Have you heard of cobots yet? If not, you will soon. Cobots are being widely hailed as the next major transformative influence in industry, a transformation that is being compared in scope to the Industrial Revolution.

Cobots: Not Your Mother’s Robot

“Cobots” are collaborative robots, a new generation of robots that can act cooperatively with their human counterparts to revolutionize manufacturing.

You’re probably familiar with traditional robots that are currently used in assembly lines in industries from auto manufacturing to food packaging. You’ve seen video of them welding, lifting heavy objects, placing circuit boards, etc. They are designed for a specific task and are capable of movement on two or more axes. Because they could kill a human being with one blow of their whirling arms, they often work within cages to protect live workers.

Cobots are different from traditional robots in several important ways.

Designed to Interact With Humans

They are specifically designed to work alongside humans and interact with them. They act as assistants in complex tasks that can’t be automated. Some have embedded sensors so that they know where their human counterparts are at all times and cannot injure them. Most have “force-limited” joints that prevent them from using excessive force. So there’s no longer any need for a cage.

Easily Programmed for Optimal Flexibility

Cobots are easily programmable, and have the ability to learn new tasks. Instead of requiring someone with advanced programming skills, an average employee right there on the manufacturing floor can move the cobot’s arm to teach it the motion it needs to make, and then it will learn and be able to repeat that motion in the future. This instant teaching by someone who knows exactly what the cobot needs to do minimizes delays and fine-tunes the manufacturing process in real time.

Multitaskers That Can Boost Profits

Instead of being designed for one specific purpose, because of their ability to learn and the ease of programming, cobots can do different tasks when the need arises. This makes them both more flexible, and therefore economical, as well as more profitable, because they can be redeployed at various stages in the production chain.

Softies That Work Well with Others

Cobots are being designed with “soft grip” capability, to allow them to handle delicate objects like soft cartons and textiles. They also have the potential for collaboration that transcends species; in other words, they will be able to work with humans, other robots, or machines.

They Do the Grunt Jobs so Humans Can do the Higher-Level Stuff

Like traditional robots, cobots are designed to take on the low-level jobs that are boring, repetitive, or dangerous, freeing up human personnel to do higher-level tasks focusing on the core business, and optimizing their usefulness. They can just do more of the unpleasant tasks that humans used to have to do, freeing up the humans to focus on the core business.

Cobots are Changing the Landscape of Manufacturing

Just as traditional robots changed the landscape of manufacturing, and cobots are about to do the same thing again.

By 2020, experts predict that the cobot sector will have increased tenfold to over US$1 billion from $95 million in 2014. Within that market, the light collaborative robots market is expected to grow even faster, as prices fall to between $15,000 and $20,000. A market research firm in the UK has forecasted the global cobot market will grow at a CAGR of 50.88% by 2019.

The flexibility of cobots and soft robotics is opening up new opportunities and applications.  In fact, the International Federation of Robotics predicts that 1.3 million new robots will be introduced into factories around the globe by 2018.

Source: The Robot Report, 2016. https://www.therobotreport.com/news/collaborative-robots-are-broadening-their-market-spheres

Non-Industrial Applications: The Sky’s the Limit

The new innovations in collaborative robotic technology have opened up the potential for unlimited applications outside of industry as well. Already, new cobots have been used to paint the digital signatures of bees on a petition to limit dangerous pesticides; work with healthcare workers in Denmark to handle blood samples, allowing the lab to deliver results within an hour; and prepare a crab bisque recipe developed by a chef. The possibilities are truly limitless.

More importantly, cobots have the potential to improve the quality of human life around the globe. Imagine cobots sewing garments or assembling smartphones. Textile and electronic assembly sweatshops and child labor could be virtually eliminated.

Be Prepared to Ride the Wave

Sophisticated automation is clearly the wave of the future. Of course, in this brave new world, someone will still have to fix the robots and accompanying machinery when the inevitable problems happen. Simutech’s Troubleshooting Skills Training System™ is available today to help train staff to repair electrical faults in production line equipment in a systematic, safe, and economical way, and minimize costly plant downtime.

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