Discover the new generation of cobots – an evolutionary step beyond latest generation industrial robots. Compared with the latter, cobots are designed to work together with man, side by side and in total safety, without barriers or protective cages between them.
In applications which demand flexibility alongside high production speed, cobots – collaborative robots – are filling the gap in the robotics market, thanks to easy to use software and integrated sensors, which now include artificial vision systems, localisation functions and full integration with warehouse systems.
Pick & Place operations are among the most repetitive and banal jobs currently done by human operators. Repetition leads to high error rates and delays. Pick & Place is probably the number one application for a cobot, in terms of ease and immediacy.
Picking up an object, moving it and putting it down in another location is generally the first reason one thinks of a cobot capable of working safely in the same space as a human operator.
If to this we add artificial vision combined with artificial intelligence, then the possibilities are unlimited. A cobot can be equipped with an integrated artificial vision system which allows it to associate totems, identify the position of objects, scan barcodes, differentiate colours and other visual functions.
Boxing is generally the operation which precedes pallet stacking. On “end of line” systems, parts are almost always picked and placed into trays, thermoformed containers or boxes of various types.
Cobots integrate part ordering on a surface or on multiple levels. It is sufficient to use their teach function to register the 4 corners of the box and enter the number of rows, columns and levels. The robot then automatically creates a place program. Depending on the application, one can choose from a variety of robotic arms and grippers. Adding a 2D/3D camera enables part picking from bulk.
Packaging and pallet stacking are functions downstream of Pick & Place: at the end of the production process, and before they leave the factory, products must be packed and stacked on pallets. This is a repetitive job, which must be done quickly and precisely, involving the movement and packaging of objects of a vast variety of sizes, shapes and weights.
Cobots can improve the synchronisation of packaging and pallet stacking with the entire production process, standardise the quality of packaging, speed up the operation and make it more efficient, and free up human operators to do other, non-repetitive jobs.
Machine Tending jobs require a human operator to spend many hours in front of an industrial machine. They are lengthy, fatiguing and difficult jobs which involve not only loading and unloading the machine but also running the automated production system, from inspection and control to blowing out, washing and packaging.
Cobots can free human operators from many of these tasks, and can even tend two or more machines at once, thus boosting productivity. Loading and unloading machine tools is one of the common uses of cobots. Cobots are very lightweight, easy to transport, can work without machine guards (depending on the risk assessment) and are very easy to program.
Assembling parts is typically a repetitive task that repeats a single sequence of unchanging operations. An articulated arm is able to replicate the movements of human operators, thus freeing them up to do jobs with greater added value.
Cobots are ideally suited to assembly jobs since they are easy to program, take up little space and, thanks to their force sensors, can handle adaptive insertion and assembly tasks. The model of robot will depend on the length of its arm and its load capacity. The terminal flange of the arm mounts the gripper or suction system, of which many types are available.
There are also a huge variety of ready-to-use mechanical assemblies, with trays and bins which can be customised for the parts being handled. For applications with bulk parts, a 2D/3D camera can be added to detect the picking location.
Painting processes require a robot with 6 degrees of freedom, which can faithfully replicate the movements of a human operator. The ability to use a teach function to teach a robot the trajectory is critical to painting applications.
In such cases, the speed at which the arm moves must be kept constant to ensure an even finish. All robots have these functions, and cobots are particularly handy, due to their ability to record the arm trajectory with the teach function.
Robots are widely used for welding, but the use of cobots is a fast growing trend. The ability to use a teach function to teach a robot the trajectory is critical to welding applications. The application may require point welds or a continuous weld along a specific path. In such cases, the speed at which the arm moves must be kept constant to ensure an even bead, and in some cases the power of the torch must be regulated in relation to the speed.
All robots have these functions, and cobots are particularly handy, due to their ability to record the arm trajectory with the teach function. Specific software is available to import and follow trajectories generated with 2D/3D CAD drawings. Adding a camera makes it possible to weld parts which are not always in the same position or orientation.
Finishing an industrial product – polishing, grinding, deburring, milling, honing and other subtractive machining tasks – is less repetitive than the operations considered above, and yet they still require the operator to use a tool for many hours, using their physical strength and hence exposing them to the risk of injury and strain. A cobot can assure standardised quality, speed, precision, force, efficiency and versatility in all finishing tasks.
Grinding and polishing are dirty and repetitive heavy duty tasks – which makes them ideal candidates for automation with robots. The use of cobots greatly simplifies programming thanks to their integrated teach function, and their force sensors enable them to apply a configurable pressure to the surface, under direct control from the robot’s touch screen. The model of robot will depend on the length of arm and load capacity demanded by the application. The terminal flange of the arm mounts the finishing tool, which must be chosen carefully to suit the material and type of job.
Cobots can be equipped with very high resolution cameras to run inspections and quality controls of industrial parts and products: a cobot equipped with an inspection camera can speed up and standardise part controls and comparisons with the original CAD model, increase the final quality of production lots and reduce costs incurred by NC parts.
Cobot quality controls can be of various types: the arm may move a measurement system or camera which makes the control, repeatedly move a mechanism to check its robustness, or check insertion points and tolerances with its force sensor. An articulated arm is able to replicate the movements of human operators, thus freeing them up to do jobs with greater added value.
Cobots are ideally suited to testing applications since they are easy to program, take up little space and, thanks to their force sensors, can handle adaptive insertion and assembly tasks. When combined with cameras, they can check the location of parts for picking and placing.