Not All Cobot Deployments Need to Be Collaborative (Practical Insights)

There is this notion that collaborative robots should always be interactive and need an operator to perform their intended function. While the term “collaborative might allude to this assumption, it is important to note that not all cobots need to be deployed in a collaborative setting. In fact, some cobots can work autonomously in a workstation and require minimum input from an operator when required or at a set time.

The term collaborative robot has been bandied around for a while to refer to robots that work side by side with humans. There are cobot deployments that work more or less the same as traditional robots albeit with a bit more interactivity and MI. Here are five important things you need to know about cobot deployments in relation to interactivity/collaboration.

Collaborative Deployment- Hand Guiding

One of the typical cobot deployment involves using the “hand-guiding” features available on most collaborative robot arms such as Universal Robot’s UR5. Paired with the appropriate end effectors, say the highly intuitive Hand-E gripper, an operator can physically direct the robot arm to do things like picking items, sorting, engraving, etc. Hand guiding can also be used to teach a robot arm a set of paths/actions to follow to accomplish a task and thereafter it can be deployed in a fully automated workstation. 

Non-Collaborative Deployment- Cobot Symphony 

The term “symphony” is used figuratively here to refer to a deployment where a group of collaborative robots are deployed to work collaboratively on a set of tasks. There are some eye-opening deployments out there where several robot arms, work in harmony-much like a symphony- to complete a set of tasks with little to no human interaction. 

All this is possible because modern cobots are lighter, smarter, easy to program and extremely versatile. The future of manufacturing automation is in collaborative robotics given the unlimited possibilities available in the way they can be deployed as a group. Applications in this type of deployments can range from complex CNC operations to simple, pick and sort tasks in a warehouse.

Semi-Collaborative Deployment- Safety Monitored Stop

One key difference between traditional robots and collaborative robots is their ability to work safely without fencing. In this deployment, cobots can be programmed to work semi-autonomously in an open workstation where a human operator can interact with them safely from time based on the task. This is possible because of what is referred to as “safety monitored stop” in collaborative robot manufacturing ISO standards. A collaborative robot can use a set of sensors to detect when an operator gets into its operation zone and stop so as to avoid injuries.

Fully Collaborative Deployments Through Speed and Power Limiting

It is possible and is, in fact, more common to find deployments where collaborative robots work side with a human in their workstations. In this type of deployment, the collaborative robot arm has strict speed and power restrictions as defined by ISO standards regarding the manufacture of fully collaborative robots and their deployment.

Speed, as the name suggests, refers to the velocity at which any moving parts in a collaborative robot move when working alongside a human. The amount of power or force exerted by a robot when performing a task is also strictly limited for the same safety reasons mentioned previously. It’s common to find these kinds of deployments in assembly plants such as car manufacturing or any other industry where workers need to interact with the products and robots more intimately. 

This is the typical and most common deployment type for modern collaborative robots. Universal Robot’s UR5 and UR10 cobot arms are some examples of cobots that support hand guiding and hence, this type of deployment.

Final Remarks

Collaborative robots are the newest addition to the industrial automation space and hold a lot of promise going forward. Things like programmability, ease of use and low costs are enough to make any small-scale industrialist excited as we go deeper into industry 4.0. What kind of cobot deployment works for you?

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