The current revolution in the field of manufacturing is in the form of robots that can work alongside people. Known simply as collaborative robots (or cobots), these are designed with inherent safety features to ensure they can work with people without any trouble. According to Grand View Research, the market for collaborative robots is expected to grow at a CAGR of 44.5 percent to the year 2025. Major reasons behind this growth include widening scope for collaborative robot applications in the industry.

All this could make you ask the question, should you use cobots in your factory? Their potential to lower labor costs and quicken the production pace is obvious. But they also come with a capital investment, whose returns wouldn’t begin to show up on the bottom line immediately. More importantly, many manufacturers are still unaware of what goes into a collaborative robot, the parts that make them unique, and how they can be tailored to specific industries.

In this article, we look at the common applications of collaborative robots, the role of different parts including linear and electrical actuators, and whether you should adopt them in your process.

Common collaborative robot applications

Cobots

Applications of collaborative robots continue to expand due to their affordability and plug-and-play approach. Unlike traditional robots, cobots are accessible even to small and medium manufacturers who are keen to explore what more they can do on the factory floor. Here are some common applications of cobots.

1. Pick and place

One of the most common applications of collaborative robots is the “pick and place” function. Simple as this sounds, when performed by humans, this repetitive and boring task could lead to errors and strain. Collaborative robots can do this for hours without getting tired.

2. Machine tending

Many factories often require people to tend to machines like inject-modeling and CNC to provide raw material at the right time. This is a tedious and mundane task for people but perfect for a collaborative robot.

3. Packaging

Packing of manufactured products is another task that is repetitive but necessary. This process often includes shrink wrapping, assembling of boxes, and palletizing for shipping. Collaborative robots, fitted with appropriate machine vision technology, can assist in packaging, freeing up manpower.

4. Process tasks

Cobots

Compared to other tasks listed above, process tasks could be a tad more specialized. These include any operation where an operator has to work with specific equipment. Actions like welding, gluing, etc., come under process tasks. When people are assigned to these sorts of work, there is a significant amount of time taken to train them. Using collaborative robots, one set of programs that can be carried over to multiple machines to save time and effort.

Key parts of collaborative robots

Despite their different nature of the operation, the components used in the making of collaborative robots have a lot of similarities with those of traditional robots on the factory floor. This is because the fundamental requirements of operational accuracy and repeatability remain the same in collaborative robots and in the likes of a six-axis or SCARA robot.    

For instance, electric linear actuators are an important part of any robot because they convert electrical energy into mechanical action. Linear actuators, that provide straight movements for the likes of gantry robots may seem to offer limited functionality compared to a collaborative robot that often uses compliant joints. However, if your requirement is just gantry-like movements, then a precise linear actuator is exactly what you need.

Poor quality actuators can lead to unprecedented downtime from inaccurate movements. Unlike traditional robots, any inaccuracy in operations of a collaborative robot not only leads to production problems but is also a health risk for people working close to it.

As important as the actuators are the sensors that enable collaborative robots to perceive the presence of people and objects around it. Controllers and microcontrollers play a key role in this. Finally, there are also algorithms that process the input from sensors and decide what action should be taken.

Deciding to use collaborative robots

If your factory requires automating the common applications like pick and place, then you can consider investing in collaborative robots.  However, make sure the manufacturer and systems integrator who provides the robot installation service works with high-quality components. Work with reputed dealers and installers who will provide value for your money.