5 Applications of Collaborative Robots in Manufacturing

ForbesSeptember 5, 2019

Over the last few years, automation has gained immense popularity in various industries. And the manufacturing industry sits on the cutting edge of automation technology, ahead of other industries. With automation, manufacturing companies have revolutionized the way activities were once performed. With autonomous systems coming into the picture, human participation and involvement have reduced significantly. As a result, work gets done faster and, more important, with greater precision.

Though automation changes the nature of employment, it has brought in huge profit opportunities to the manufacturing industry. One of the most extensively used types of automation machines is the collaborative robot. Robots programmed to operate 24×7 in most any situation to help manufacturing companies achieve greater productivity, higher throughput and greater revenue gains. Besides, robots in manufacturing now have the cognitive abilities to make decisions independently. As the underlying technologies mature, collaborative robots in manufacturing can be made more versatile to take up more creative tasks. Let’s now take a look at how robots are benefiting manufacturing companies with their tireless work capabilities.

robots in manufacturing

1. Picking, packing, and palletizing

Picking, packing, and palletizing are activities that need to be accurately performed. Manually performing these tasks can be mind-numbing, labor-intensive, and also time-consuming. Expecting humans to work with endless energy levels is unreasonable. Besides, humans can make errors while performing tasks. Mistakes will harm the revenue systems of the manufacturing companies. For example, imagine there is an imperfection in a product packing. The customer who receives it will obviously not like the service. Customer-satisfaction levels can suffer, which will ultimately bring down sales and profits.

On the other hand, if manufacturing companies decide to embrace automation, then things can change for good. Collaborative robots (cobots), programmed to work alongside and share the human workload, have a very interesting role to play in a manufacturing company. One of the most important advantages of deploying collaborative robots is speed. Having the potential to function around the clock, these robots can work for long hours and even days (unlike humans). Robots can pick different items (which are required in constructing a product), pack them in different cartons, and palletize them. With the advantage of speed, manufacturing companies can achieve their production goals at a faster rate. Besides, there will be no room for error with collaborative robots. As a result, the time taken for the completion of manufacturing processes will be saved tremendously.

2. Welding

Manufacturing companies try to produce goods according to customer expectations while keeping the prices low. In their quest to accomplish these goals, these companies leverage new-age technologies. And collaborative robots can be one of these technologies.

One of the most cumbersome tasks in a manufacturing plant is welding and soldering. Humans can definitely perform these activities, but for how long? It is no surprise that workers can’t be expected to work all day long. For instance, a shortage of 290,000 welding professionals is expected, according to the American Welding Society. Hence, a majority of companies are turning to collaborative robots to reap long-term advantages. It is reported that 29 percent of robotic applications are welders. Though having a robotic setup is expensive, the benefits that companies can enjoy will compensate for the investment. Sensors and computer vision systems increase collaborative robots’ sensing capabilities. With this potential, robots can sense catastrophic environments and notify workers about the same. This way, collaborative robots can work alongside humans, preventing accidents and loss of lives.

With collaborative robots, manufacturing companies will see:

  • An increased production rate
  • No errors that are otherwise seen with human counterparts
  • Improved work quality with high-level uniformity
  • Reduced waste

3. Assembling items

For some production processes, manufacturers have to assemble separate items to form whole products. The entire process is not only time-consuming but can also be quite boring for humans. Human mistakes are likely. Even the smallest mistake can cause huge losses to the company, ruining the bottom line and brand reputation.

Rather than having workers performing product assembly, what if manufacturers assign collaborative robots to take up this task? With collaborative robots coming into the limelight, workers will be freed from performing these dull and monotonous tasks. Risks associated with working in a hostile environment and in close proximity to large equipment are eliminated. With appropriate guidance from personnel, collaborative robots can cater to manufacturers’ business requirements. With vision-enabled sensors and image-processing capabilities, collaborative robots can sense when a person enters the work area. On their arrival, these robots can slow down the work speed and continue operating (in high speed) when workers leave.

4. Handling materials

Material handling represents 20 percent of the U.S. economy. Imagine the numbers if we consider global statistics. Moving materials inside a manufacturing unit, around a factory floor, is a tedious process for humans. To ensure that production meets customer expectations, companies have to automate repetitive tasks like material handling.

One of the best ways to deal with this concern is bringing collaborative robots to the factory aisle. Collaborative robots can easily understand work requirements and move materials to the desired location at faster speeds. Besides, collaborative robots can help in providing a hazard-free work environment by taking care of harmful raw materials automatically. By using collaborative robots for material handling, manufacturing companies can witness:

  • Increased worker health and safety
  • Reduced costs
  • Faster production cycles
  • Reduced downtime

5. Inspecting products for quality

For any business, maintaining precision in its work is key to quality and profitability. For a manufacturing company, this rule holds even truer. To ensure high-level customer satisfaction, the manufactured products should be of high quality. Workers are therefore expected to carry out quality checks for all units, without losing focus. But to no one’s surprise, fatigued humans are liable to make mistakes. Besides, there’s the chance that a human eye could miss blemishes or cracks on products.

On the other hand, collaborative robots can perform this dull task with 100% accuracy without exhaustion or boredom. The robots can easily pinpoint even the smallest defects and notify to concerned officers before the packing process initiates. As a result, companies will witness lower operating costs, higher production quality, and faster cycle times with collaborative robots.

Working hand-in-hand with humans, collaborative robots will precisely perform complex, dull, and cumbersome tasks at faster rates. Thus, significant returns on investments can be achieved by adopting collaborative robots. In fact, deploying collaborative robots in manufacturing companies is the only answer if they want to thrive in an increasingly competitive market.

This article was written by Naveen Joshi from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.