If you work in a manufacturing environment, your next co-worker could be a robotic one.
Collaborative robots, or cobots, are increasingly being taken out from behind the cages and being used alongside human beings to automate a variety of tasks, including quality inspection, pick-and-place, and screw driving.
Automation can, of course, make a manufacturing process more efficient, but how do you know if a collaborative robot is right for your operation?
In a recent Tech Briefs webinar titled Collaborative Robotics: Safely Connecting Man and Machine, a reader had the following question:
“If the level of collaboration depends on the application in question, what types of application considerations need to be made to determine the level of collaboration?”
Read the edited response below from Simon Whitton, a manager at German-based industrial automation manufacturer Kuka Robots.
Simon Whitton, Regional Division Manager, North America, KUKA Robots: As I alluded to in my presentation, the issue of collaboration calls for an assessment of the whole work cell and the whole application.
- Clearly, one of the most basic ideas is speed: How fast does this need to run? Obviously, something slow-moving may well be suitable for having people sharing space with robots. Something moving very quickly, by definition, is not safe to have people nearby.
- Consider whatever equipment is going to be used in the work cell and how safe it is. If you have a machine tool, for example, with an open front, and a choke turning around at a high speed, clearly that’s not safe.
- What is the process itself? Some processes just don’t lend themselves to operating in a collaborative sense — tasks like welding and laser cutting.
- You need to consider the size of the part that you plan to lift. If it’s a very large part, clearly it can take up a lot of space. When people are handling something that’s heavy or large, it’s going to be difficult to monitor where those people are, or to detect a contact.
- Think about the safety of the component itself. If you have a part that has very sharp edges or has holes in it that people can trap their fingers in, that may be a no-no for collaboration.
- I suppose the final question is: How much human interaction is really required for the process to operate? There are different states of collaboration depending on how much people need to be around the robot while it’s working.
We want to hear from you. Do any other collaborative robot considerations come to mind? Share your comments and questions below.
Watch human-robot collaboration at a BMW plant: