Human-Robot-Collaboration: More than just a technical solution

Human-robot collaboration (HRC) is also known outside research and industry. The number of applications in which humans and robots work together without a safety fence is constantly increasing. Nevertheless, the full potential of HRC is often still untapped. The reason: It is not yet clear everywhere that HRC is not a new technical solution, but an innovative planning concept.

At its launch in 2014, the KUKA LBR iiwa was the world’s first series-produced sensitive robot capable of human-robot collaboration (HRC). Since then, numerous HRC applications have been developed, including in Germany. HRC solutions are often implemented within existing systems or processes. The advantages are obvious: The robot supports humans more efficiently, works sensitively and, since the protective environment is no longer required, saves space. So everything is wonderful, you might think. Not quite, because there is much more potential in HRC.

Revolution instead of evolution in system planning

“We have already implemented many HRC applications together with our cus-tomers. We have noticed that HRC is still mostly implemented in existing sys-tems. However, this does not leverage the full potential of the HRC,” says Dr. Johannes Kurth of KUKA. HRC is a planning principle. It makes it possible to dis-tribute the task sensibly between humans and robots. For monotonous tasks, the HRC-capable robot relieves the operator. These advantages can only be realized to a limited extent in existing systems. The added value is created when produc-tion is completely rethought from the outset. Dr. Kurth also sees his task as cor-responding: “We have to inform our customers even better about HRC applica-tions. Revolution instead of evolution applies to plant planning”.

Four steps to a successful HRC solution

“It is important that all relevant employees from the areas of planning, produc-tion, maintenance, occupational safety, purchasing and controlling are brought on board when planning an HRC application,” says Dr. Kurth from experience. The first step was to familiarize oneself with the technology and identify poten-tial fields of application. In the second step, a plant concept is drawn up and the technical feasibility checked. If this has not yet been done, the feasibility study is carried out in a possible third step in the laboratory. This ensures process stabil-ity and the safety concept. In the last step, the system is implemented.

Suitable fields of application

HRC solutions are particularly suitable for workplaces with difficult ergonomics. Permanently lifting components weighing up to ten kilograms is harmful to the body. But process automation also makes sense in ergonomically unfavorable positions, such as overhead activities or in a bent posture.

Another area of application are processes that previously had to struggle with quality problems. One example is web processes with very high demands on accuracy, such as gluing. HRC also improves process reliability. For example, all screwdriving data for safety-relevant screwdrivings is stored and moved. The documentation is carried out automatically at the same time.
After all, HRC allows tasks to be efficiently distributed between humans and ro-bots.

The introduction of HRC is a change process for the entire company. This process can be successfully supported and the learning curve significantly shortened by KUKA experts with HRC experience.

Is your application ready for MRK? Then use the KUKA HRC Guide. But HRC is not equal to HRC. There are four possible scenarios of how humans and robots can work together effectively. Thus, there is a suitable HRC application for every requirement. Always in the focus: employee safety.

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