With the way technology is quickly evolving, more companies are choosing to automate their production processes in order to keep up with heavy demand. This is usually done by introducing heavy industrial robots. Despite their fast production and efficiency, they are incredibly large and unwieldy, and often unsafe, necessitating them to be put in a safety cage to protect human employees nearby. Recently though, some companies have pivoted and started to use a collaborative robot to automate their workforce instead of standard industrial robots. But what are collaborative robots, and why should companies use them instead?
In this article, we attempt to showcase and explain the benefits and advantages of using collaborative robots in the workforce. Keep reading below to learn more about this topic.
What is a cobot?
First things first, but what is a collaborative robot? A collaborative robot, otherwise known as a cobot, are robots that are designed to work safely together with human workers. This is a major difference when compared to traditional robots, which have to be put in cages to protect human employees from being hurt accidentally. As such, cobots are often fitted with sensitive sensors that allow the robot to ‘feel’ its surroundings. It is also programmed to shoot into safety mode if the robot detects anything or anyone interrupting its work. On the other hand, traditional robots would just continue with what they are doing, potentially injuring people nearby.
The first cobot was invented in 1996 by Michael Peshkin and J. Edward Colgate. According to them, the cobot was “a device and method for direct physical interaction between a person and a computer-controlled manipulator.” People have improved upon this technology over the years, with plenty of cobot manufacturers sprouting up and providing these robots to other manufacturing companies.
They can be quickly programmed
Unlike traditional robots that generally need programmers to have a lot of time and knowledge to program them to perform one single action, cobots tend to be a lot more easier to program. This is because cobots are usually outfitted with user-friendly and easy-to-use software and mobile applications. As such, workers can program cobots to learn new actions quickly, making them incredibly efficient. Because a cobot is relatively easy to program, it can be quickly implemented and used in a certain task or process that needs immediate help. It can also help companies perform various tasks seamlessly, making the production line a lot more efficient.
They can be installed fast
Similar to the above point, cobots can be installed relatively quicker than their industrial counterparts. Normally, installing and onboarding a robot can take a few days – sometimes even up to a few weeks – before it is fully up and running. That is a lot of time that could be better spent elsewhere! On the other hand, if you choose to install a cobot instead, you can complete their onboarding within around half an hour, which is a lot of time saved! The cobot could even perform its very first task within an hour of onboarding. This means that if you need a temporary employee or set of hands on a certain task in your production line, then a cobot can immediately step into that role.
Flexible in applications
Cobots are incredibly flexible, unlike their industrial counterparts. Because of their user-friendly software, it makes adding new tasks to the robot incredibly easy. While a cobot is often used to perform the same monotonous task for 40 hours a week, it can technically also perform different tasks every single day. For instance, you can look for places in the production line where you can utilize a cobot. This flexibility allows cobots to assist with extra tasks rather than just hiring a temporary employee – especially during peak times in production. As such, using cobots is a lot more practical and resourceful instead of trying to find and pay another human employee to do the task.
More consistent and accurate
There’s no doubt that robots – and cobots by extension – are a lot more consistent and accurate when it comes to performing repetitive tasks. In fact, studies have shown that cobots can perform tasks with an accuracy of 0.1mm. Even more important, is that a cobot will never deviate from its actions (unless you reprogram it) and will always perform a task with the same amount of power required. This is especially vital for some tasks, for example – tightening screws. This should always be done with the same amount of tension and pressure, in order to ensure the consistency and quality of the overall end product.
Of course, the main goal of using robots and automating the workforce is to optimize the overall production process. In other words, most businesses are looking to achieve the most they can with minimal amounts of costs. With a cobot, businesses can minimize any errors, meaning that productivity increases and less wastage are created. It also means that human employees can move on and do tasks that they actually enjoy, such as more creative or strategic activities. While setting up and equipping a cobot can be somewhat expensive upfront in the beginning, in the long run, it can actually save businesses both time and money, which means they can potentially increase their bottom line.
Positive effect on human employees
Unsurprisingly, when employees feel that the business is supporting them in the work that they do, they tend to enjoy the tasks they do more. As the boring and repetitive work will be often outsourced to the cobot instead, employees will instead mainly pivot and work on more ‘human-oriented’ tasks. This includes tasks where creativity, solution-oriented thinking, and strategizing are given more space to thrive. In a sense, cobots help with creating a more attractive work environment for human employees. Cobots also help to prevent health conditions like RSI, which occurs when workers perform the same action over a long period of time. In the long term, with hazardous and monotonous tasks being done by robots instead of humans, this means less absenteeism, higher job satisfaction, and more involvement of employees – leading to a healthier and more robust company in general.