March 6, 2020 Return to overview

Cobots For Dummies

The Collaboration of Humans & Robots Has Created The Cobot


Cobots

Cobots are collaborative robots that are designed to interact and work with humans. When it comes to the internet of things (IoT) and the next wave of automation, cobots hold the key. The rise of cobots could help humans work fewer hours while enjoying a better quality of life. For employers, cobots can take on the most dangerous tasks to reduce the risk of injury while simultaneously reducing labor costs.

For years, labor groups and tech companies have been at odds over using robots in the workplace. Other than worrying about whether machines are safe enough to work alongside humans, people have also struggled to make them talented enough to tackle multiple steps and develop fine motor skills. Once these problems are handled, the next goal is integrating cobots into operations that have previously relied on just humans.

The tension between labor and technology is not new. In the 19th century, the Luddites were a secret organization of textile workers in England. Compared to the typical worker of that era, textile workers were highly paid. They were paid so well that textile workers were notorious for not showing up to work, drinking to excess and being generally unreliable. When new textile machines were created to replace their jobs, the Luddites joined together to fight the use of technology and machinery.

The Luddites ended up losing their fight, but the name of their cause has remained. Now, anyone who is anti-tech is branded a Luddite. As history has shown, new technology improves the standard of living for everyone. While one job may disappear because of an invention, the invention creates new jobs instead. Today’s labor groups may dislike cobots, but the rise of cobots will help boost productivity, improve workplace safety, transform human labor and improve manufacturing tasks.

What Are Cobots?

In many industries, robots are used to address the four D’s of tasks. If a task is dirty, dear, dangerous or dull, workplaces can use robots to do it. In this example, dear refers to expensive.

Robots are used all the time in industries like health care and manufacturing as a way to obtain better outcomes. Many of these robots are limited in where they can go or placed in cages to keep them away from humans. Obviously, this limits their ability to interact with people and support human-led projects.

Cobots are conceptually different. As the name suggests, these robots are designed to be collaborative. Their goal is to work in close proximity to human beings. This term originally developed during the 1990s because of research projects at the General Motors (GM) Robotics center. In essence, cobots work to augment humans. They are not made to be autonomous like other robots. Instead, these robots are human-powered to increase human strength, data capabilities and precision.

What Can You Utilize Cobots For?

The rise in cobots can be attributed to their ability to handle any dangerous, dull or dirty tasks. They can help to limit force or power by sensing when something abnormal is in the cobot’s path. In addition, cobots can help with guiding a hand as industrial robots do.

Cobots can be used in a safety zone. When a human enters the zone, the cobot can be trained to slow down. Then, it will track the human and stop working if the human is too close. Over time, cobots can be trained to copy the way humans perform different tasks and jobs.

At this point in time, cobots are not able to take on every task that is performed by a human being. Over time, they may be able to handle many of the manufacturing tasks that humans do. When you decide to get a cobot, you can expect some of the following advantages and disadvantages.

The Benefits 

• Cobots help with lean engineering by replacing the human component.

• These devices can make human workers more efficient and productive.

• Employees are happier because they no longer have to do dangerous, dirty or mundane tasks.

• Cobots improve the safety of your work sites.

• A cobot can be programmed in just half an hour.

• Cobots are more consistent and accurate than humans.

The Drawbacks 

• There are still limitations in what cobots can do when it comes to finesse tasks.

• Cobots cannot completely replace humans in every operation.

• Cobots are limited in tasks requiring cognition.

Cobots In Action

From using cobots in digital healthcare to transportation, there are a number of ways your company can put collaborative robots to work. In Amazon fulfillment centers, cobots bring merchandise shelves to human associates. Then, human associates get these shelves ready for shipment. Because of cobots, orders take just 15 minutes to process instead of an hour.

In Germany, a Ford Fiesta plant uses cobots to install shock absorbers. Meanwhile, Ocado’s online supermarket uses human pickers and cobots to fulfill orders. The humans stay in one location while the cobots move to get the merchandise.

Meanwhile, Moduform’s furniture manufacturing plant is utilizing cobots to help with employee retention. Many of the company’s production jobs are temporary or monotonous. With the help of the rise of cobots, the factory can get rid of its issues with employee turnover and seasonal hiring.

Author

Brian McGlynn, Davra, COO

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