Human-robot collaboration: Welcome, fellow robot!
Robots and humans already work together in the manufacturing process today. Human operators are aided and relieved by robots. They are also able to automate tasks in a variety of ways and increase their productivity. Collaboration between humans and robots (HRC) is an element that combines the efficiency and precision of machines with the human ability to do certain tasks.
What Is a Collaborative Robot?
A collaborative robot was developed around the time of the turn of the century and it was released to the public. The robot is intended to perform automated tasks around human operators. This is different from other industrial robots that are stationary. The purpose of those robots is to be isolated from humans. This is achieved using physical barriers and other safety devices. Collaborative robots are designed with unique functionality that allows them to work around people in an environment conducive to collaboration. These features can include things like:
- Speed limitations
- Payload capacity limitations
- Force detection
A collaborative robot could technically be any robot that is capable of collaborative work. It should be noted, however, that most commercial collaborative robots are designed with six axes, which makes six-axis designs the most commonly available. The design of this collaborative robot enables it to be used in many different scenarios.
There are some significant differences between collaborative robots and industrial six-axis robots. Unlike industrial six-axis robots, collaborative robots are designed to work with people. In addition, collaborative robots are easier for non-experts to interact with as they are easier to program. This includes reprogramming the robot and making adjustments to its parameters as well. For the most part, the development environment is fairly graphical and intuitive. This is in contrast to the comparatively complex development environment of industrial robots.
The cobots themselves are also lighter in comparison with their industrial counterparts. As a result, the robots can perform in dynamic environments when paired with mobile robots. A cobot could perform a machine tending task on a routine basis for a certain period of time. Then, when it is required elsewhere, the mobile robot will transport the cobot to a new location. At this point, it will be able to perform its next task. With this added flexibility, the cobot can have a much greater impact on your manufacturing environment.
There are strict design limitations imposed by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) on cobots. So you can be sure from brand to brand there is a baseline level of “collaboration” and safety specifications that are respected.
ISO defines 4 types of collaborative robot operation modes:
1. Power and Force Limiting
This method institutes force limitations via a force feedback system. The robot will stop its motion in case it contacts a person or object, which means it will behave in a controlled manner. It is necessary to limit the force and speed of the robot given its inertia in order to prevent the robot from moving forward. “Collaborative speed” is defined as no more than a speed of 250 mm per second. In spite of that, it must be noted that using a collaborative robot does not mean there is a zero level of risk. This is because each and every use case is different. A risk assessment should be carried out and applied properly in order to ensure a safe working environment.
Whenever a robot is deployed or reconfigured to a new station or task, you have to perform a risk assessment for the whole application and reassess again when redeploying the robot. In short, it is a process of evaluating and then addressing the risks that arise.
One of the most common methods of cobot operation is power and force limiting. Power and force limiting allows for the most suitable work envelope between human and robotic operators. With this mode, interruptions do not adversely affect productivity or efficiency. In addition, this method does not require external equipment to function. This is because the force feedback system of this robot is built into the robot itself. A combination of hardware and software makes up this system.
2. Speed and Separation Monitoring
This method uses sensing equipment to monitor the surrounding area. This is done in order to control the robot’s movements based on the sensor data. Sometimes this area is called the extended work envelope for a reason. Equipment such as this is generally used to watch an area for humans or equipment. The robot will react in a timely manner to the approach of the operator or forklift by the work cell. The robot will either slow down or restrict its range of motion, or it will do both, until the human or object enters the stop zone. At that point, all motion in the robot will cease. The robot will begin moving again as soon as the obstruction has been removed from that defined area. Human-robot collaboration can also be implemented with industrial robots as part of the human-robot collaboration process.
3. Hand Guiding
An operator can operate a robot remotely by hand by using a control module, which allows an operator to operate the robot remotely. Such applications are often seen in the lifting of heavy and dangerous materials. Traditionally, this involved the operator taking over the motion control for these materials.
Now, these technologies are being used to enable the use of “hand teaching”. The use of this technology can be seen in many modern collaborative robots. With the help of controls on the robot, an operator can teach the robot steps in a process by hand. For an industrial robot to have the ability to teach itself, it would need to be fitted with a force-sensing device.
4. Safety Monitored Stop
We see safety monitored stops being used often, even for industrial robots that are used for a wide range of purposes. Whenever a person enters the working area of the robot, the robot will stop completely. A number of systems, including laser curtains, emergency stops, and special locks on the cell doors, are used in order to detect if a human is entering the cell area. This collaboration mode is also used for maintenance teams to work on the robots.
There are collaborative robots that use a combination of these methods. Using these methods, collaborative robots are flexible and can operate in highly dynamic environments. It is important to remember that each application is different. To ensure a safe working environment, regardless of the type of robot, a risk assessment should be conducted and properly implemented.
Which Industries Use Collaborative Robots?
Collaborative robots are used across a wide range of industries and have a wide range of applications. Their general-purpose design allows them to be applied across a wide range of industries. A few examples of industries that make use of cobot technologies include:
- Food and beverage
Cobots are present in almost every major industry. They are designed in such a way that their features make them suitable for a variety of tasks.
Cobots: the status quo of flexible production
Flexible manufacturing with variable batch sizes with maximum efficiency – that is the challenge for manufacturing in the future. To meet that goal, human-machine interaction will be required throughout all phases of robotic automation implementation, which will make it easier and faster to set up, install, commission, program, operate, maintain, and reuse robots in all applications.
It is common to find many of the production steps in modern factories to be automated and carried out by machines. In order to ensure the smooth running of manufacturing processes and the quality of the product, human knowledge, intelligence, flexibility, creativity, and sensitive touch are essential.
