The Cobots are Coming!

As I mentioned in the original Industry 4.0 blog, nine key enablers support Industry 4.0 or Smart Manufacturing.  The nine key enablers are listed below.  In this blog, I want to talk about how cobots will enable you to expand your operations.

  1. Cyber Security/Blockchain
  2. Cloud Computing
  3. IIoT- Industrial Internet of Things
  4. Big Data
  5. System Integration
  6. Autonomous Robots – Cobots
  7. Additive Manufacturing- 3D printing
  8. Augmented reality
  9. Simulation/Digital Twins


As we continue our discussion about the nine key enablers of Industry 4.0 I want to talk about cobots or Autonomous robots.  What is a cobot and do you need to be concerned about your job?  There have been all kinds of predictions about the number of jobs that will be replaced through technology.  Some estimates are in the range of 20 million jobs will be replaced in the next decade.

I don’t know, I can remember being in the paper industry in the nineties and we were petrified of paperless offices.  It was supposed to eliminate the need for paper.  Guess what?  Our demand went up!

First, let’s understand what a cobot is.  Cobots are the latest generation of automation designed to work alongside humans.  Benefitting from improvements in computing power, sensors, and vision systems, cobots work next to humans.  They don’t have to be kept in the caged area and warn “Danger Will Robinson.”

Cobots are easy to program, quick to set up, and flexible not fixed.  Using their sensors and vision systems they are safe near humans.  They can sense human presence and either stop or reverse their motion.

They are being deployed to make cars, package Amazon boxes, and pick and pull items in a warehouse.  Even driving is being replaced by autonomous vehicles which are very advanced cobots.  If you have a palletizing machine or a programmable CMM you are already using cobots.

Cobots are being deployed in dirty and dangerous operations where eliminating the human is beneficial for safety reasons.  Here are five ways to get started with cobots according to the Rethink Robotics Blog.

1.  Identify and prioritize the right tasks

Think highly repetitive, mundane, challenging or dangerous tasks for a human to complete.  Packaging, picking orders, CNC machine tending, metal stamping, and bending are all great places to consider.

2.  Educate and reassure the workforce

When beginning the discussion about cobots employees will naturally be concerned about losing their jobs.  It is important to educate the workforce about cobots and where the deployment will be- monotonous, error-prone processes leaving the employee free to do tasks that require more dexterity, thinking, and reasoning.

3.  Think 24/7 365

Cobots need not take breaks or even go home.  They can operate in a lights-out scenario on second and third shifts preparing work for when humans return on the day shift.  This can improve output.  I have personally worked with machine shops that use CNC machines attached to pallet systems.  The pallet systems index jobs into the CNC so that jobs can be completed in a lights out manner.  For many machine shops, this is key to increasing their output without adding skilled machinists.

4.  Utilize your supplier’s expertise

This isn’t a DIY project.  Listen to your cobot supplier about how to best deploy cobots given your unique situation and business goals.  Establish a ramp-up plan to work out programming issues.

5.  Learn from your employees and peers

Cobots work alongside people.  After working with cobots a while I am sure your employees will come up with additional ways to make improvements or use cobots in ways you didn’t think about.  Gather their suggestions as you evaluate the usage of additional cobots.

As always it is an honor serving you and I hope that you and your company are getting better every day!

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