Collaborative robots have grown in popularity in recent years, yet few people truly comprehend what they are or what they can do.Away from the jargon, this quick guide walks you through the most critical things you need to know about them and what they signify for future automation.
What Makes A Robot Collaborative?
A robot is any machine that can be programmed or guided to do complex tasks either on its own or with the help of a human operator. There are many different types of robots in use, but the most prevalent are industrial robots used in factories or technical applications. Collaborative robots in this context are just robots, meaning they take instructions and carry out a set of actions to accomplish a task.
To be deemed collaborative, a robot must be capable of safely functioning alongside or next to humans. This is a departure from standard work robots, which must be surrounded by a safety fence when in use to prevent injury.
These new work robots must have one or more of the following traits to be truly collaborative and safe:
Safety by Design
To be considered collaborative, a robot must be designed to co-exist with humans according to existing robot ISO standards- ISO/TS 15066:2016 to be specific. These standards specify what collaborative manufacturers need to include in their designs to make their cobots safe for humans. These specifications touch on the following areas:
- Operation speed and power-These cover how fast can moving parts of a collaborative be and what power does the collaborative robot exerts when performing a task. For the cobot to be considered safe, it must comply with the speed and power limitations specified under the iso standards or have sensors to detect humans in their surroundings
- Contact Pain specifications- these standards establish the levels of contact discomfort that are acceptable when a human comes into contact with any aspect of a collaborative robot. To come up with the right reference data points regarding pain, the ISO committee conducted real-life and simulated tests in conjunction with the University of Mainz.
- Cobot structural design guidelines– The standards also include guidelines cobot manufacturers need to use when designing the external structure of the cobot to make them safe for humans working near them or alongside them.
- Operational guidelines- ISO/TS 15066:2016 also contains guidelines that specify how a collaborative robot should operate for humans to work safely around it. Collaborative robots have safety features like safety-rated stop and power and force limiting for this reason.
Safety Through Sensors
In addition to manufacturing guidelines made to ensure safety, cobots may also come with sensors or imaging components that help them detect humans within their working area. This allows them to stop or reduce speed to prevent injuries.
Safety Through Staff Training
Not all collaborative robots are made or set up to work close to humans so your safety is not always guaranteed. For instance, some mobile robots- such as those used in warehousing operations- have heavy moving parts that could cause injuries in certain circumstances. Most industrial cobots operate using the following spatial delimitations for safety purposes:
- Maximum space
- Operational space
- Restricted space
- Collaborative space and
- Safeguarded space
It’s is important for employees or cobot operators to be trained on how to interact with collaborative robots safely and to understand what their spatial delimitations are. For instance, some robots can be operated using hand guiding and don’t need as much space while others need the operator to interact with them from a safe distance using a remote controller or computer interface.
Some Modern Collaborative Robots Use Ai
One important development you cannot ignore when it comes to cobot technology is the inclusion of machine learning algorithms in the robot’s “brain”. These new types of work robots can sense and read their information from their environment and the tasks they do to refine the way they do things. This makes them more efficient at accomplishing everyday tasks.
Depending on the duties they’ll be performing, modern collaborative robot arms can also be outfitted with a range of sensors, cameras, and end effectors. These collaborative robots can mirror the performance of human operators thanks to sophisticated technology embedded in them, making them true workstation assistants.
Cobots Are Not Suited for Every Industrial Application
Going by the excitement about collaborative robots and the amount of interest they have attracted in recent years, you might be tempted to think that cobots are the solution to everything and the future in industrial automation. However, conventional wisdom shows that cobots aren’t necessarily the solution to every industrial problem out there.
For instance, cobots aren’t good at process-intensive tasks like welding, cleaning materials, and painting. These kinds of tasks are best left to traditional industrial robots that can be set to do a set of tasks repeatedly on a 24-hour cycle. However, tasks that need constant human intervention like machining, engraving, and preparing meals are perfect for collaborative robots.
Assess Your Needs Before You Make the Leap
It’s a good idea to have an expert examine your needs and provide advice before deciding on collaborative robots as your automation option. Most companies would be happy to do a free needs assessment with you before advising you on the kind of robots that will solve your problems. This is an important step given the costs associated with purchasing and maintaining work robots.
Cobots Need ISO/TS15066 Compliant End of Arm Tooling
Collaborative robots need end of arm tooling to do the tasks you want them to do. For instance, pick and place cobots need grippers or magnet EAOTs attached to the main arm to pick items and place them where they are required.
EAOTs are available for every kind of task you can imagine even for these relatively new types of robots. However, cobot end of arm tooling must be compliant with ISO/TS15066 o be safe for use near or with human operators.
There is a lot of promise about the potential of collaborative robots and what they mean for the future of work. If you are looking at robotics as an automation solution, then you should be looking at cobots to determine if they can solve your challenges.