The Impact of Cobots on Manufacturing15 January 2024
Report by Danny Weller
For years, industrial robots prioritized speed and payload capacity, resulting in larger, stronger, and potentially hazardous machines. However, as programming languages grew more intricate, safety concerns emerged.
To counter these issues and streamline operations, manufacturers are turning to industrial collaborative robots, known as cobots. In the following sections, we delve into the impact of cobots on the manufacturing landscape, their diverse functionalities, and their ability to offer a secure, adaptable, and economical approach to automating numerous industrial tasks.
What is a Collaborative Robot?
To most manufacturers, integrating robotics often evokes images of conventional industrial robots designed to execute tasks away from workers on the factory floor. These traditional robots, as highlighted earlier, tend to be large, heavy, fast, and very strong. These attributes pose risks to human safety, mandating their confinement within enclosures or other protective barriers.
Contrarily, a cobot represents a distinct kind of industrial robot engineered for safe interaction with humans. Unlike conventional counterparts, a cobot operates without the need for isolation within a safety enclosure. Its technology and software are designed to detect collisions with people, objects, or unforeseen elements, promptly halting operations. True to its “collaborative” essence, this robotic system facilitates concurrent human-machine cooperation within the same workspace, whether it’s a work cell, station, or workbench.
Practical Applications of Cobots in Manufacturing
Just like conventional industrial robots, cobots find extensive applications spanning various industries. In this section, we’ve highlighted a range of ways cobots are deployed within the manufacturing sector.
On the Assembly Line
When it comes to increasing speed or improving accuracy on the assembly line, cobots typically fall short compared to traditional industrial robotic arms. However, for certain assembly tasks or tight situations where it might not be possible to have a robot operating behind a safety barrier, cobots can prove beneficial. For instance, cobots can be used for a variety of part fastening or joining tasks, such as screwing, dispensing, welding, and inserting, to name a few.
Material handling stands as one of the most routine yet hazardous tasks in factory settings. Dealing with sharp or heavy materials like metal and plastic poses risks to human workers, compounded by the strain of repetitive tasks.
Industrial cobots offer a solution. Specifically, in palletizing, stacking, and maneuvering heavy materials, cobots excel by effortlessly lifting and transporting them via mobile robot platforms. Additionally, they adeptly handle machine tending responsibilities, including tasks associated with CNC machining or electropolishing, showcasing the diverse capabilities of cobots in manufacturing operations.
Testing and Inspection
In today’s fiercely competitive market, delivering top-tier products is paramount. Prior to shipment, rigorous testing and inspection are pivotal in ensuring superior quality. Cobots play a pivotal role in this process, facilitating quality control checks within manufacturing. From tracking assembly progress to conducting precise tests, cobots excel in various quality control tasks. These include but aren’t restricted to, part identification, monitoring presence or absence, probing, gauging, and a spectrum of other essential assessments.
One of the significant advantages is that cobots complement human workers by operating 24/7 during peak seasons. Apart from aiding in meeting escalating production demands, cobots streamline the initiation of new product lines, providing a seamless transition.
Collaborative Robots are utilized in a variety of industries in a wide range of capacities. Below are some examples of their key use cases:
Cobots have established a significant presence in the automotive manufacturing sector, notably utilized by industry giants like BMW and Ford. Their roles encompass a range of tasks such as gluing and welding, greasing camshafts, injecting oil into engines, and conducting meticulous quality control inspections.
Consumer Goods Manufacturing
Consumer goods manufacturers, including industry leader Procter & Gamble, leverage cobots to streamline their manufacturing processes. These versatile robots handle diverse tasks like assembling and packaging products, all while upholding stringent hygiene standards necessary in the industry.
Electronics and Technology
Tech companies rely on cobots for high-precision, repetitive tasks such as dispensing, labeling, screwdriving, and insertion. Automating these processes frees up human workers to focus on innovative and problem-solving assignments.
Cobot arms, being lightweight and adaptable, can be easily programmed for various tasks based on organizational requirements. Small and mid-sized electronics manufacturers embracing collaborative robots often witness a return on investment within a year.
The affordability of collaborative robots makes them accessible even to smaller electronics manufacturers, fostering increased productivity. These cobots help meet market demands for swifter output and reduced expenses, ensuring a typical ROI in less than a year
Metals and Machining
Metalworking companies harness cobots to automate machine tending tasks, including die-casting machines, CNC operations, press brakes, and dial tables. Cobots play a vital role in automating collaborative welding processes, effectively curbing traditional system expenses. By automating repetitive welding tasks, employees can redirect their focus toward high-profit product lines.
Beyond affordability, cobots offer rapid adaptability during changeovers through programming. This flexibility minimizes downtime, allowing companies to seize opportunities without constraints imposed by limited resources.
Plastics and Polymers
Companies in the plastics and polymers industry frequently grapple with the demanding workloads of injection and blow molding operations. Additionally, the workforce encounters challenges related to the taxing and injury-prone tasks of loading and unloading machines. Cobots step in to collaborate with humans or traditional robots to address these challenges.
Within the plastic manufacturing sector, cobots play a pivotal role in various tasks such as polishing, palletizing processes, and applying decals to plastic parts. They also automate additive processes like 3D printing. Furthermore, lightweight cobots can be mounted on mobile carts to facilitate the loading and unloading of printer plates.
Education and Science
In scientific and research settings, cobots serve as educational tools in vocational and technical programs, imparting knowledge to students. Additionally, these robots aid lab technicians in conducting experiments, mitigating the risk of human contamination in controlled environments.
Food and Beverage
In the food and beverage supply chain, collaborative robots are instrumental in handling repetitive tasks within challenging environments like refrigerated rooms or greenhouses. Additionally, cobots play a vital role in packaging and machine tending processes, enhancing efficiency in these operations.
Finding the Value
The impact of cobot implementation yields overwhelmingly positive outcomes. These collaborative robots play a pivotal role in enabling businesses to scale up operations and automate segments of production. This automation not only streamlines processes but also creates additional space for remote work.
Ultimately, the integration of cobots in manufacturing significantly enhances quality control measures, optimizes efficiency, and boosts overall production rates. Furthermore, they contribute to increased ROI and productivity, slashing task completion time, minimizing error margins, introducing greater flexibility, and ultimately fostering enhanced turnover and cost-efficient production.
The global collaborative robot market was valued at $1.4 billion in 2022, and is projected to reach $27.4 billion by 2032, growing at a CAGR of 36.3% from 2023 to 2032. This exponential growth trajectory stems from the consistent positive outcomes and industry-wide benefits observed in cobot utilization within manufacturing. Notably, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) play a pivotal role as a significant market driver.
The anticipated expansion of the cobot market aligns with businesses increasingly embracing automated manufacturing. Cobots have transcended their early-stage, high-risk perception, affirming through risk assessments that they offer substantial short and long-term returns on investment. This growing market isn’t merely a technological trend but a pragmatic and profitable venture for businesses navigating the shift toward automation.
AMFG is a leading provider of MES software for manufacturing. Our software solutions empower manufacturers, allowing them to manage their workflows and achieve streamlined, automated processes.
With over 500 successful implementations in 35 countries and across a range of industries, we specialize in enabling companies to successfully integrate our software for AM and CNC production, into their wider manufacturing processes and scale their operations.
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