Collaborative robots in manufacturing: What you need to know

December 12, 2023
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What are Collaborative robots (Cobots)?

Cobots, or Collaborative robots, are robots which are designed to work side-by-side with humans on the factory floor. 

Opposite to traditional Industrial robots that are kept separate from workers for safety, Cobots can operate autonomously without needing to be stuck in a cage or behind protective equipment.

As a rule of thumb, Cobots are more lightweight, flexible, and equipped with advanced sensors and end-effectors (or interchangeable grippers) that allow them to handle complex assembly tasks. 

Moreover, their software is intuitive and easy to program, so workers can quickly teach Cobots a new task without needing specialized programming training or an engineering degree.

Cobots were introduced in 1996 by Michael Peshkin and J. Edward Colgate stemming from the need to create "a device and method for direct physical interaction between a person and a computer-controlled manipulator." Over time, the Cobot evolved into a precision marvel, capable of working right alongside people.

The first commercial Cobot was introduced by KUKA Robotics in 2004, with Universal Robots following suit in 2008. Now, entrants like Standard Bots are bringing innovation, better pricing and advanced capabilities to the Collaborative robotics game.

The result is that the affordability of Cobots allows medium and small businesses that cannot purchase a huge industrial machine to compete with industrial giants on even footing - perhaps for the first time.

By teaming up with Cobots, humans can focus on more creative and meaningful work while Cobots handle repetitive, boring, and dangerous jobs. Over time, some Cobots can even learn from their human counterparts, becoming increasingly adept assistants.

Collaborative robots in manufacturing - Benefits

Cobots are game-changing for manufacturers in various ways: 

  • They boost productivity. A study by the Boston Consulting Group showed Cobots can increase output by up to 30%.
  • Improved quality. Cobots provide consistent, high-quality work without the risk of human error or fatigue. Their minute attention to detail and ability to spot flaws is far superior to the naked eye.
  • Cobots are just plain safer. Lightweight, flexible Cobots are designed to work side by side with people. They have built-in safety mechanisms like collision detection that make the factory floor a safer place.
  • Affordable. Cobots have a lower upfront cost compared to Industrial robots, making them affordable to SMEs. Plus, they’re easy to program, set up, and redeploy, offering a blazingly fast ROI. 
  • Flexibility. Cobots can quickly switch between tasks with little downtime. They adapt to changes in production volume and can handle short runs without efficiency loss. This agility allows manufacturers to scale up or down and produce a wider range of goods.

Cobot applications in different industries

Cobots are already being deployed and widely used across a huge range of industries. 

Here are some examples:

Automotive

In automotive manufacturing, Cobots assist with repetitive and ergonomically challenging (or unhealthy) tasks like loading and unloading parts. 

Also, Cobots can handle parts, move materials, and do finishing work like painting with precision and finesse. Using Cobots, automakers have increased productivity and quality while improving worker safety and overall contentment. 

Electronics

Cobots help with micron-level component assembly, testing, and inspection. They are dexterous assistants with the ideal precision for handling tiny chips, wires, and other parts. 

Smaller tech companies are seeing increases in ROI in less than a year by using Cobots, so it’s always worth remembering that Cobots are not just for the industrial bigwigs

Food and beverage

Cobots are used for picking, packing, palletizing, product inspection, and more in food and beverage facilities. Also, they improve efficiency and throughput in bottling, canning, and packaging operations.

Warehousing and logistics

Cobots work safely with humans in warehouses and distribution centers, assisting with sorting, loading, unloading, picking, palletizing, inventory management, and much more. They minimize risky heavy lifting, and can even take care of tasks like CNC machine tending and dispensing with ease.  

Plastics & polymers

When it comes to plastics and polymers, Cobots are helping companies with tasks requiring injecting molds at high temperatures or working with dangerous chemical compounds, which optimizes process control and ensures consistent product properties. This, in turn, reduces the error rate by several orders of magnitude.

Textile manufacturing

When it comes to textile manufacturing, Cobots are fast becoming indispensable. They adeptly handle tasks like fabric handling, sewing assistance, and intricate assembly line operations. From precision stitching to intricate material handling, Cobots consistently showcase their ability to achieve results far in excess of any human laborer.

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Top 3 Cobot manufacturers

A few major players lead the way in Collaborative robotics in manufacturing. 

Here are our top 3 cobot manufacturers:

Standard Bots

Standard Bots is a US-based company and a leading player in Cobot technology. They produce RO1, a lightweight, flexible Six-Axis Cobot that can operate alongside humans and safely take care of practically any warehousing and logistics task under the sun. The RO1 is easy to set up, with a no-code user interface, so workers without technical backgrounds can quickly learn to use them. 

Plus, RO1 is an affordable powerhouse, starting at half the price of its nearest competitor.

ABB

ABB is a Swiss-Swedish multinational corporation that manufactures robotic arms and software for a variety of industries. ABB's YuMi cobot excels at small parts assembly. With its flexible, lightweight design, YuMi can manipulate even minuscule components with precision.

Fanuc

Fanuc is a Japanese titan, one of the world's largest makers of Industrial robots. Their CR-35iA cobot is used all over the world for many industrial applications. 

It features multiple safety functions to detect human contact and stop before any accidents. Additionally, it has a “show” feature that allows humans to easily program the CR-35iA Cobot to perform very simple tasks by manually showing it the steps. 

Final thoughts

Collaborative robots in manufacturing are rapidly creating a new industrial ecosystem. By working in tandem instead of replacing humans, our combined strengths can achieve results that far exceed individual capabilities. 

And yes, while the initial investment may be steep (from $2000 to $100,000, depending on your needs), the return on investment and long-term benefits more than make up for any perceived drawbacks. 

Next steps

Looking to supercharge productivity with a high-end cobot? Enter RO1 from Standard Bots—the optimal choice for both burgeoning startups and established industrial giants alike.

  • Affordable and reliable: RO1 leads its class of robotic arms, delivering unparalleled value at half the cost of its nearest competition.
  • Swift & robust: Despite sporting a best-in-class payload of 18 kg, RO1 outpaces rivals in both speed and precision.
  • Built-in safety: Equipped with safety sensors and collision detection, RO1 ensures secure and dependable operations right on your shop floor.

Get in touch with our solutions team today to initiate a complimentary, 30-day onsite trial and receive tailored guidance for a seamless RO1 deployment!

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