The Robot is a programmable automatic machine capable of performing certain operations autonomously and replacing human beings in some tasks, especially heavy, repetitive or dangerous ones; it can be equipped with sensors, which allow it to adapt to new situations. The science that deals with the design, construction, operation and application of robots is called robotics and is a branch of engineering that unites mechanical, electronic, control and computer engineering.
Robotics has undergone great changes since its beginnings in the 18th century when Joseph Jacquard invented in 1801 a textile machine programmable by means of punched cards. Originally, they were used as machines completely separate from man. Afterwards, they began to share a workspace, although with the boundaries of each one clearly delimited. The next step was to remove the physical barriers, but not the virtual ones. (At first, people did not wish to come into contact with robots). We are now entering a new era, where machines and humans will collaborate in their daily activities. Contact with the automaton is no longer a problem. In fact, by increasing the efficiency of their work, this type of assistance becomes “desirable” by the operators themselves. With this change of model comes the concept of Collaborative Robotics.
Collaborative robots or “cobots” are a new generation of automatons that are defined by their complete interaction with humans within production chains. They are characterized by being easy to program, integrate with humans in manufacturing environments and can work closely with human personnel without safety restrictions required in conventional industrial robotics applications. They are designed to be installed without the use of safety fencing, allowing you to work on assembly lines alongside operators without running safety risks and minimizing the investment in expensive systems such as fencing or safety detection systems.
The flexibility of collaborative robotics is making the automation of various tasks performed in industry more accessible to small and medium-sized companies. Something that in the past was reserved for large corporations. SMEs demand this flexibility, lightness and lower costs, as well as easy use of robotics and their programming. Suppliers have recognized these needs and have started to develop effective automation solutions capable of responding to shorter production runs and aligned with the “lean manufacturing” philosophy of large companies, always seeking to deliver maximum value to customers using the minimum necessary resources.
Collaborative Robots can perform various tasks such as product handling, Pick & Place, Pakaging, assembly, machine tool feeding, …
Ease of learning
Collaborative Robots are equipment that can be programmed in a simple way, by personnel not necessarily qualified and without programming knowledge. In many cases we do not talk about programming the robot, we talk about teaching or training the robot since the movements are programmed by manually moving the robot by its wrists to the desired positions. These positions are recorded and then automatically repeated by the robot.
This makes it possible for the factory’s own employees to receive, install, “program” and start up a robotic installation. This ease of installation and programming allows the robot to be used in different tasks within the production process in a flexible way.
Safety when interacting with humans
As we have already mentioned, the great advantage of Collaborative Robots is their ability to work alongside human operators without having to use physical security systems such as fences. The current standards for industrial robotics systems are based on ISO 10218-1, ISO 10218-2. The emergence of these new robots has led to new legislation such as ISO/TS 15066 – Safety of Collaborative Robots, which defines the safety requirements for collaborative robots and applications.
Some of the Collaborative Robots incorporate advanced force control systems on the axes making it possible for the robot to stop at a programmed force when it encounters an obstacle, allowing the robot to work without the safety fence if the application allows it.
The robots are equipped with force and consumption sensors that can detect collisions with their environment and disconnect their systems to avoid harming the operators.
Compared to traditional robotics, collaborative robotics uses open systems and standards in both the manufacture of robots and their associated software, which is fully compatible with the replication philosophy of Industry 4.0. This feature reduces costs by eliminating the need to develop specific solutions for each case.
Although Collaborative Robots have, for the moment, certain limitations, such as their limitations of loads to manipulate and speed of movements, they have many other advantages that make them very interesting options that in the coming years will be implemented in many industries that until recently could not imagine that they could implement a robotic solution in their processes.
The advantages of using collaborative robots in certain processes are:
- Greater flexibility – in some applications – compared to large industrial robots.
- They can work all day, in three shifts.
- They free employees from monotonous and demanding tasks that can lead to injury.
- They cannot do everything and, therefore, the operator cannot be dispensed with.
- They generate cost savings because they work more efficiently.
- Increased productivity.