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Cobots make their way into the industry thanks to their technological capacity and versatility

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Also called ‘collaborative robots’, they are tools made to work together with humans on multiple tasks.

Traditional robots require a lot of knowledge and time to program actions and can often perform only one. Unlike traditional robots currently used in industry, a cobot is easy to program. But what is a cobot? They are called collaborative robots (cobots) because they can work together with humans without any physical separation, allowing direct interaction between the two.

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The central objective of a cobot is to combine the repetitive performance of robots with the individual abilities and skill of people. Hence, he has become a “co-worker” to support and relieve his human operators assisting them in daily tasks. This is because a cobot can detect anomalies in the working environment and react accordingly, without opposing a threat due to force limitation and vision control.

Cobots differ on variables such as weight, payload, reach, and accuracy. They all have one thing in common: they stand out for their ability to perform repetitive tasks through software and user-friendly mobile applications, they can even learn new actions. They can also be manually set to desired positions and saved in the software. They are easy to program.

The incorporation of cobots in the industry is framed in the so-called fourth industrial revolution, that is, I4.0, a relatively new concept that also receives other names, such as digital industry O smart manufacturing.

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Cobots and traditional industrial robots differ in several ways. The industrial robot produces massively, takes up a lot of space and generally remains in a fixed position. In contrast, the cobot is compact, requires little space and can be relocated to any corner of a plant with relative ease. They come equipped with sensors that allow them to stop in case of obstruction or need.

Dr. Paul Marasco, de la Cleveland Clinic, in an interview via Zoom spoke with EL UNIVERSO about the advantages and disadvantages of cobots. “They are collaborative robots that work with people. They differ from typical robots in that they do not work well with people and are not aware of the presence of a nearby human being. In fact, typical robots have a lot of strength and are dangerous due to their characteristics; these are generally excluded from contact with humans, and there are usually security fences around it to prevent the robot from hurting or damaging its human counterpart. Cobots, on the other hand, are very interesting because they are as strong as an industrial robot, but they have an innate awareness of the person they are working with. They ‘feel’ and know that there is a person in the same place: if they move through space or try, or if they run into or touch a person, they stop ”.

Robot costs vs. cobots

For RobotWorx, an American company that provides robotics solutions, industrial robots are expensive and, in the long run, worth the investment for certain types of companies. “Industrial robots typically range from $ 50,000 to $ 80,000. Cobots, however, are offered at a lower price, averaging $ 24,000 with an estimated ROI (return on investment) in twelve months. ” Industrial robots and cobots are tools made for completely different tasks.

For Marasco, the use of cobots is still a growing market, but it has gained some interest during the COVID-19 pandemic. “The pandemic has not in itself led to a notable increase in the use of cobots, since their market is still a niche. But, if we consider that cobots can help improve productivity, we could assume it in the near future. In this context of the economic crisis caused by the pandemic, cobots can be implemented in a workplace to help labor markets to be much more productive with fewer workers ”.

Benefits and opportunities of cobots

According to ABIresearch, a company that provides technology research, by 2030, cobot sales will increase as a percentage of total robot sales from 5 to 29%, and cobots are expected to become mainstream in the next ten years. Thus, human workers are expected to be able to devote more time to tasks that require creativity and critical thinking. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, cobots were estimated to account for 34% of total robot sales by 2025.

The US National Institute of Standards and Technology emphasizes that cobots working together can improve accuracy, flexibility, and speed.

Companies like Mitsubishi have already implemented the use of cobots on a large scale. “We have developed applications with our cobots or collaborative robots to fully enable their work for women in order to increase their speed and load capacity, in addition to reducing the risks of operation when moving heavy things, maximizing the capacity of women’s work ”, said Felipe Rivera, director for Mexico and Latin America of Mitsubishi Electric in Forbes Mexico.

According to the Mitsubishi Electric executive, the demand for these cobots grew 100% in the pandemic, adding that another area of ​​opportunity that stood out was remote support, which had to be adapted to the new needs of companies. amidst the confinement stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.

