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June 7, 2024
June 7, 2024

The True Value of Collaborative Robots (Cobots)

The industrial landscape is shifting from traditional machine-human interfaces to collaborative robots (cobots) that redefine warehouse automation. Cobots, integrated with advanced systems like AutoStore AS/RS, actively collaborate in the workspace, paving the way for a new era in industrial automation. Explore the multifaceted roles of cobots and their varied applications, and learn the advantages of cobot integration with AutoStore.

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Key takeaways:

Understanding collaborative robots (cobots)

Collaborative robots, commonly known as cobots, represent a revolutionary step in the evolution of automation. Unlike traditional industrial robots, cobots are designed to work alongside humans within a shared space. This concept breaks the conventional barriers where robots operated in isolated environments, far removed from human interaction. Below is an overview of the ways cobots differentiate from traditionally known robots.

Example: A collaborative robot in action

Imagine a cobot in an automotive assembly line. Unlike a traditional robot that might be bolted down and performing a single task, this cobot is mobile and flexible. It can assist workers in lifting heavy parts, hold components in place for assembly, or perform precision tasks like screwing or welding under human supervision. All the while, it's equipped with sensors to ensure it operates safely around its human colleagues, stopping or slowing down its movement if a worker gets too close.

Types of collaborative robots

Collaborative robots (cobots) come in various types, each designed to fulfill specific roles and applications in different industries. Here's an overview of some common types:

Safety-monitored stop cobots  

These collaborative robots operate alongside humans and are designed to stop immediately if a person enters their workspace. This feature ensures safety without needing physical barriers.

Hand-guiding cobots

Equipped with hand-guiding features, these collaborative robots allow operators to directly interact with them by guiding their arms to perform tasks. This is particularly useful for teaching the robot paths or tasks through manual manipulation.

Speed- and separation-monitoring cobots

These utilize advanced sensors to monitor the speed and separation distance between the robot and humans. They adjust their speed or stop based on the proximity of a person, ensuring safety in shared spaces.

Power- and force-limiting cobots

Perhaps the most common type, these collaborative robots are designed to limit the power and force they exert. This feature minimizes the risk of injury if a human comes into contact with the robot, making them safe for direct interaction without the need for safety barriers.

Mobile cobots

These are collaborative robots mounted on mobile platforms. They combine the flexibility of cobots with the mobility of autonomous vehicles, allowing them to move materials or perform tasks across different locations in a facility.

Each type of collaborative robot is tailored to specific collaborative environments, offering varying degrees of interaction and safety features to suit different industrial applications.

Applications and purpose of cobots

Collaborative robots are versatile tools used in a wide range of industries for various applications. Their ability to work safely alongside humans and adapt to different tasks makes them invaluable in modern manufacturing and production environments. Here are some of the key applications of cobots across different industries:

Welding: Cobots are increasingly used in welding operations, especially in automotive and heavy machinery industries. They offer precision and consistency, enhancing the quality of welds while ensuring safety.

Soldering: In electronics manufacturing, cobots perform delicate soldering tasks, where precision and consistency are crucial. They can handle repetitive tasks while minimizing errors and defects.

Assembly Line Operations: Cobots are flexible tools in assembly lines, capable of performing various tasks such as fitting parts together, testing assemblies, or packaging finished products.

Bin picking: Cobots are used for sorting and selecting items from bins, which is particularly useful in logistics and warehousing. They can identify and pick specific items, improving efficiency in inventory management and order fulfillment.

Material handling: In manufacturing settings, cobots are deployed for material handling tasks such as loading and unloading, transferring parts between processes, or arranging products for further processing or packaging.

Screwing: Cobots are adept at screwing operations in assembly lines, ensuring consistent torque and precision. This is particularly useful in the assembly of electronics, appliances, and automotive parts.

Gluing and Sealing: In manufacturing processes that require gluing or sealing components, cobots can apply adhesives or sealants with high precision and consistency, ensuring quality control. 

Automated Replenishment: In retail and warehousing, cobots can assist in restocking shelves or picking items for orders, streamlining the replenishment process.

These applications demonstrate the adaptability and efficiency of cobots in enhancing productivity, improving quality, and ensuring safety in various industrial settings. Their ability to be reprogrammed and redeployed for different tasks makes them a valuable asset in the rapidly evolving industrial landscape.

Advantages of collaborative robots in the workplace

Collaborative robots, or cobots, have emerged as a transformative force in modern manufacturing and warehousing environments. Their integration into various processes brings a host of benefits that enhance efficiency, safety, and productivity. Here's a concise overview of the primary advantages of using cobots:

Aspect Collaborative Robots (Cobots) Traditional Industrial Robots
Design and Safety Smaller, equipped with advanced safety features for direct human interaction Larger, often isolated to ensure safety due to power and speed
Flexibility and Application Versatile and adaptable, suitable for a variety of tasks Typically dedicated to specific, repetitive tasks in controlled environments
Ease of Use User-friendly interfaces, accessible to non-specialists Complex programming, generally requiring specialized skills

Enhancing human-robot collaboration

Cobots' design allows for direct interaction with human workers, making them invaluable in scenarios requiring human intervention. This capability is particularly useful in tasks like error handling in robotic piece picking or in processes like kitting, where both human and robot collaboration is essential.

