6 Key Considerations for Applying Collaborative Robots

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By Corey Ryan

Collaborating robots (cobots) can increase productivity. But they don’t have to. Perhaps an industrial robot with collaborative capabilities and added safety features will meet your production goals even better? Here are six key considerations help you determine:

1. Presence of humans within the robotic workspace

Collaborative robots enable human workers and robots to inhabit the same workspace safely, but degrees of collaboration vary. In some applications, workers and robots may interact closely and continuously. In other situations, humans may enter an automated workspace only intermittently to load a parts bin or perform an inspection. The extent of collaboration helps determine the need for a cobot.

2. How fast and how dangerous is the production step to be automated?

A fully collaborative robot moves at about 250 mm/second with a constant human presence, roughly 10% of the speed of a regular industrial robot. Unless humans and robots work closely 20% or more of the time, a fully collaborative robot often can’t optimize production time. Fitted with technology that senses a human presence and halts the action, an industrial robot can run at full speed until humans enter the workspace.

Zwei Menschen arbeiten direkt mit einem Cobot - einem KUKA Leichtbauroboter LBRiiwa - zusammen
Depending on the area of application, humans and cobots can work together closely in different ways. Even though the term “human-robot collaboration” is the most common, the “C” in HRC can stand for different forms of cooperation.

In addition, one must consider which task is to be automated: Some robots perform hazardous tasks or use end-of-arm tooling outfitted with equipment that could endanger humans, such as rotating blades or cutting torches. In these applications, protective fencing surrounds the workspace, negating the need for cobots.

Important: The delicate balance between speed and collaboration may call for fencing around any robot, cobot or not.

3. What is the payload and the required range?

Payloads typically top out at or below 20 kg for cobots, which use shorter arms with less mass and momentum for greater safety around human workers. When a production line works with large or heavy parts, or requires a robot with a reach of about 1.5 meters or longer, industrial robots work more efficiently than cobots. Heavy payloads and long reaches require more safety provisions and do not suit a cobot’s capabilities.

4. How much space is available?

Cobots can be used in a space-saving manner: without safety fencing, more space remains that can be used for other production operations.  

Cobots: Mensch und Roboter arbeiten direkt zusammen, ohne Schutzzaun oder konventionelle Sicherheitsvorkerhungen
Where humans and robots work together safely, with no fence separating them, many conventional safety precautions become obsolete.

5. How is the risk assessed?

To achieve the right level of collaboration and maximize the value of your automation investment, robot installations call for knowledgeable, comprehensive pre-installation risk assessments and programming. Partner with an experienced robotic technology OEM or integrator who can visit your facility to evaluate your application and identify areas of risk. At KUKA, too, you can use the 3D offline simulation to virtually test and evaluate various solution concepts free of charge. And thus find the robot that is right for you.   

6. What is the working environment like?

Most automation solutions do not replace human workers, but free them from strenuous, repetitive, “boring, dirty or dangerous” tasks. Many of which require repeatable accuracy. Robots can thus improve the work environment and – not least – reduce injuries. A win-win for employees and employers alike.

The future consists of flexible manufacturing islands in which even small batch sizes can be produced. This is made possible by direct, safe cooperation between humans and robots. Depending on various influencing variables such as cycle times, batch sizes, employee availability and processes, the automated and, above all, flexible production stations of tomorrow will be sensibly equipped with lightweight robots. MRK will make a significant contribution when it comes to implementing flexible, quickly adaptable production lines.

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