Cobots

Five reasons that speak for collaborative robots

Five reasons that speak for collaborative robots

Five reasons that speak for collaborative robots

Five reasons that speak for collaborative robots

There are numerous scenarios in which robots can be used to increase productivity and precision and relieve humans of tedious, repetitive tasks. Cobots go one step further by being able to work with human operators in a truly collaborative way.

There is no denying that robots are playing an increasingly important role in the adoption of future technologies. Cooperative and collaborative industrial robots can play a crucial role for companies in manufacturing, processing and assembly, as they can increase productivity and flexibility. Automation technology is characterised by progress and innovation, and robotics is now more versatile than ever.

Collaborative robots or cobots are currently on everyone's lips. They can work alongside humans and share the same workspace. This opens up many areas of application that were not possible before. However, this is not the only reason for using a collaborative robot:

1. Advanced technology

When a new technology comes on the market, it can either fundamentally change established ways of thinking, or it can reignite interest in an area that had perhaps fallen out of people's sights. Key elements that spark this interest include visual programming, direct teaching, collision detection, integrated image processing and advanced safety features. This includes using the cobot without physical guards. Collaborative machines can reach the level of industrial robots while increasing productivity in the factory. They also support data-driven, intelligent operations where information generated by cobots can provide valuable insights to maintain peak performance. They look good and have a sleek design with no pinch points or sharp corners, making them an attractive option for any application.

2. Ease of use

As robot technology has evolved, so has ease of use and integration with peripherals. What was once the preserve of 'specialists' is now said to be accessible to all, and this is actually one of the biggest advantages of using cobots. The technology of cobots allows for graphical programming with icons for the functions and flowcharts for the process flow. This reduces programming complexity as well as development and implementation time. The movement of the cobot axes can be done manually by guiding the robot arm to the desired positions. The configuration of the robot's gripper is done via graphical parameters.

When vision systems are required, a solution such as Mitsubishi Electric's Melfa Assista offers the ability to set up a camera using an intuitive software wizard that guides the user through each step of the process. It is also able to automatically perform other important functions such as calibrating a coordinate system using artificial intelligence (AI). Ultimately, companies installing cobots on their production lines do not initially need the same level of robotics or programming knowledge as for standard industrial robots. A quick setup can drastically reduce the time it takes to get the system up and running, while also allowing for quick changes.

3. Expandability

It's not just the cobots that are easy to use. Features such as vision systems and end effectors are designed to achieve the same level of ease of use. More specifically, many components offer "plug-and-play" capabilities so that they can be easily connected to the robot arms. No wiring needs to be done and no adapters need to be designed and manufactured, further simplifying the overall automation infrastructure while supporting flexibility. Users can also easily interchange components to support a variety of different applications.

4 Flexibility

The above advantages, especially the simplicity of programming, installing, using and equipping cobots, also lead to extremely flexible production cells and machines. Companies can change the operation and behaviour of collaborative robots with a few intuitive steps. In addition, their end effectors can be replaced very quickly. These capabilities are extremely beneficial, as cobots can be quickly repurposed from one task to another. In this way, one can benefit from highly flexible and agile systems that help automate mixed product assemblies and small batches. Because users can adapt and optimise the cobots' programmes over time, these solutions make it particularly easy to constantly increase productivity and thus implement continuous improvement strategies.

5 The business case

Project approval is always a question of budget. Because cobots are so universal, they are attractive to applications and companies of all sizes because they offer a quick return on investment (ROI), usually in less than a year. Collaborative technology can be a door-opener to establish or expand robotics or factory automation in companies. Internal expertise and increasingly complex applications can develop so that, over time, different types of robots can also be used in production lines, depending on requirements.

Conclusions

With all the benefits that a cobot can bring, the question is whether this means that a traditional industrial robot is no longer needed. The answer, of course, is no. When speed is required, the industrial robot is still the best choice. However, cobot technology is having an impact on the development of industrial robots. Many of the safety features first seen on collaborative robots are now standard on industrial versions. Collaborative robots are often used in the same production lines as industrial robots, so it is very important to choose a supplier that can offer both, such as Mitsubishi Electric.

The right choice of robot should offer the simplicity of programming already described, but also more sophisticated features, such as an advanced scripting language, so that the applications to be handled by the robot can become more sophisticated as the user's knowledge increases. It is clear that robotic technology is advancing rapidly and that industry will also adopt this technology. The question is not whether collaborative robots or industrial robots will be used, but whether the right technology will be used for the right application. If this is successful, then the continued use of robots in manufacturing is inevitable and will allow humans to either collaborate with them as part of the task or be assigned to less repetitive tasks elsewhere in the process.

By Barry Weller, Robot Product Manager at Mitsubishi Electric

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