While industrial robots threaten job loss due to automation, cobot brings new age of human-robotic relationship?
The COVID pandemic has given a heavy blow to industries around the world. Massive lockdowns and travel bans have disrupted production as well as supply chains. With humans forced to maintain social distancing, fewer employees returning to workplaces, automation and robotization seemed viable options for many organizations. But can machine bots who helped in automation and humans co-work together once normalcy is achieved? The best part of the digital age is scalability, nor did it replace the human in the loop. Instead, it offered humans a way to augment their capabilities far beyond what would previously have been possible, along with machines. And a collaboration between humans and robots is one of them. In other words, human-robot collaboration (HRC) is a necessary element that combines human capabilities with the efficiency and precision of machines. One of the best examples of HRC is cobots (collaborative robots).
These cobots are designed to be able to collaborate with humans in an intelligent and safe manner and are set to become a key part of industry 4.0. In industrial spaces, while the physically isolated counterpart industrial robots are often desired to perform tasks commonly referred to as the four “D’s”: Dirty, Dangerous, Dear, and Dull activities, cobots operate in conjunction with, and in a shared environment with humans to perform their tasks. In fact, while traditional industrial robots operate in isolation from human contact, cobots manage to involve us in the loop.
Thanks to powerful integrated camera, vision sensor, and signal processing technologies, cobots can be used for several purposes and applications. These include power and force limiting, pressure-sensitive handling of components via hand guiding, quality inspection of manufactured parts, speed and safety monitoring, and others. All these operational applications are possible as cobots possess distinct advantages like being easy to program, flexible, and are quick to setup. Apart from that, they have faster reaction time, more exact movement patterns, orientation capabilities, ability to imitate humans. It is said that these forms of bots can be considered as a hardware version of artificial intelligence potentials. They also offer the most value when a human needs to be in close proximity to the robots.
For instance, in bakery and confectionery industries, cobots like ABB YuMi dual-arm robot and articulated robots with ABB’s SafeMove 2, are not only employed in the more traditional areas of picking, packing, and palletizing but also in the processing and warehouse distribution departments. Here, the human counterparts are busy handling rolls of film and loading them onto the wrapping machines, loading flat board into case erectors (or even erecting the cases themselves), loading ingredients in the mixing halls, tray handling, de-panning, and many other areas of processing. Whereas the cobots help improve flexibility, reduce downtime, assist in the prevention of critical stoppages, and provide the agility required for short production runs.
In the manufacturing sector, where human employees’ safety is the utmost priority, cobots can benefit from human and machine interaction by keeping workers safe. Manufacturing cobots like Sawyer, have rounded and soft surfaces to reduce the risk of injury when a worker gets too close to the machine. They are also equipped with sensors that detect anything entering their proximity and use their force-limited joints to stop a human, instantly, if he gets too close. Besides, a human worker can teach cobots to identify if a manufactured part is defective or not. This is done by retraining the machine with new data that comprise information about the quality of manufactured parts.
The need for transformation goes beyond the current COVID crisis. While we come across irrelevant fears about losing jobs to robotization and automation, cobots prove to be a value-add for human productivity as well as job growth. Hence, it is safe to predict the proliferation of cobots deployment in the coming years.