be caged and secured to ensure human personnel safety.
Collaborative robots or cobots represent the next stage in creating human machine teams. Cobots can interact with each other to boost productivity on the manufacturing floor. Cobots are considered multi-directional. They can perform a sequence of pre-defined tasks and they can interact with the surrounding environment. Collaborative robots can also be equipped with multiple sensors that allows them to learn different human patterns. For example, a cobot will take a component handed out by a worker and execute a precise part assembly or perform quality control tasks. Cobots are able perform stop and go actions if they are accidentally interrupted. Closed areas and safety fencing are no longer needed.
With standard robots being massive and expensive to install machines, we can see cobots as the robots beyond the cage rather than behind the cage. Rapid technological advancements combined with artificial intelligence systems allow cobots to be smaller, more flexible and more user-friendly. Such “cobotical” advantages allows cobots to be repurposed across the manufacturing floor and increase its usability spectrum.
On a different note classic industrial robots require specialized programming whereas cobots can learn independently using its sophisticated sensors. Cobots are also easy to program using a graphical user interface and they are easy reprogram. Therefore combining a nimble size with an easy to use interface makes cobots usable virtually anywhere.
Lastly, the digital industrial revolution is shaping the global robotics industry. According to a new report from Tractica the global robotics industry shall reach 151.7 billion US$ by 2020 from 28.3 billion US$ in 2015. Cobots unlike standard industrial robots will see a significant growth as small and medium enterprises will be jumping on the bandwagon. Cobots have a short 2-3 months return on investment making them a great addition to the manufacturing floor.
The final verdict. Cobots are here to stay. They are robust, easy to implement provide a fast return on investment. How will cobots be implemented within our manufacturing mainframe and how will they complement the current industrial revolution is something worth keeping an eye on.