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The cobots are coming

1. August 2018 09:37

The Boston Consulting Group predicts that investment in industrial robots will grow 10% each year for the next ten years in the world's 25 biggest export nations, when the robots will take over 23% of the manufacturing jobs. So far, robots have taken over only 10% of the jobs that can be automated.

The fact of the matter is that robots can be programmed much faster and more efficiently than humans can be retrained during manufacturing changeovers. Then only highly trained humans remain employed.

New advancement in robotic manufacturing technology now enables robot workers to be integrated into the labor force to increase productivity and efficiency, and more robotic systems are entering the realm previously occupied exclusively by humans.

In manufacturing, there is a growing need to integrate robots into the workforce in order to take advantage of the diverse strengths of both humans and robots. A "cobot", which is short for collaborative robot, works in tandem with a human worker. A cobot and a human can produce an end result better and faster than either could do working alone. These cobots are usually designed for an explicit task.

The manufacturing environment has a wide range of potential applications for cobots. However, in some manufacturing processes, there are applications where it makes sense for workers to perform a task manually. In other applications, the best option is overall automation. Cobots are practical for many of the tasks that fall somewhere in between. In these situations, a worker needs to see, feel and react as needed, but the cobot can handle certain physically taxing motions.

There are a variety of cobots from small table-top models to robots capable of moving heavy loads. Cobots are relatively light weight and can be moved from one work assignment to another. Most cobots are easy to program, using a smartphone or tablet. Just as a power saw is intended to help—not replace—the carpenter, the cobot is designed to assist the production worker. Collaborative robots are generally simpler than more traditional robots, which make them cheaper to buy, operate and maintain.

While the robots perform the repetitive jobs, human workers can be creative and improve the ways to carry out manufacturing. This can make manufacturing more efficient and cost-effective.

Because cobots are affordable, highly adaptable, and almost plug-and-play, small and medium-sized manufacturers are eager to take on this technology. This segment of robotics is projected to see substantial growth.

Learn more from John Park during “Robots in the small- to medium-sized shop”.

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