Advancements in artificial intelligence and robotics technology have resulted in cobots that can navigate shop floors by themselves while intelligently responding to a factory’s workflow and factory conditions. Unlike robots of the past, these robots work side-by-side with human workers in the manufacturing process.
Over the past few years, manufacturers have come to accept that even these breakthroughs in AI tech won’t bring the field close to the lights-out factory — a manufacturing process that needs no human input. Instead, manufacturers are investing in collaborative robotics that can spare human workers from tedious or dangerous work. In areas where robots are less flexible or need human input, human workers will be available to pick up the slack.
One example is Fanuc’s CR-35iA, built to move payloads up to 35 kilograms — around 77 pounds — in weight. Factory workers can use this robot to lift spare tires into finished vehicles or move raw materials from storage. In both cases, the cobot spares workers from bending and lifting, which can cause strain or injury over time.
This cobot, like most collaborative robots, comes with safety features like padding and motion detection and is built for a range of similar tasks rather than one specific step in the manufacturing process. These abilities are good for modern manufacturing, which often faces short production cycles and rapidly shifting priorities.
Cobots can simplify many common warehouse and manufacturing tasks. Here are five ways you can introduce cobots to your shop.
Repetitive pick-and-place motions are common in industrial shops, no matter what you're manufacturing. You can utilize human workers to pick up your items and move them from one conveyor or piece of equipment to the next, or you can use cobots designed for picking. They will work alongside your crew to take care of the continual tasks and prevent repetitive stress injuries.
Take a look at your production line and see where you can replace human workers with robots. You might not want to replace all pick-and-place occurrences with robots, and depending on what kind of goods are being picked, you may need gentler or more precise robotics — especially in the case of fragile or easily damaged goods. But by implementing this technology for the majority, you can increase productivity and reduce mistakes.
Machine tending is a broad term for any function that involves a human worker loading a part into a robot. The robot then finishes its program, and the worker removes the finished piece from the robot's grip. Introducing cobots, in this case, doesn't mean you'll be putting robots alongside human team members. Instead, you can use cobots in place of people in machine tending positions.
Utilizing cobots in these places will keep your team members out of harm's way in machine tending positions. It can also improve quality control, as robots consistently provide the same level of production and can function 24 hours a day without the need for breaks.
If welding is part of your production line, you may find it challenging to employ skilled workers in the coming years. By 2022, the American Welding Society is expecting a shortage of more than 450,000 welders, making robotics a necessity rather than an option. Welding cobots can automate various types of welding, from arc and resistance to spot and tig welding, providing optimum results consistently across the board.
If you're struggling to hire skilled welders capable of producing your products, introducing welding cobots into your production line might be the solution.
Quality control is something you normally relegate to people. It takes human eyes to analyze a completed product to ensure it is of the highest quality and is suitable for shipment. For high-volume facilities, quality control on every single produced piece isn't humanly possible without a massive QA team — until now. Quality control cobots, equipped with cameras and machine learning software, can carry out quality control inspections quickly and efficiently. They can do so much faster than human QA employees can.
For your high-volume facilities, consider implementing cobots for quality control and assurance to help improve your QA and pick up the slack.
Packaging is typically carried out by human employees, but it's difficult to keep up with in high-volume facilities. A growing number of places are relying on robots for packaging. Packaging is known as a nonvalue-added task, meaning it's necessary but doesn't provide any potential for growth for the employee. Packaging cobots, if properly equipped with tools like pallet wrappers, can keep up with growing demands while allowing workers to move on to bigger and better things.
Upwards of 90% of food processing and packaging plants now rely on robots and cobots for their needs. Whether you're a high volume facility or not, you can benefit from adding cobots to your packing line.
Cobots are quickly becoming one of the most integral tools for industrial shop owners across the country. Whether you need some extra help for packaging, picking and placing, machine tending or welding, these collaborative robots are creating quality products. In some cases, they're picking up the slack when there is a lack of skilled workers.
Cobots will be a large part of industrial shops in the coming years. If you haven't started to adopt this technology yet, now is the perfect time to start laying that foundation. Figure out where your production line could benefit from a little bit of robotic assistance.