The Age of Cobots and What They Mean for Human Employment
The fear of being replaced by robots in the industrial sector among people is real. But what if without robbing us of employment options, robots worked along with us?
Well, that is what collaborative robots or cobots do. While the, physically isolated counterpart industrial robots are often desired to perform tasks commonly referred to as the four “D’s”: Dirty, Dangerous, Dear, and Dull activities, cobots operate in conjunction with, and in a shared environment with humans to perform their tasks. They have come a long way since their inception over a decade ago, where they were used in university research projects.
The cobots are typically lighter, safer, and have better mobility than their heavy-bulkier industrial version. This was possible due to advancements in camera, vision, and sensor technology. And also thanks to the cheaper price tag they are a more practical option in many industries, especially the small and medium scale ones. Therefore, these are the fastest-growing product in the robotics industry.
The cobots are used for several purposes and applications. These include power and force limiting, pressure-sensitive handling of components via hand guiding, speed and safety monitoring, and others. All these operational applications are possible as cobots possess distinct advantages like being easy to program, flexible and are quick to setup. Experts consider it to be a hardware version of Artificial Intelligence potentials. As humans work in collaboration with cobots, the precision, data analysis, and assistive power of both of them get boosted up.
Before introducing cobots into the industrial area for automation, it is necessary to analyze the factory operations and identify where cobots are required to add the value of higher productivity. Try to understand tasks that need machinery assistance for better throughput and more accuracy that is beyond the basic capability of the human workforce. Besides, collaborative robots can save time and talent in activities that are simple yet monotonous, tedious, like a general assembly of products and components, transferring parts and toolset, and much more. Freeing human workers from these tasks can allow them to focus on things that require more considerable attention and skills. Cobots can be assigned tasks that involve fewer subsequent steps or iterations like inspection of components, transferring goods from one location to another.
Next comes the cost and benefits analysis. This is essential as companies need to figure out if the Return on Investment (ROI) aligns with the business’s requirements. The review must include the upfront robot cost, installation, maintenance and training time, downtime, longevity, and warranty. This further includes integration with other machines and equipment, programming, peripherals (grippers or sensors, robotic arm controllers), and any safety-related retrofitting. It also includes identifying which type of cobot best meets their requirements, i.e. as per the activity it shall be used for, with additional license, assessments, servicing, and programming costs. All these factors need to be considered before making the purchase.
Although the whole analysis process may seem overwhelming, yet once the purchase and installation and training of workers are completed, companies can relax back and enjoy the benefits of cobot automation in their industries with improved ROI.
To add the cherry on top, these collaborative robots can address labor deficits, economic volatility, safety concerns, and competitive pressures too. They can be re-programmed to be used across other departments also. As they do not steal jobs, increase productivity, and optimize the process, they indirectly bolster up more and more happy employees, thus blurring the apprehension lines against the robotics industry.