Doing work with co-bots

By: | Published: March 14, 2016 12:18 AM

Collaborative robots, also called co-bots, are increasingly working with humans in a wide range of industries, from small machine shops to large auto assembly lines. These machines help automate and streamline repetitive and potentially unsafe processes, while increasing productivity and efficiency

There’s a new worker on the shop floor. It’s called a co-bot, which is unlike the super-intelligent Chitti robot from Rajnikanth-Aishwarya Rai blockbuster movie Robot. Or Irona, the robot maid from the widely popular American family film, Richi Rich. Co-bots, also called collaborative robots, are an invention from the R&D labs of Universal Robots, a Danish robot manufacturer, which recently opened its operations in India as part of its larger global expansion plan. These machines are designed to work with humans and assist them with a variety of tasks.

“Universal Robot’s co-bots can be used to enhance performance in a wide range of industries, from small machine shops to large auto assembly line,” Esben H Ostergaard, CTO & founder, Universal Robots tells FE in an interview.

“Universal robots optimise production levels and the key industries that these co-bots are best used for are the automotive, food and processing, electronics and technology, metal and machining, research and pharmaceutical industries.”

According to the Universal Robots’ CTO, human-robot collaboration has come of age with collaborative robots and these co-bots help automate and streamline repetitive and potentially unsafe processes thus, ensuring safe work environment while increasing productivity and efficiency. Given these advantages, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are eager to adopt this technology. In a human-machine study conducted by MIT researchers at a BMW factory, it was shown that teams made of humans and robots collaborating efficiently can be around 85% more productive than teams made of either humans or robots alone. Also, the cooperative process reduced human idle time by virtue of its pace-setting ability.

The lure of India

“In India, our biggest client is Bajaj,” informs Ostergaard. “Bajaj has been using the Universal Robot’s co-bots for different applications such as deburring, vision application, bolt tightening, sealant application, patented decal application; machine tending, welding etc.” According to him, assemble lines are highly labour intensive. Universal Robots uses intuitive software to mechanise co-bots, thus allowing even the most inexperienced user to quickly grasp the basics of programming and set waypoints by simply moving the robot into position. The third-generation
6 axis robots can operate in a reduced mode when a human enters the co-bots work area and then resume full speed when the operator leaves.

Here’s another real-life example of its deployment. To alleviate employees in a Greek production facility of unrewarding repetitive work, the global healthcare company, Johnson & Johnson, wished to employ robot technology in its shampoo production line. This, the company hoped, would allow employees to focus on more interesting aspects of their jobs, while optimising the production.

Pradeep David, general manager, India, Universal Robots, says the cage-free robot arm from Universal Robots was deemed the best technology for the job. “After being implemented in the production line, it quickly and effectively sped up processes, working faster and harder than humanly possible. The user-friendliness of the robot proved to be a key benefit as even inexperienced operators were able to program it without supervision.”

A hot commodity

Universal Robots has opened its operations now in India as part of its larger global expansion plan. The Danish firm predicts that collaborative robots are becoming a requirement for organisations that are in task-oriented industries like food and processing, manufacturing and automobile assembly. IDC Manufacturing Insights predicts that by 2017, 80% of manufacturers will be re-evaluating the applicability of robotics and logistics automation technology within their warehousing networks.

Ostergaard says, “In India, the market demand for robots has steadily increased over the years.” According to the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), the yearly shipment of industrial robots in India have increased from 1,917 in 2013 to 2,600 in 2015. It is estimated that by 2018, the yearly shipment of multipurpose industrial robots will be 6,000 units annually. Currently India has the lowest sales in robots along with the Czech Republic, however this will change in the coming years and India will be on par with European countries if not ahead of them.

“Universal Robots aims to contribute significantly to the Make in India campaign and therefore, is targeting the SME sector, and also industries like automotive assembly, food and processing and electronics,” he informs.

With the goal of making robot technology accessible for SMEs, Universal Robots offers simple, flexible and affordable collaborative robot arms—UR3, UR5 and UR10 named after their payloads in kilos. Having sold over 7,000 collaborative robots, and ranked number 25 on MIT Technology Review’s 2015 list of the 50 Smartest Companies, Universal Robots is focused on revolutionising the way industrial robots work and operate alongside workers. Workers can collaborate with the robots in close proximity on assembly lines with no safety guarding (subject to application risk assessments) The co-bots are easy to program and the first set up takes less than one hour. They can also be moved easily around the production facility for multiple applications. Flexible 360 degree rotation of all joints allows usage in confined spaces. Infinite rotation of the UR3 tool is possible for screwing and drilling applications. The co-bots can be floor, ceiling, and wall mounted as required.

Globally, Universal Robots’ co-bots are being utilised for multiple purposes ranging from photo shoots, bartending, and even for physiotherapy. “Our co-bots have been used in a fully functional robotic kitchen as well. For example, at Mr Mofongo’s, a hidden bar and restaurant in the city of Groningen, the Netherlands, the cocktails are served by the robot arm Armando! The co-bot collaborates with the bartender for this application to fetch the drinks for the customer,” Ostergaard says.

In short, it’s time to welcome the new robotic co-worker in the workplace.

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