Currently, the interaction between technology and humans is reaching an astonishing convergence point. Particularly, robotics has taken a leap forward in the realm of human-machine collaboration, giving rise to what is known as “collaborative robotics”.
This revolutionary concept is transforming the way we conceive industrial automation and is opening new horizons towards greater efficiency. Simultaneously, it is promoting more safety and creative potential across a wide range of sectors.
Definition of collaborative robotics
Essentially, collaborative robotics, also known as “cobotics,” refers to the integration of robots into shared work environments with humans, aiming to perform tasks jointly and harmoniously.
Their design allows them to interact directly with people, acting as work companions and complementing human skills. Unlike traditional robots that operate in segregated environments or behind safety barriers.
Characteristics of collaborative robotics
Thanks to the incorporation of technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), Big Data, and 5G, “collaborative robots” gather interesting features:
- Ease of programming. One of the most notable aspects of collaborative robotics is its ease of programming. While their industrial counterparts typically require specialized programming knowledge, cobots can be programmed intuitively. Through user-friendly interfaces and mobile applications, operators with no robotics experience can teach cobots new tasks in a matter of minutes. Additionally, the ability to manually configure desired positions and store them in the software provides flexibility in adapting robots to different functions.
- Ease of connection and installation. Traditional robots often required laborious and lengthy installations before becoming operational. In contrast, cobots stand out for their quick installation. Supported by standardized connection interfaces and intuitive software, a cobot can be ready to perform its first task in just a few hours. These collaborative solutions are also versatile in terms of power supply, as they can connect to conventional power outlets, eliminating the need for specialized electrical infrastructure.
- Multifunctionality and flexibility. Certainly, the design of traditional industrial robots limits them to perform a specific task. In contrast, cobots are multifunctional and flexible, capable of performing various different tasks and adapting to diverse functions with ease. This is due to their learning and adaptation capabilities, as well as the ability to easily integrate additional tools and peripherals. The incorporation of new functionalities through plug-and-play systems adds versatility and agility to operations.
Advantages of collaborative robotics
To the above, we must add the advantages of this disruptive technology:
Positive impact on workers
One of the most notable aspects of collaborative robotics is its focus on improving the work environment and the employee experience. Many people perceive traditional automation as a threat to human jobs.
In contrast, cobots are designed to work alongside people and enhance their working conditions. Cobots take on repetitive, dangerous, or monotonous tasks, allowing workers to focus on activities that require unique human skills, such as creativity, problem-solving, and social interaction.
Increased productivity and process optimization
The implementation of collaborative robotics aims to improve efficiency and productivity in industrial processes. By handling repetitive and routine tasks, cobots reduce human errors and accelerate production speed. This leads to overall process optimization, a reduction in cycle times, and ultimately, an improvement in operational outcomes.
Low integration costs
Despite the perception that robotic technology can be an expensive investment, cobots offer a quick payback and a high return on investment. Compared to traditional industrial robots, cobots are more affordable in terms of both initial cost and integration.
Indeed, the implementation of cobots can be a cost-effective way to initiate the transition to Industry 4.0, allowing companies to familiarize themselves with automation and gradually improve their workflows.
On the other hand, safety is a fundamental concern in any work environment involving robots. In this regard, the design of cobots includes various sensors and detection systems that enable them to operate safely alongside humans.
They can slow down or stop their movement when detecting the presence of a person in their environment. This eliminates the need for physical barriers and increases confidence in human-robot collaboration.
Modes of collaboration in collaborative robotics
As mentioned, collaborative robots present features that ensure safe and efficient collaboration, as well as occupying less space in work environments. Depending on the nature of the work and the shared space, different collaboration modes are established:
- Coexistence. In this mode, the operator and the cobot work simultaneously but in different physical spaces. This form of collaboration allows leveraging the advantages of both, maintaining a safe separation.
- Cooperation. In this case, the operator and the cobot share the same workspace but at different times. This ensures that there are no direct interferences between them and allows for space optimization.
- Collaboration. Here, the operator and the cobot work in the same space at the same time. This form of collaboration requires precise synchronization and proper planning to ensure safety and efficiency.
- No interaction. In certain tasks, the cobot can operate autonomously and independently, without the need for direct human interaction. This is especially useful in repetitive or routine tasks that do not require constant supervision.
By combining strength, precision, problem-solving abilities, along with power and the ability to perform routines, cobots create a unique synergy that drives efficiency and quality in production.
Applications of collaborative robotics
The versatility of cobots is reflected in their wide range of applications across different industrial sectors. From simple to complex tasks, cobots are deployed in various areas, including:
- Stock monitoring, packaging, and palletizing in the logistics sector.
- Welding and assembly to ensure high quality and precision in the manufacturing industry.
- Sanding and polishing, ensuring the quality and uniformity of finishing.
- Feeding CNC machines with materials, optimizing production in machining processes.
- Inspection and quality control, capable of conducting product inspections and tests, reducing the chance of errors. Laboratory tests and analysis environments.
Impact and expansion of collaborative robotics
Undoubtedly, collaborative robotics is experiencing steady growth in the industry. According to data collected by the World Robot Report from the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) in 2022, the market share of cobots increased significantly, reaching 39% in 2021. This represents a 13% increase compared to the previous year. This growth is driven by the ongoing adoption of new technologies and the need to improve the efficiency of industrial processes.
According to the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), in 2021, over 517,000 new robots were installed in factories worldwide, and the total number of robots in operation exceeded 3.5 million. These figures testify to the fundamental role robots are playing in transforming the industry and the global economy.
Robotics as a Service (RaaS) and democratization of robotics
Despite the benefits of collaborative robotics, the initial acquisition and implementation costs are a barrier for many companies. However, the business model known as Robotics as a Service (RaaS) is changing this dynamic. Instead of acquiring and maintaining robots, companies can rent cobot services according to their specific needs. This reduces the initial investment and allows companies to access cutting-edge technologies without research and development costs.
To date, the RaaS market is booming, with estimates predicting a significant increase in its value. It is expected to grow from $16.43 billion in 2022 to surpass $43 billion in 2028, according to MarketWatch. This pay-per-use approach not only reduces capital and maintenance costs but also democratizes access to robotics, enabling companies of all sizes to leverage the benefits of automation.
At Inrobics, we facilitate this type of service through our robotics in rehabilitation solution that combines robotics and AI. Additionally, we are representatives in Spain for the Nao and Pepper robots. We can configure and program these robots for various functions in industrial, commercial, and service environments.
For all these reasons, we make collaborative robotics advantages accessible to you. Contact us for more information!