Collaborative robots, also known as cobots, are enjoying great popularity, as they make it possible to automate time- and resource-consuming tasks and thus relieve employees. In 2021, the global market for collaborative robots was estimated at around $1.2 billion. The sales volume of cobots reached a total of 32,300 units in the same year.
Especially in times when companies are finding it increasingly difficult to find and retain suitable employees, such technologies are worth their weight in gold in many places. Speaking of gold, some may ask: Cobots must be extremely expensive, right? When does such an investment pay off? Automation expert OMRON would like to alleviate such worries, especially for small and medium-sized companies: Smart and integrated robotics solutions as well as cobots are feasible and affordable for companies of various segments and sizes. For those who want to know what the return on investment is, the ROI calculator provides a quick and easy overview. Robotics expertise is provided by the company's specialists and third-party partners.
Cobots and automated mobile robots (AMR) are suitable for both SMEs and large-scale industry. They take on tasks such as transport, palletizing, loading and unloading machines, assembly, painting or welding, can be retooled quickly and flexibly, and can be programmed even by non-experts. Material replenishment can be streamlined by AMR and machine and process loading by cobot-based production. However, to successfully implement such projects and accelerate robot integration, know-how and partners who know the ropes are needed. In addition, employees must be informed and involved from the start of the project in order to tackle the change together.
Companies should heed these tips when it comes to cobot integration:
1. find out where and how robotics can support employees in production processes
At the start of the cobot project, decision-makers and employees should consider how processes can be made better and more efficient. Some tasks have already been done manually and always in the same way for many years, mostly by employees, without questioning: Does it really have to be this way? Could it be done differently and better? Therefore, the beginning of every automation project is comprehensive planning, which ideally involves everyone who is involved in current and future workflows. Employees and operators should always be in the center of attention, they should know and learn that the cobot supports them, so that they can devote themselves to other and more interesting tasks.
One benefit of cobot use can be that employees are relieved of monotonous, physically demanding or dangerous work. Examples may include lifting heavy loads, repetitive precision work, simple pick-and-place applications, parts handling, sorting and palletizing, or product assembly. The real end customer of the cobot is not the company per se, but the employee or operator. If he or she is dissatisfied, the cobot investment is doomed from the start. This means that the safety department, works council, operator and IT should be at the table right from the start of such a project.
2. choose technology that fits your needs
Cobots are well suited for SMEs because they are easy to set up and offer a fast as well as cost-effective solution. They help SMBs operate more flexibly and quickly, as well as respond better to changing market conditions. However, care must be taken to choose a robot that can start up quickly and remain in operation. This is the only way to reduce downtime. It is therefore advisable to rely on technology and service from a single source, so that the cobots can be used directly and without lengthy training or adjustments. Another point is that the solution should offer a high return on investment and the option to adapt to new production processes and arrangements within a short time. Collaborative TM robots from Omron are designed to be easily used for different tasks and applications, making production as flexible as necessary.
3. change processes and support operators for more future strength
Robots can serve and be seen as an additional workforce. For example, three CNC milling machines for workpieces that require a high degree of precision each require an operator. If a cobot takes over loading and unloading, operators can take on three shifts instead. This allows companies to produce significantly longer and increase throughput. Processes must be continuously scrutinized and adapted to meet current requirements, become more efficient and also more sustainable. Working time models can also be changed in the course of cobot automation. What is important is a general openness to change and adaptation, a new degree of flexibility in entrepreneurial thinking as well.
Author: Peter Lange, Business Development Manager Robotics at Omron Electronics GmbH