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Posted on : Monday 9th March 2020 06:25 AM

Cobot or Robot

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The global market for cobots is expected to represent very nearly 30 per cent of the total industrial robot market by 2027, which is reported by market research group, Interact Analysis. However, these ‘bots are not always the most appropriate robot choice.

Still arguably a credit to the industry’s promotional efforts, many professionals are scouring various robot suppliers with the sole mission to purchase a cobot. Why? This new technology has been marketed as the modern version of a traditional industrial robot. This tunnel vision often means cobots are purchased and then squeezed into applications they are not applicable for.

Take precise drilling for example. Purchasing a cobot for this application would not be smart. The dangerous tool, which must be attached to the robot gripper, will likely warrant positioning the cobot in a cage. In the same way, the application certainly would not benefit from the hand guided teaching that many cobots allow. As with many drilling processes, there are numerous drill patterns which are necessitated to be dictated through offline programming. Due to this, purchasing a cobot for this drilling application wouldn't be recommend.  

Automating manufacturing processes is an intricate issue without a one-size-fits-all solution. Indeed, some applications are great for cobots, but how can manufacturers determine what type of ‘bot is required?

The Case for Cobots

Conventionally, this breed of automation represents an unguarded, quick to integrate collection of robots that generally carry out repetitive tasks. Well, at least that is how cobots are marketed. Strictly speaking, the robotics industry doesn't acknowledge cobots as a separate entity to traditional industrial robots. Let me explain.

International standard ISO 10218 parts 1 and 2 identify four types of collaborative features, including safety-monitored stopping, separation and force limiting requirements. In spite of this, these standards apply when humans work in collaboration with any kind of robot on the same production floor, inspite of the ‘cobot’ label.  

This is a fundamental contrast, as new robotics implementers may assume that any cobot is automatically safe for use next to humans. In fact, this can only be concluded by thorough risk assessment.

The implementer may be in for a nasty surprise if the assessment views expensive safety fencing must certanly be put in place for the cobot to operate. Additional safety features can even result in very low operating speeds or multiple stops for a cobot. These necessary safety additions may not be free, which could add considerably to integration costs.

Instantly, dropping a cobot onto the production line isn’t as simple as it originally seemed.

Selecting Industrial Robots

Before selecting a kind of robot, manufacturers should define the application first. Then, it will be clear whether a cobot is going to fit the bill. Industrial robots are usually used for more labor-intensive tasks and have long been used to manufacturers to remove humans from dangerous processes on the factory floor.  In arc welding for example, deploying industrial robots is an ideal way to protect human workers from the torch and flash used in this application.

Industrial robots can automate an immensely broad range of processes such as this unattended, with high levels of repeatability. What’s more, multiple industrial robots can be integrated for a fully automated production line, meaning they can control applications that are not conducive to humans at speed, therefore removing operators from unsafe or unclean environments.

A very important consideration, which is often overlooked, is that industrial robots can have collaborative features too. Improvements in safety technology now allows industrial robots to be used in collaborative operations, serving many of the same benefits that a cobot brings.

Of course, this collaboration can only be employed after the appropriate risk assessment — but that is no different than when choosing a cobot. Keep in mind, it's the application that defines the ability for human and machine to collaborate. While vendors are eager to claim the term 'collaborative robot', it isn't always so black and white.

For high-speed applications, industrial robots will forever win the battle. That said, if the application doesn't require safety guarding, then the first investment of a cobot is low. In spite of this, this can only be determined through risk assessment.

Manufacturers should avoid implementing fleets of cobots. At their existing stage of development, this robot type is lacking in speed and is not always able to work as collaboratively as it is marketed.

It is mandatory that business owners assess the application and the needs of their business’ future carefully first, before making their decision on robot or cobots. Before parting with their cash, manufacturers should consider one serious question — does the robot match the application?


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