Collaborative Robots in Manufacturing

A collaborative robot, or cobot, is a type of robot intended to physically interact with humans in a shared workspace. These robots are usually designed for a specific task and come in handy when floor space is limited. A truly collaborative robot, like the ones produced by FANUC, Universal, OB7, AUBO Robotics, Omron, and KUKA, can be operated right next to a person without safeguarding.

But be warned. Just because you can operate a robot right next to a person does not mean you should. While a robot itself might be defined as collaborative, its application might not be. For example, if a collaborative robot has a knife on the end of its arm to cut a shape out of a piece of paper, then by code it might not have to be guarded; however, if it is using a knife that is sharp enough to cut someone, it would be dangerous and irresponsible not to put safeguards in place to protect the people around the robot.

MJ Engineering was once asked by a potential client to integrate a cobot that picked up hot plates measuring more than 200°F. The prospective client thought safeguarding was unnecessary because it was a “collaborative robot.” Not willing to compromise on safety, MJ Engineering insisted on adding safeguarding to its project plan, even though it meant losing the project to a lower bidder. You can count on MJ Engineering to always do the right thing—especially when it comes to safety.

Are Cobots Worth the Cost?

The Robotic Industries Association (RIA) reports that the collaborative robot market is growing quickly. Advances in robotic manufacturing technology are enabling robot workers to be integrated into the labor force with a wide range of new tasks and applications, increasing productivity and efficiency. The robots themselves are relatively inexpensive, making them a more viable solution for small and medium businesses.

However, the upfront costs savings might not make up for the loss of production, with full-scale industrial robots being at least three times faster than cobots. On the other hand, the larger robots do take up more room, which can be a disadvantage in a smaller space.

So it is important to understand your robotic system needs and whether a collaborative robot setup is truly the best fit for your company. Often, it makes more sense to choose a cobot when there is a specific need, such as a setup where a robot fills a container, and a person sitting next to it puts the lid on. That could also be done in a non-collaborative setting, but it would have to pass through a fence, take longer, and use up more floor space.

MJ Engineering can collaborate with you on your collaborative robot needs and make the recommendation that is the best fit for your company, budget, and space.