Boosting productivity and efficiency

In the realm of warehouse operations, cobots shine by taking over repetitive tasks. Their operational speed, while sometimes slower than humans, is offset by their ability to work continuously, offering 24/7 productivity and significantly boosting overall efficiency.

Best Practices and integration advantages

Cobots contribute to process stability and enhanced safety in the workplace. Their design ensures safe operation alongside human employees, reducing the risk of accidents. Additionally, the continuous operational capability of cobots presents a solution to labor shortages, maintaining a consistent workflow and helping businesses cope with high-demand situations.

In conclusion, collaborative robots offer a range of benefits from enhancing human-machine interaction to providing continuous operational capabilities, thereby addressing key challenges in modern industrial settings.

Considerations before investing in and integrating cobots

Integrating collaborative robots into an existing workflow requires careful planning and consideration. Here's a guide on the factors and challenges to consider for successful integration:

Key factors for integration

Static source and target destination: Cobots need a consistent and standardized environment for their source and target destinations. It's crucial to ensure that these areas are well-defined and stable to facilitate smooth robot operations.

Downstream process compatibility: The integration of cobots should not create dependencies on human labor in downstream processes. It’s important to adapt these processes to be robot-friendly rather than just automating existing human-centric tasks.

Process redesign: Simply automating a process designed for humans may not be effective. It’s essential to rethink and redesign processes with cobot capabilities in mind, focusing on the specifics and details that differ from human-operated processes.

Software integration: The integration of cobots with existing software systems, like warehouse management systems (WMSs), is critical. This involves ensuring seamless communication and operation between the cobot and the software that manages workflow and inventory.

Addressing challenges and limitations

Software integration challenges: The primary challenge lies in properly integrating cobots into existing software systems. This includes configuring the system to identify and handle robot-friendly items, automating error handling (like picking errors), and ensuring a seamless end-to-end process involving both robots and humans.

Workflow integration: A key question is how to modify workflows to accommodate cobots, ensuring they complement rather than disrupt existing processes. This may involve reorganizing tasks, spaces, and roles to optimize the collaboration between humans and robots.

Overcoming limitations: To overcome these challenges, businesses should focus on thorough planning and testing, ensuring that cobot applications are well-integrated into the workflow and software systems. Collaboration with cobot vendors and IT professionals can provide valuable insights into effective integration strategies.

In conclusion, while integrating cobots can significantly enhance efficiency and productivity, it requires thoughtful consideration of the workplace environment, process redesign, and software integration. Addressing these factors and challenges ensures a successful and harmonious integration of cobots into existing workflows.

Integration of collaborative robots with AutoStore

The contemporary landscape of warehouse automation is witnessing an intriguing integration of collaborative robots with systems like AutoStore. This integration points toward a future where robotic piece picking becomes a norm, enhancing efficiency and precision in storage and retrieval operations.

How cobots complement AutoStore - and likewise:

Cobots, known for their safe and interactive operations alongside human workers, can be integrated into AutoStore in several innovative ways. They can operate either in front of or on top of AutoStore Ports, or alongside conveyors and transfer cells. This integration allows for seamless movement and handling of items between the storage Grid and processing points, thereby optimizing the workflow.

The key to this synergy lies in sophisticated software solutions like warehouse execution systems (WESs). These systems enable the cobots to communicate and collaborate effectively with the AutoStore system, ensuring a harmonious workflow.

The integration of cobots with AutoStore not only boosts efficiency but also opens up new possibilities in the realm of warehouse automation. By leveraging the strengths of both technologies, warehouses can achieve a higher level of operational flexibility and scalability, crucial for adapting to the ever-changing demands of the market.

In conclusion, the collaborative nature of cobots makes them ideal partners for AutoStore systems, promising a more dynamic, efficient, and adaptable warehouse environment.

마치며

The journey through the evolving world of cobots, especially in their integration with systems like AutoStore, underscores a significant transition in industrial automation. We are moving beyond the era of simple machine-human interfaces into a collaborative world where machines and humans work in concert. This shift is not just a technological advancement; it's a paradigm change in how industrial tasks are conceived and executed. Cobots, with their ability to work safely and efficiently alongside humans, are at the heart of this transformation, bringing a new level of adaptability and intelligence to automated processes. As industries continue to embrace this collaborative approach, the integration of cobots and systems like AutoStore is set to play a pivotal role in shaping the future of efficient, flexible, and intelligent automation.

FAQ

What is a collaborative robot?

A collaborative robot, or cobot, is a robot designed to work alongside humans in a shared workspace.

What are the four types of collaborative robots?

The four types are: safety-monitored stop cobots, handguiding cobots, speed- and separation- monitoring cobots, and power- and force-limiting cobots.

What is an example of a collaborative robot?

An example is a cobot used in an automotive assembly line, assisting workers in tasks like lifting or precision assembly.

How are collaborative robots used?

Cobots are used in various industries for tasks like material handling, welding, assembly line operations, and aiding in precision work.

What is the difference between a robot and a cobot?

The main difference is that cobots are designed for direct interaction and collaboration with humans in a shared space, whereas traditional robots often operate independently.

What is the advantage of cobot?

The advantage of cobots is their ability to enhance productivity and safety in the workplace, offering flexibility and ease of use for various tasks.

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