Smart Machines & Factories
Cobot strategy
Published:  06 February, 2020

Peter Lange, business development manager, robotics at Omron Europe takes a look at collaborative robotics in manufacturing and how successful cobot projects involve safety, quality and flexibility.

New robotics projects must be based on an holistic approach and harmonious interactions between people and machines. What next for Industry 4.0? Robotics and automation are key topics in the on-going discussion about the factory of future. Many industry experts forecast a tremendous growth in this area. For instance, the Robotic Industries Association (RIA) expects sales of manufacturing robots to increase tenfold by 2025. Sales of collaborative robots (cobots) are also expected to exceed six billion dollars in the next five years.

In the future, cobots and mobile robots will play a major role in streamlining logistics processes. They will help to drive more efficient and flexible production processes. It’s therefore worth taking a closer look at the key criteria for success in cobot projects.

Using cobots in complex production environments

Although cobots will be used to enhance the flexibility of operations in the digitised factory of the future, the planning and implementation of successful projects requires expertise and a willingness to think outside the box. To minimise risk, errors and complexity and to support growth, it’s important to choose a provider that can guarantee the success of the whole cobot project (from planning right through to support), along with a scalable network of system integrators.

Innovative robotics concepts can strengthen a company’s competitive edge. When designing and implementing agile and flexible production lines and layouts, these must be easily adaptable to meet changes in customer needs. This can be achieved by mobile robots and cobots working in harmony, in tandem with integrated apps, camera and vision technology, support and risk assessment. Smooth integration is a priority, especially in terms of minimising the implementation effort and the ongoing operating costs. Using a single system provider can be easier and more cost-effective than using a large number of separate solutions from different manufacturers.

Three criteria for successful cobot projects

Future-proof production strategies, in which people and machines work together seamlessly on the factory floor, have been described as ‘Factory Harmony’. A three-fold cobot strategy can make a vital contribution to this. A foundation for successful operations is built using a solution that combines safe application, powerful functions and flexible adaptability.

Safety first from cobots

Cobots are designed to work safely and efficiently alongside the human workforce. In addition to achieving ISO10218 certification, they must also provide a return on investment. It’s important to avoid disruption to business and costs during implementation, so ideally they should be operational within a day or two. Special software tools can simplify the settings for the implementation of ISO / TS15066 during commissioning. A comprehensive proof of concept, combined with risk analysis and safety and support services, will enable companies to build a complete cobot solution that meets their needs – all from a single source.

Powerful, integrated functions for quality and scalability

High speed can be an essential factor in a production environment. However, process flexibility is sometimes even more important. This can be achieved by using cobots to carry out various tasks, along with application-friendly software tools, integrated sensors and vision systems. Tasks such as identifying patterns, performing quality control, locating objects and decoding barcodes require easy-to-use camera and image processing systems. The scope of these technologies can be enhanced still further by the use of artificial intelligence (AI). For example, a cobot with an integrated vision system can help to improve the reliability, consistency and precision of production processes. For a scalable solution, it’s best to start with a simple, integrated system that can be expanded as required.

Adaptability through cobots and mobile robots working together

The looming shortage of technical specialists could thwart some growth plans. Companies therefore need cobots that are fast and easy to programme and install. They must also be able to integrate smoothly with other systems, so that they become an integral part of an intelligent production environment in which people and machines work in harmony. The interaction of mobile and collaborative robots adds another level of flexibility to the production line. It enables companies to quickly and cost-effectively adapt their production lines to new requirements and ever-faster product cycles.

People and machines can form a winning team in the smart factory of the future, in which the special capabilities of both the machines and their operators are used to their maximum potential. When used in combination with other innovative technologies, cobots can make a significant contribution to this. The success of cobot initiatives depends on two conditions: the selection of a system provider with the necessary expertise; and the willingness of industrial decision-makers to revise existing business models by installing highly efficient, automated processes.