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How are cobots benefiting manufacturers?

clock 6 minutes | 14 Apr 2022

Cobots in manufacturing

How are cobots benefiting manufacturers?

Cobots are already starting to change the way manufacturers are operating. With 88% of businesses predicted to invest in cobots and the market expected to be worth nearly $2 billion by 2030, their uses and capabilities will only continue to grow.

Indeed, cobots and similar technologies aren’t just predicted to benefit businesses, but their workers too. Despite many employees’ reservations, 58 million jobs worldwide are predicted to be created by automation.

So what benefits are cobots already bringing to different industries and what potential do they hold for manufacturing businesses? Find out more in this article which covers:

What is a cobot?

‘Cobot’ is an abbreviation of collaborative robots. As the name suggests, the cobot definition is a robot that works alongside humans to complete tasks or processes. They can help to enhance operations by making them more efficient, cost-effective and accurate.

Placed on a shopfloor alongside operators, cobots can be used in a variety of operations to interact and respond directly with humans. For example, they can stop performing their actions when human workers get too close or learn directly from an operator doing a task.

In short, unlike other types of robots, cobots can learn, ‘think’ and respond to their surroundings, including their human coworkers. This means that with their machine learning and advanced sensor technology, cobots take the capabilities of industrial automation to the next level.

Man carrying box in background

How are cobots used in manufacturing?

Cobots are unique in the fact that they can work collaboratively with human operators.

This makes them particularly useful on manufacturing production lines where they can help humans with:

  • Packaging and pallets: with their unique design, cobots are able to handle a range of products and weights, from fragile vases to car wheels. They can also handle products which would be potentially dangerous to human operators, like medical products such as needles. As well as picking and placing products into boxes or trays, cobots can also stack these precisely and quickly, meaning human operators don’t need to handle heavy loads.
  • Material handling: cobots can help human operators to get materials from one part of a production line to another, whether it’s for packaging, pallets, testing or inspection. As well as working next to human operators, cobot exoskeletons can enhance human operator’s capabilities, meaning they can lift heavier loads repetitively without risk of injury or strain.
  • Machine tending: whether it’s loading materials into a machine or taking the final products off the line, cobots can help human workers to do this more efficiently with less risk or injury or accident.
  • Assembly: from welding parts together to screwing in electric circuits to bolting parts together, cobots can help with the most repetitive tasks on the assembly production line.
  • Finishing: painting, spraying, stamping and polishing tasks can all be performed by cobots. Using their sensors and machine learning, they can create consistent, high-quality results, even on different types of surfaces.
  • Quality checks: again, sensors and machine learning play a huge part here, whether they’re checking for product quality, consistency of assembly or levels of finish, cobots can help human operators to perform repetitive quality checks using objective data points and information.

This flexibility and capability means these applications can be adapted to suit different industries:

  • Automotive: once they’ve learnt the technique from human workers, automotive cobots can weld, assemble and paint parts on the production line safely and more accurately than human operators.
  • Electronics and technology: for precision tasks, material handling and packaging, cobots can help to increase productivity and consistency in performance.
  • Healthcare: whether healthcare businesses are looking to reinforce their staff numbers or protect their HCPs from infection, cobots can perform simple tasks like taking swabs, checking vital signs or even helping with their hygiene if needed.
  • Consumer goods: from performing quality checks on products using artificial intelligence and sensors, to selecting the appropriate box or shrink-wrapping for this product and putting it onto the right pallet for shipping.
Women with hands in foreground

Yet, as well as performing repetitive tasks that would be hazardous or monotonous for human employees, they can work as part of robot-human teams to improve productivity. Studies have found that these teams can result in an 85% reduction in idle time during work tasks.

Plus, as more businesses and their employees start to work with cobots, their uses and applications will expand significantly.

What are the benefits of cobots?

Like many other Industry 4.0 technologies, cobots are already bringing lots of benefits to manufacturers. However, their unique ability to work alongside human operators means they can bring specific advantages to manufacturing businesses.

Higher productivity

One of the main aims of introducing Industry 4.0 technologies like cobots into production lines is to increase their productivity. Indeed, many studies have shown that manufacturers which use robots are significantly more productive than those which don’t.

Specifically, cobots can learn how to do fairly complex tasks, such as material handling, assembling or finishing products and packaging them accurately and efficiently. This means the most repetitive processes can be done without a drop in efficiency or performance, even on 24-hour production lines.

Increased safety

By assisting and supporting human workers in their tasks, cobots can help to keep them safe. Particularly when it comes to doing monotonous, repetitive tasks, cobots can help to take the strain and chance of potential injury away from this type of work.

