Implementing cobots in manufacturing operations has allowed companies to increase productivity and reduce downtime in production operations. Cobots, or collaborative robots, are smaller than traditional industrial robots and can work better alongside humans. These types of robots have become more popular in recent years, with many manufacturers implementing automation technologies to combat the workforce shortage and widening skills gap.
Several of these manufacturers turned to cobots to meet their automation needs because these robots are versatile. Unlike large industrial robots, cobots can be reprogrammed, allowing them to complete several different tasks. The versatility provided by cobots has helped manufacturers automate several time-consuming tasks and improve production times.
One primary way to use cobots is to employ them on manufacturing assembly lines. Cobots can completely automate a production line, or they can work alongside humans. Human-robot collaboration is the standard at many manufacturing facilities, as humans are still performing the cognitively demanding product assembly tasks.
Alongside humans, cobots perform monotonous, repetitive assembly line tasks such as bolting and part fitting. Cobots can perform these tasks continuously, as they don’t need breaks and their work is consistently accurate. Meanwhile, human assembly line workers are performing more cognitive tasks, such as inspecting parts. Side-by-side assembly line work by robots and humans increases production efficiency, improves product quality, and reduces waste. Additionally, implementing cobots helps reduce the physical strain on human workers as they transition from stressful physically demanding jobs to more value-added tasks.
Pick and Place Operations
Another area where cobots are often utilized is pick and place operations, a common manual task at production facilities and warehouses. The repetitive, mundane nature of this job can cause strain injuries to human workers and lead to mistakes due to carelessness. By employing cobots in simple pick and place operations, manufacturers can avoid these issues, minimize mistakes, and increase operational speed.
Packaging and palletizing fall under the umbrella of pick and place operations. Cobots performing these jobs prepare products for shipment and stack packages on a pallet. This involves tasks such as shrink-wrapping parts, assembling boxes, and loading parts into the boxes. Cobots performing pick and place actions are outfitted with vision systems to properly grip and pack parts with non-uniform shapes and to track conveyor movements if needed. These systems allow cobots to complete more complicated pick and place tasks, further increasing efficiency for manufacturers.
Quality Control and Inspection
Quality control is necessary to ensure defective products don’t make it into the marketplace and into the hands of buyers. Though manufacturing facilities have quality control processes and product inspections, faulty parts can still slip through the cracks. Implementing cobots into quality control operations has helped manufacturers improve these processes by providing more consistent quality checks and more thorough inspections.
Cobots can perform multiple quality assurance and inspection tasks, including measuring items, taking pictures, sampling products, and performing product tests. Adding vision systems to cobots also helps to ensure that defective parts never make it to market, as these systems can detect even microscopic flaws in parts. Additionally, cobots can complete an accurate and thorough inspection of each part, going through the same programmed motions every time without making the mistakes that humans commonly make due to fatigue or distraction. Manufacturers can ensure consistent part quality and reduce defects on the market by employing cobots in their quality assurance processes.
One of the most common uses for cobots is machine tending, which involves loading and unloading a machine with parts and/or materials. Cobots can endlessly repeat machine tending processes as long as they keep receiving raw parts, and as long as the machines they’re loading and unloading continue to work properly.
For this reason, implementing cobots into machine tending processes can significantly reduce downtime. Human workers cannot load parts as consistently as robots, and they also need breaks. Cobots, on the other hand, can continuously perform machine tending tasks, leading to faster loading and unloading, and a subsequent increase in parts production.