Frank Sabatini, Lead Production Operator in the DC Automated Assembly department, performs a changeover. (Image: Phoenix Contact)

Robots have been widely used in industry for many years, but cobots, or collaborative robots, are a more recent arrival to the market. While traditional robots are programmed to perform certain tasks and complete certain capabilities independently that the creator has generated, cobots are built to work alongside humans in a safe and collaborative way.

Cobots are able to complete assigned tasks on their own without human guidance, but should a human need to interfere, the cobot knows to suspend its task until redirected without harming the human.

Phoenix Contact Development and Manufacturing recently integrated a new cobot onto its U.S. manufacturing floor to aid the human hand in packaging and distribution.

The ABB cobot works to complete tasks involving packaging and orienting by working on the end of a machine that drops off parts that are to be placed in a box. Normally, a worker would have to pack these parts by placing, orienting, and counting them into the box that would then be switched out for a new box, where the whole process would then be repeated. This proved to be a repetitive and tedious task that the cobot has now been brought in to complete, saving workers’ time and effort to increase efficiency.

DC Automated Assembly Product Supervisor Mike Doyle and DC Operations Manager Kurt Bruehl discussed the impact of the cobot’s implementation on the facility and its workers, a process that began in November 2021 and was finalized in February 2022.

Adding the cobot to the manufacturing facility saved money on labor. Implementing the cobot allows workers the free time to do more critical tasks rather than tedious, repetitive ones like orienting packaging items and placing them into boxes.

The cobot places a terminal block into a package. (Image: Phoenix Contact)

Not only has it improved cost efficiency, but as Bruehl added, “The cobot will always be there to get the job done. If an employee is unable to come to work, it still allows us to run with fewer people, so it helps our operations when we’re down a person or need a little bit of extra help in other areas.”

Now, the cobot completes these manual tasks for them. The machine can run independently and free up time. The worker can run a second machine simultaneously or complete a hand assembly task, increasing their overall output and productivity.

“So, if an error would occur while you were packaging your boxes, you might finish that task and let the machine sit idle and then go and address the issue, which would increase your downtime. Being that the cobot is doing it, the operator can react quicker and resolve these issues to bring up our uptime,” said Doyle.

Employees can work in close contact with the cobot without fear of the cobot working outside of its bounds. That is the difference between a robot and a cobot: a robot will exert as much force as needed to get the job done, while a cobot knows when to stop.

“What we had to sit down and explain to them was a robot is going to move from point A to point B, and it will do anything in its power to get there,” commented Doyle, “so it will hurt you if it needs to get to point B. A cobot, it says, ‘I need to go to point B, but I need this much energy.’”

Operators and workers were well versed in robotics and safety measures to keep them all safe and ensure they were comfortable with integrating the cobot into the workplace and on the floor alongside them.

Additionally, several Phoenix Contact products support the cobot. While ABB takes care of the physical, mechanical motions, the supporting electronics like the PLC, wire harnesses, safety controllers, and even an HMI interface screen that works between the operator and the other articles are all Phoenix Contact’s solutions.

As far as the future goes, with the current cobot’s success, Phoenix Contact plans to implement more cobots into its facilities in the future.

This article was contributed by Phoenix Contact (Middletown, PA). For more information, visit here .