Businesses are using collaborative robots or ‘cobots’ in many valuable ways. These sorts of automation can add a lot of value to manufacturing and industrial processes.
Here are some of the ways that collaborative robots work best for business.
Principles for Collaborative Robots
First, experts identify four levels of cooperation for collaborative robots working with humans. They are:
- Sequential collaboration
- Responsive cooperation
For example, in a responsive collaboration setting, a robot might watch a human through sensors and computer vision, and then imitate what the human worker is doing. In a coexistence scenario, the human and the robot are working next to each other, but not with a shared workspace.
Cobots: Best Uses/Major Use Cases
Here are some of the prime applications of collaborative robots in workplace settings.
Cobots for Assembly
Collaborative robots can be great for eliminating some of the labor-intensive work in assembly processes.
Many of the parts of an assembly process are pretty simple on their own, so one collaborative robot can pursue these tasks with some level of human oversight. Sometimes that means a person is actively watching, and sometimes the robot is working in a more autonomous way.
Cobots for Quality Control
We tend to think about quality control as a human domain, but in many cases, the collaborative robot can monitor a process and observe defects or unwanted outcomes in ways that help make processes more efficient. Perhaps the quality control cobot can eliminate 90% of defects from the stream, and the human can identify the other 10% that might not occur to the robot. The cooperation between humans and robots in QC is an excellent example of the “human in the loop” or “HITL” principle, which suggests that, instead of replacing humans, robots should assist them in their work.
Cobots for Packaging
There’s a lot of labor-intensive work in packaging products. With more evolved convolutional neural networks, sensors and image processing, cobots can do a lot of the packaging work that humans used to do.
Pick and Place Technique
This technique can be useful in some of the above use cases, such as assembly and packaging.
Essentially, the cobot is taking some product or container, and moving it from one place to another. That sounds simple, but there may be some precision needed, where the human can still help guide the computer in a response collaboration setting. This process can also resolve some issues related to human ergonomics: a repetitive process that may be harmful to a human might be completely feasible for a robot, with a little human guidance.
Cobots for Machine Tending
Here’s an interesting use case for collaborative robots, where a smarter AI technology will be used to guide a less evolved set of machinery. The last generation of M2M (machine to machine) systems did a lot for processes, but were relatively simple: a modern AI can play an advanced role in the same workflows.
Here, we start to see a discrete role emerge for AI systems. If the AI is machine tending a more traditional robotic system that doesn’t have its own guidance or cognitive abilities, it functions as an intermediary of sorts between human decision makers, and “dumb” technologies that are primarily physically operational. AI systems can also accomplish a lot of the logging, calculation and performance review that humans may have been responsible for in the past.
Cobots for Surfacing
Collaborative robots can also be useful for finishing and refining surfaces in production.
Many of these sorts of processes (much like the pick and place tasks mentioned above) have some physical risks for humans, including tool-related injuries or environmental hazards. The robot can do the same tasks with none of the risk, or greatly reduced risk. Processes like deburring, polishing or sanding might be perfect for a cobot, again, with some form of human evaluation and monitoring.
Cobots for Joining, Aligning and Fastening
In many production processes, cobots can do tasks involving joining or fastening pieces together. Or in a pick and place scenario, the robot will be aligning things for precise outcomes.
These are some of the ways that the collaborative robot is contributing to a workplace environment. Think about how a company can integrate a cobot strategy into manufacturing or production, or other kinds of industrial processes. There are a wide range of applications for cobots, as decision support pieces, and as labor-saving workers, in industrial workflows. To the extent that companies can think creatively and deploy cobots in new ways, they can unlock productivity and efficiencies that drive business process improvements across the board.