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Collaborative robots

Collaborative robots in the field of mechanical machining

Collaborative robots (or cobots) are designed to promote interaction between machines and humans in the production environment.

Conceived in the late 1990s by two professors from Northwestern University, J. Edward Colgate and Michael Peshkin, cobots have become increasingly efficient and safe. The Danish company Universal Robots introduced them to the market in the 2000s, selling the first product in 2008 and thereby paving the way for smart manufacturing.

But how does the collaboration between humans and machines take place? How do they differ from traditional robots? And can they truly enhance production? In this article, we will address all these questions.

Cobot Robot: what they are, differences from robots, and main characteristics

Collaborative cobots are innovative robots designed to facilitate cooperation and interaction between workers and machines. They can lighten the operator’s workload and support them in more risky and heavy tasks.

This collaboration is made possible by some fundamental characteristics that differentiate cobots from traditional robots, such as lightweight design and innovative features including safety sensors. On one hand, these features ease the integration of the machine into the workplace, and on the other hand, they enhance its (artificial) intelligence to improve and maximize productivity by automating almost all operations.

The main differences from traditional robots

Cobots differ from traditional robots in terms of flexibility and lightweight design. Traditional robots are typically massive, heavy, and stationed at a fixed position. They occupy large spaces, and people need to maintain a proper distance from them, respecting the boundaries set by safety barriers.

Collaborative robots, on the other hand, represent a true revolution in the world of industrial robotics. They are light, compact, and designed with an anthropomorphic design that mirrors some human features. For example, some cobots trace the features of the arm in their shapes, even copying its movements.

Cobots, furthermore, involve sharing space with people when the work areas allow it. They have been designed to enable workers to perform various operations in close proximity to the machine, and, following a risk analysis, in most cases, they are implemented without protective barriers, ensuring total safety.

As for productivity, traditional robots excel in handling large volumes but are characterized by high rigidity. Cobots, on the other hand, are flexible and easy to deploy even on different tasks.

The characteristics that make cobots unique

Collaborative robots can be integrated into a work environment more easily compared to traditional robots, which require specific spaces along with the protective barriers we have already mentioned. They are versatile and programmable to perform various tasks, especially strenuous ones, in challenging environments, automating tedious and repetitive operations for the worker.

The proximity between humans and machines is also a plus because it allows combining the worker’s experience with the precision and endurance of the cobot. Both will work on the same components but with different tasks, thereby increasing production and reducing error rates.

Moreover, these mechanical arms, thanks to their compact size, do not alter the production layout and are quick to install. They do not require special electrical modifications. Additionally, thanks to the simple and intuitive programming interface, cobots can seamlessly integrate into an existing production line, and all workers (even those without previous experience in collaborative robotics) can quickly set up their functions.

Finally, cobots consume minimal energy, minimizing waste.

In summary, cobots offer:

  • Innovative design
  • Flexibility
  • Lightweight structure and movements
  • Ease of programming
  • Increased safety
  • Compact size
  • Collaboration with workers

All these features make them unique and excellent allies for increasing productivity.

The “Safety Issue”

The safety of cobots is a topic that deserves further exploration. As mentioned earlier, most collaborative robots do not require the installation of barriers, but precautions are still necessary to ensure the absolute safety of personnel.

One of these precautions is speed limitation, as outlined in the Technical Standard UNI EN ISO 10218-2:2011, included in the Machinery Directive 2006/42/EC. The standard dictates that the cobot should be designed to modify its actions and movements based on human presence. This allows the machine to reduce its speed as soon as a person enters the workspace, returning to normal operation after the person exits.

All of this is made possible by sophisticated and reliable sensors and motion control systems that accurately and promptly detect human presence (and other obstacles) in the work area.
Furthermore, some cobots are equipped with additional safety features, such as a sensitive surface that immediately stops upon contact with people and restrictions on the orientation of tools in case an operator enters a risky area.

Collaborative robotics and industry: what future holds?

The industrial sector is becoming increasingly aware of the positive impact that cobots and, more broadly, collaborative robotics can offer in the workplace.

The collaboration between humans and machines can relieve workers from certain heavy, repetitive, and risky tasks, allowing them to focus on other activities. Additionally, cobots can be implemented in various projects to reduce overall time and costs, not to mention the energy savings in general consumption.

Equipped with highly sensitive sensors, cobots ensure maximum precision in all stages of the manufacturing process, guaranteeing quality and accuracy in production.

This is why the adoption of these new intelligent machines is a growing trend. The Interact Analysis Global Collaborative Robot Market – 2023 study estimates that “the size of the global collaborative robot market is expected to reach $10.8 billion by 2028, with a year-over-year growth of 40.1%.”

Why use cobot robots in the mechanical and metallurgical industries

As highlighted, integrating cobots into the machinery can improve and innovate production, with a primary focus on assisting operators in hazardous or heavy tasks.

Collaborative robotics can be easily employed in various sectors, including mechanical and metallurgical industries. This innovation aligns optimally with the needs of smart manufacturing, facilitating intelligent management of processes and human resources. Moreover, it allows companies to stay abreast of the times, offering products capable of meeting the evolving demands of the market.

In particular, in the mechanical and metallurgical sectors, cobots can enhance the precision of machining, minimizing the risks of errors. They are useful in the following phases:

  • Assembly: for assembling parts made of metal, plastic, and other materials; screwing and fastening various components.
  • Welding: for safely welding components using various methods (including laser technology)
  • Handling: to automate the loading and unloading of materials.

Collaborative robots are, therefore, cutting-edge technology that can improve business performance and the production process, not by replacing humans but by enhancing and refining their work.

In Metal’s, we are finalizing projects that involve the application of cobots to automate various phases of our process, particularly for performing operations such as:

  • MIG and TIG welding
  • Laser welding
  • Brushing
  • Capacitor discharge

Collaborative robotics can perfectly integrate into the existing production line to handle complex tasks requiring a high level of precision and quality. They can relieve operators from more strenuous tasks, improve finishes by increasing precision, and enhance consistency in production, further innovating our machinery.

Would you like to know more?

Rely on Metal’s for your projects: we produce and assemble systems, machines, and complete devices according to your plans, using state-of-the-art machinery to ensure production within agreed timelines.