According to the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), sales of collaborative robots in 2014 represented only 1.5% to 2% of the total world market of 229,261 units. This is a gap that manufacturers are in the process of filling by rolling out new machines.
Manufacturing, cleaning, maintenance: Soon ever more sophisticated industrial robots will combine dexterity and “intelligence” to accomplish complex tasks that up till now could only be done by humans. Deft and autonomous, these new collaborative robots are revolutionizing how we work. Increasingly intelligent and fast-moving robots are helping streamline and accelerate production processes. The Man-Machine duo is born.
In factories, robots help people by performing repetitive or dangerous tasks in their place. Today, robots and people are able to work together. Rather than competing, they cooperate. Increasingly sophisticated and intelligent collaborative robots, called « cobots », are designed to work with or without humans.
Collaborative robots, once relegated mainly to assembly or pick-and-place tasks, now increasingly work alongside operators to assist them with a variety of activities. They help improve the quality of manufacturing processes and boost productivity.
Freed from dangerous and arduous tasks, employees can focus on more valuable work. For companies, this cooperation clearly enhances productivity and creativity.
At Hager, a leading supplier of solutions and services for electrical installations, Staübli’s Industrial Solutions Department supplies the group’s 23 plants around the world. In a period of strong growth, Hager decided to automate 20% to 30% of the most arduous and repetitive human tasks in certain sectors to facilitate the work of its production teams. « Then we trained our employees to control the automated machines, and they have the diplomas to prove it », says Bruno Kauffmann, Industrial Solutions Director at Hager. This resulted in a trio of benefits: more highly skilled employees, a reduction in musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) caused by the fast pace of work and difficult movements, and maintenance of production activities in France, at the plants in Alsace.
Manufacturers designed this new generation of robots to safely share the same workspace and work closely with humans. A new Man-Machine relationship has been created, where robots are considered as an ally rather than a tool emprisoned in a cage. « Our employees are proud to work with sophisticated machines, says Bruno Kauffmann. They consider them co-workers and even give them nicknames. »
In response to their clients’ increasing demand for flexible, effective automation solutions and robots that are easy to operate, robot manufacturers must develop mechanisms that are increasingly sophisticated and efficient. This is a particularly important issue for SMEs that don’t always have the required engineering teams to install industrial robots in their plants.
The Hager Group has always heavily invested in robotics and in renewing its fleet. Apart from the obvious technical benefits, robots contribute considerably to our modernity and collective pride. Our teams welcome these new partners. And the technicians and engineers in our Machinery Department particularly love the cutting-edge work of programming the robots.Bruno Kauffmann, Director, Industrial Solutions at Hager
Stäubli Robotics, the leading manufacturer of industrial robots in France, has long been interested in “Man and Machine” collaboration.
« For our clients, robots exist to serve people. Their role is to perform repetitive tasks precisely and efficiently in order to enhance the company’s performance », explains Gerald Vogt, director of Stäubli Robotics.
The Stäubli robots installed in the Hager plant in Obernai enhance production quality, repeatability, speed, and flexibility. « Our robots were recently equipped with vision to further increase their flexibility », Bruno Kaufmann says. « For us, the next step is the 100% collaborative robot! ».
Collaboration is taking on a new meaning. Collaborative robots must be able to work alongside people on the same production line, with no physical barriers. So companies are looking for robots that combine precision, speed, and repeatability and can work safely with people nearby.
« This is a new concept that is creating lots of buzz in the industry and that interests us a great deal, adds Gerald Vogt. Robots of the future must be not only collaborative but also fast and safe, protecting people, production and investment. »
The IFR forecasts that 400,000 units will be sold globally by 2018.
Only 2% of the robots sold in 2014 were collaborative.
98% were traditional industrial robots.
By 2020, an estimated 40,000 collaborative robots will be sold globally. (ABI Research)
MAN AND MACHINE — A HIGH-OCTANE COLLABORATION
A new generation of robots is now making it possible for man and machine to work side by side, safely, while meeting manufacturers’ needs for increased productivity. Gerald Vogt, director of Stäubli Robotics, gives us the company’s point of view on this new development.
How does the collaboration between man and machine bring more added value to the company?
“Today’s collaborative robots share some of the classic values of existing industrial robots — performing actions repeatedly, precisely and effectively — with the difference that they can now work safely and in close proximity to humans. However, it is true that traditional Industrial Robots are renowned for their high speed and high performance delivering the volume output that most manufacturers need. The challenge for Robot makers therefore is to provide machines that serve both these requirements with safe high performance man and machine collaboration. This will allow our customers to be more flexible in their manufacturing practices by reducing workspaces and adding even more robots to their production lines.
It used to be that increased productivity and collaboration were mutually exclusive interests. The most important thing for us going forward is to provide a single machine that serves the needs of both.”
How are the needs of the client evolving today?
“Clients today obviously want to increase productivity. But with certain industries (electronics), they must also be able to adapt their production lines to correspond to rapidly changing technologies. This means that to successfully carry out shorter production runs, clients need robots that are portable, can work in reduced workspaces, are easy to install, and that can work safely alongside humans, yet still be able to execute short cycle times.”
What added value does Stäubli bring their clients?
“We work closely with our clients before a robot is bought and installed, because we believe education is an important element to ensuring best all-around performance. That’s why we provide global training and application support before, during and after installation. We can even help our clients redefine their workflow in order to integrate robots into their production process. And because we control all factors determining the performance of the robots, our machines to deliver consistent speed, precision and stability of movement. It’s this consistency of performance that makes us different.”