For example, cobot exoskeletons can help human workers lift lots of weight repeatedly without straining themselves. Cobots can also help with potentially hazardous tasks, such as handling dangerous materials, packing medical equipment or assembling and finishing products.

Flexible and easy to use

The design of cobots means they take up less footprint on a factory floor. Many cobots can also be set up and programmed easily and quickly. This means it can be implemented into a production line very quickly and either be used to perform the same task repeatedly or several different tasks within the same day.

Plus, a cobot’s ability to learn and relearn tasks means they don’t need to be reprogrammed, even if they’re reassigned to a different task or part of the production line. Once they’ve learnt from human workers, they can then perform this task with a higher level of efficiency and accuracy.

Frees up human resource

By taking on the repetitive, monotonous tasks within the production line, cobots don’t just help to improve the productivity of a factory, but free up any human resources in a business to perform more complex tasks. For example, cobots can perform one part of the assembly so a human operator can perform a more complex task further on in the process.

Cobots can also help to solve the skills gap that’s threatening the productivity of manufacturing sector. With their ability to learn and relearn tasks quickly, cobots can perform semi-skilled work and fill these job roles while human workers can do the higher-level work that they prefer, such as data interpretation or operational optimisation. Indeed, 133 million jobs roles are expected to open up as a result of automation technologies such as cobots.

Better product quality

With their advanced technologies, cobots can collect a range of objective data points. This is particularly useful when it comes to ensuring better product quality and cobots can contribute towards this in two ways: performing tasks more accurately and checking them objectively.

Once they’ve been programmed to perform their specific task on the production line, they will do this with high accuracy and efficiency. For example, they might learn how to screw in part of an electrical circuit and be able to do this with the right amount of pressure and rotation. Then, once the product has been assembled, cobots can use sensors and a range of objective data points to perform a quality check as it comes off the production line.

Both of these sets of controls mean cobots can help manufacturers create better quality products.

Man leaning forward looking at laptop

Are cobots right for your business?

As with any other Industry 4.0 technology, to figure out whether cobots would enhance your business and its manufacturing processes, it’s important to consider where they would fit into your operations.

To help you make this judgement, ask questions such as:

  • Are there any production line tasks that could be automated?
  • Are there any parts of the process that could be enhanced by assistance from cobots?
  • Do you need technologies to interact with your human workers?
  • Do any of the tasks require the lifting of objects heavier than 15kgs?
  • Do you need your robots to be flexible and have multiple potential applications?

This will help you to decide whether cobots or another type of robot would be more suitable for your business operations. For example, if you need a robot to perform a heavy lifting task in isolation, then an industrial autonomous robot would be a better option.

Then, once you’ve decided that cobots are the best option for your business, it’s important to integrate them as effectively so your operations can enjoy as many advantages as possible.

How can you integrate cobots effectively?

Once you’ve decided that cobots are the right option for your business, you need to integrate them into your production line effectively to take full advantage of their benefits.

By following a few simple steps, you can successfully add cobots into your operations:

  • Set out a strategy: it’s likely that you’ll have already identified parts of the production line or tasks that cobots could assist with. Ensure that all of these are noted down, along with a detailed outline of the task that needs to be performed and any associated requirements for the technology that will be used.
  • Test the technology: to make sure the technologies work as you expect, it’s key that you test it in the production line first. This will ensure that cobots can meet your requirements and make a positive impact on your operations.
  • Get buy in from your employees: some colleagues might be concerned that the introduction of cobots might threaten their job. For these team members and other operators that will work closely with the cobots, it’s key that you explain the reasons and benefits of integrating this technology into your operations.
  • Find an expert robotics partner: connecting with an expert robotics company will ensure you can find the models that best suit your requirements and get advice on how to integrate them into your production line most effectively.
  • Put an integration plan in place: once you’ve selected and tested the right cobots, it’s key that you put a plan in place for integrating them into your production line. Benchmarking current performance so you can see the impact that cobots have on your productivity and efficiency is also key to prove their ROI to the wider business.

How are injection molders using cobots?

Cobots can help at various stages of the injection molding production process. From loading material into the injection molding machine, to changing the molds themselves and finishing the products at the end of the line, cobots can have a significant impact on the productivity of injection molders’ processes. They can even help manufacturers to package and palletize their products ready for distribution.

Flexible, easy to set up and program they can easily be integrated or moved across the injection molding production line. Most significantly though, cobots can help injection molders to improve the quality of their products. Whether they perform pre-molding tasks, finishing processes or complete the final quality checks, cobots can help injection molders like Essentra Components deliver better quality products for their customers quickly and efficiently.

Cobots