In warehouses

Traditionally, the work of picking (order picking) in a warehouse was always done by human workers. In a large-scale warehouse, however, walking long distances during the work week picking up items could really affect the health of workers and their hours, spending more time traveling through the warehouse than doing income-generating activities.

In 2012, e-commerce giant Amazon spent $ 775 million on a new generation of mobile robots. These cobots are designed to transport shelves of products from worker to worker, which means that human workers can spend more time on more productive tasks.

Today, Amazon has more than 200,000 mobile robots working within its warehouse network, along with hundreds of thousands of human workers. This big step toward automation has meant that company can deliver on its ever-increasing promises of fast deliveries to customers.

In small businesses

Lots of automation comes at a high price. Because of their cost, industrial robots require a considerable investment, which puts them out of reach for many companies. However, cobots cost a lot less and don’t need a lot of maintenance, opening up a world of possibilities for smaller-scale operations.

The industrial sectors where the use of cobots has been seen the most are in the automotive and meat sectors. In the first case, in the assembly; and in the second, in the packaging. Cobots are most used in production chains where dynamism and greater physical effort are required in tasks that are repetitive. For example, the automotive industry uses cobots particularly in the case of lifting heavy things, such as doors that must be placed by one person. While in the meat industry this type of technology is used to kill very large animals. Activities that are difficult and require a force greater than that of the human being. This is how the cobot works in two main ways: to perform work that is highly repetitive and the second is that it takes the impressions of a person to decide in the workspace. Also, I think they can work and be useful in these pop-up factories (pop-up factories) ”, Highlights Marasco.

Cobots generate greater flexibility in the workplace, since they can perform tasks that are complex for humans. This makes cobots revolutionary for small and medium ecommerce businesses that want to keep up with customer expectations, But they can’t afford complex automation systems, or maybe they don’t need them yet. The beauty of cobots is that they don’t need to be complicated to operate effectively in a warehouse. They can be as simple as autonomous pallet trucks that follow a worker through the warehouse or portable robotics that helps employees with aerial work, ”says Marasco, who works as an associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the Research Institute. Lerner of Cleveland Clinic.

For the professional, one of the sectors where cobots are not yet implemented is health. “In this sense, they are still robots that are used in surgical robotics. They are a robotic extension of the surgeon that obey his orders and commands, but do not interact with the surgeon, like a cobot. In fact, robots do not help humans to obtain more functions, since they are assisted robots. In the area of ​​pure robotics, only commands are heard, while in assistive robotics, a type of interaction, help and guidance is established. Unlike cobots, which can work with human beings and have a level of consciousness about the person who is handling it ”.

Example in Ecuador

The UTPL-Epson Robotics Laboratory began its operations in September 2021, once the four industrial robots were implemented, which made it easier for students to use them for research development. For example, Andrés Carrera, a student in the tenth cycle of the Telecommunications career at UTPL, carries out his thesis work with the use of a robotic arm (cobot) that moves in three axes.

Now this collaboration agreement allowed the Private Technical University of Loja to acquire four industrial robots to benefit students, teachers and entrepreneurs in the modernization of the industry. “The use of robotics in the industrial sector brings some benefits, one of them is the reduction of time and logistics costs, as well as increased productivity, which according to the study Of Robots and Men – in logistics, of Roland Berger, a world-famous strategic consultancy, increases between 25 and 70%. That is why the use of robotics in this sector has increased considerably and has become a trend throughout the planet.”Says a statement from the aforementioned university.

José Raúl Castro, teacher and coordinator of the UTPL-Epson Robotics laboratory at UTPL, explains that they have four industrial robots that are used to carry out feasibility studies of applications, undertakings and research, for the modernization of the country’s productive sector. It highlights that some sectors that benefit from its implementation are:

  • Food and agricultural industry.
  • Pharmaceutical and chemical.
  • Metal, machining and metallurgy.
  • Electronics and technology.
  • Automation
  • Science and research.
  • Education 4.0
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