Collaborative robots have become an important part of smart manufacturing, as they can operate completely autonomously, and significantly speed up manufacturing processes.
However, they can also work safely alongside humans in a shared workspace. Contrary to popular belief that they will replace humans, they can actually help people work more efficiently.
After all, they are called “collaborative robots,” or cobots.
Traditionally, integrating cobots into a manufacturing environment has been very complex, time-consuming, and expensive. With READY and Forge/OS, that is no longer true. Cobots are very easy to integrate. You can have them up and running in a very short time. With Forge/OS’s Task Canvas, the easy to program robotic software, you can teach a cobot to perform its tasks flawlessly, and with minimal effort. Keep in mind however, they are not as simple as plug & play – there are several things you need to handle before you can integrate a cobot in your work area. Here are the questions you need to answer first.
1. Are the proper safety precautions in place?
Many people assume that a cobot is perfectly safe right out of the box. They think that it isn’t necessary to conduct risk assessments, as they believe cobots are safe and, thus, their application is safe. However, a cobot is part of a larger system and you need to carefully assess the aspects of the system before integrating any new part into it.
While a cobot was designed with safety in mind and has sensors to and procedures to reduce harmful conditions, a collaborative robot is not inherently safe. There are several other factors that must be taken into consideration. For instance, you need to make sure you keep your workers at a safe distance while your cobot is running a task. You also need to have fail-safes, like ensuring that a drill is automatically shut off if operating outside a safe zone.
All of this takes careful planning. The safety of your workplace, and the effectiveness of your cobot, highly depends on planning ahead. Therefore, you need to assess your system and your cobot first so that you can put proper safety precautions in place. Risk assessments and safety measures are an absolute must before setting up your cobot’s first task because they’ll ensure your workers always stay safe.
2. Do you have a good location and a way to secure the robot in place?
You can program your cobot quickly, with no previous robotic experience needed. Using smartphone-like simplicity of Forge/OS to build tasks intuitively with flowchart style block chaining, you can set up your cobot and before you even know it, start taking your efficiency to a whole new level.
However, your cobot is highly efficient only if it’s properly placed and secured. You should place your robot in your workplace according to performance and safety. Don’t put it in a place where you can’t integrate it properly because of common roadblocks you typically face while working. It wouldn’t be very efficient. Furthermore, make sure it doesn’t prevent your workers from completing their tasks efficiently. Your cobot should help them perform better, not stand in their way.
Most importantly, make sure you place your cobot where it can’t harm anyone. That being said, you must secure it in place with proper robot fixtures. You need to anchor it so that it doesn’t shake or move while operating, as well as set a target reference point on the factory floor that will tell the robot where the workers are headed.
3. Are the tools the cobot will use appropriate?
Your cobot needs to be equipped with the proper tools for your task. For instance, your robot needs the right end of arm tooling (EOAT) to hold onto and manipulate specific tools and materials.
When choosing the EOAT, you need to make sure it is the right size for your particular cobot. The right-sized EOAT enables your cobot to properly grab, hold, tighten, rotate, handle, and release an object – all with high precision.
The shape, size, and weight of all the tools your cobot uses also needs to be considered. Having the right EOAT for your cobot won’t be enough for efficient and safe operations if the cobot is going to use tools it can’t handle appropriately.
4. Do you know the right speed that ensures optimal safety and productivity?
The maximum speed at which cobots can perform is’t always the optimal speed. There is a balance between speed and safety when you implement collaborative robots in your work areas1. It is important that your employees, and machinery, are able to keep up with the cobot. More importantly, when a cobot operates at speeds that are too high, there is potential for injuries and other problems related to the manufacturing process. This is why cobots typically operate at lower speeds than industrial six-axis machines.
If you don’t want to risk dealing with serious safety issues, you should stick to lower speeds. It won’t cost your productivity much, because your cobot will still greatly improve the efficiency within your workplace. But it will ensure the safety of your workers, which is definitely more vital.
Fortunately, you can program your cobot to reduce its speed or stop automatically whenever human workers come too close. As technology keeps advancing at a very fast pace, you’ll probably have an opportunity to work with a cobot that operates at much higher speeds and ensures safety in the near future.
Cobots are great – they’re quick and easy to integrate, and provide an excellent return on investment (ROI) in a very short time. However, to integrate them properly and ensure maximum safety and efficiency in the workplace, you need to make sure your cobot meets the right conditions first.
Therefore, consider all the aforementioned things before integrating your cobot into your workplace. Once you set everything up and put all the safety precautions in place, you’ll be working at high speeds, with precision, and boosting your OEE.
1. Carlisle, Brian. “Speed and safety work together for collaborative robots.” Control Designs. PutmanMedia. March 2017. Web