The Keyword in Cobots is Collaborative

As the pandemic has wreaked havoc within industries across the globe, the pressure is on for manufacturers to implement automated solutions to keep their workers safe.  This is great, but “lights out” factories with no human workers have not gone so well.  The keyword in cobots is collaborative.

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A study by NAM (National Association of Manufacturers) taken in early March shared that 53% of manufacturers expect a change in operations.  Wearing masks and protective equipment will be part of that change.

Another element that goes with that is the expected increased usage of automation.  How safe is it to have two operators standing side by side to assemble your product or place your product into a box, close the box and prepare it for shipping?

Old robots were expensive, designed to do one task, and require humans not to be anywhere near them.  The programming alone takes weeks or months and requires an engineer or programmer to get involved.  We all know what happens when engineers get involved. (BTW, I can make fun of engineers because I am one).

I can remember working at Huffy bicycle in the 1980s and we had robots that fed a cut tube from a saw directly into a handle-bar machine.  The machine would bend the tube into a handlebar shape and another robot would take the handlebars and put them into a bin to get tangled together so a human could waste their time untangling them.  I’m not sure this was the best use of automation, but it was the 80s.

How do you succeed in an Industry 4.0 world where customers expect more customized products?

1.  Re-evaluate your manufacturing processes

Don’t implement automation just to implement automation.  Look at how you build your product and evaluate if there are opportunities to have a human working next to a cobot.  This might require moving work on the line, but it could be worth it.  Cobots are great at repetitive processes that don’t require interpretation.

2.  Take advantage of a cobots strength

Having employees lift 10-30 pounds hundreds of times a day leads to all kinds of issues.  Ergonomic issues, repetitive motion issues, and soft tissue injuries.  Consider using cobots anywhere employees are lifting packages, parts, or palletizing products.

Depending upon the size of the cobot, most have a lifting capacity ranging between one to thirty-five pounds.  This is an excellent way to have your employees work collaboratively with a cobot.

3.  Use cobots to improve quality

Enhanced vision systems make cobots a dominant partner for improving quality as you build your product.  They are great in areas where products are too small or too hard to see.  Think electronics manufacturing.

I know most printed circuit board manufacturers use visual systems, called AOI to check circuit boards.  The AOI machines can catch missing components, components put on incorrectly, etc.  AOI flags boards and those boards are further reviewed by a human.

I believe the pandemic is forcing decades of improvement to happen now. Just remember, the keyword in cobots is collaborative.  Look to see how they can aid your dedicated workers so your company becomes even more successful!

As always, it’s an honor to serve you, and I hope this helps you and your organization get a little better today.

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