Unlike conventional industrial robots, collaborative, sensitive robots, which are also known as cobots, allow not only easier commissioning and programming of robots, but are also likely to work directly together with production workers, easing their workload. It is possible for them to perform strenuous, unfavorable ergonomically unfavorable and monotonous work, such as overhead work or repetitive tasks. It takes relatively little floor space for them to function, as any safety equipment required can be designed in a space-saving manner.
Cobots are equipped with integrated sensors, which enables them to automate delicate assembly tasks, from assembling automotive transmissions to inserting rubber plugs to handling flexible parts using their hands.
When unexpected contact occurs, a different solution is defined for every specific application: either a stop is triggered or the robot reduces its speed sufficiently so that any risk of injury is reduced.
If robots and humans can work together safely without fencing separating them, then many of the conventional safety precautions will no longer be necessary. People and robots can work together without posing any safety risk.
Also Read: Robotics and manufacturing.
Forms of HRC: coexistence, cooperation, collaboration between humans and robots
As a matter of fact, humans and cobots can work together with varying degrees of proximity depending on the application. Though the term “human-robot collaboration” is the one that is most commonly used, the “C” in HRC can stand for a variety of different forms of collaboration.
Robots and humans work together in the same space without a safety fence between them. Despite the fact that they work independently of one another and do not share a common workspace, they do not work together on the same tasks. In this case, the sensitivity and safety of a cobot can considerably ease and speed the commissioning, programming, and re-use of the robot due to the fact that most cobots are lightweight, easy to operate, and can be taught to operate with minimal training.
A human-robot cooperation is when humans and robots work together in the same space. During the course of a process, they work alternately on the tasks assigned. There is no direct interaction. In a collaborative environment, the use of fences is not necessary, either because the cobot is inherently safe or the workspace is protected with sensors.
Humans and robots work together in a shared workspace. The robot might pass something to the human operator, or the two may simultaneously work on the same piece of equipment.
The new generation of robotics
It is possible for humans and robots to work directly together on highly sensitive tasks thanks to the availability of these collaborative, sensitive, and lightweight cobots, which can make implementing robotics easier and faster. The applications of adhesive bonding in industrial production range from assembly, testing, and material handling processes, to adhesive bonding processes in material handling applications.
Among other things, it is because cobot are not only extremely precise, flexible, and reliable, but they can also be used in a wide range of different working environments.
Collaboration between humans and robots facilitates precision work that is both safe and efficient.
Human and robot – BMW
As opposed to the past when employees at the BMW plant in Dingolfing had to lift and join heavy bevel gears for front-axle transmissions by themselves, today they work alongside their collaborative colleague, the LBR HRC solution developed specifically for this customer, KUKA has enabled the car manufacturer to automate arduous production steps that were previously carried out manually and permanently ease the workload of its employees. Contacts detected by its sensors are picked up immediately and LBR iiwa responds without delay. As a result, close cooperation between human and robot is possible entirely without safety fencing.
Upgrading Construction Jobs with the Autonomous Track loader
Build Robotics’ autonomous track loader (ATL) is a compact track loader which is equipped with a LiDAR, or light detection and ranging sensors and augmented GPS, which allows it to work without the need of an operator. An autonomous vehicle like this one is designed for certain light construction tasks, such as excavating for a house.
There are several types of dozers, and they can be used to do anything from pushing heavy loads to leveling a variety of soil types. An autonomous dozer from Built Robotics is capable of all that, without a human being being behind the wheel.
SPOT – Boston Dynamics dog.
Higher level of automation
Cobots complement the capabilities of human workers and enable the fast automation of production steps that were previously performed manually.
Eased workload for employees
Physically demanding, hazardous and monotonous work steps can be taken over by collaborative, sensitive robots. This relieves the burden on employees.
Consistently high quality
Repetitive and high-concentration processes are performed by collaborative, sensitive lightweight robots with the utmost precision, thereby improving production quality.
The tasks of collaborative robots can be flexibly adapted. Furthermore, collaborative robots can be deployed in varying locations and with low space requirements.
Robotic surgery is a surgical procedure that uses a robotic arm to manipulate surgical instruments. The procedure is performed through small incisions, resulting in less pain and scarring than traditional surgery.
Researchers have developed a tiny millipede-like robot that is capable of delivering therapeutic drugs while mounted in the stomach.
— Heinz V. Hoenen 🌻 (@HeinzVHoenen) June 2, 2022
Flexible and efficient intra-logistics within production facilities are enabled by mobile robots and autonomous transport systems.
Artificial intelligence has completely changed the way robots work. Now modern robots can learn new tasks and instruction with time due to machine learning algorithms. That’s why we can see robots working side by side with human workers in some factories such as the Tesla Gigafactory.
The new concepts and ideas are emerging from using robots in manufacturing because of the benefits they bring. Robots automation upgrades manufacturing with a sophisticated and accurate working environment.
They also offer the confidence that we need and allow us to spend our time on more important decision-making matters. The following are the most significant reasons why we should consider using robots in manufacturing:
- Robots work efficiently and save time all the way from managing raw material to packing the final product.
- It’s possible to customize a single robot to perform multiple tasks simultaneously.
- The robots do not need breaks and they can work 24/7 for continuous production.
- It allows organizations to stand out from the competition, and that’s why the trend to use robotics in manufacturing is dramatically increasing.
- Automation, like in other fields, is always cost and time effective, and robotics can support companies of any size, even in small shops.
- Robots allow you to save your money by freeing up human resources that you have to spend in multiple streams.
- Robotics in manufacturing also helps workers by keeping them from dangerous, mundane, and repetitive tasks.
Shaping Future Production Landscapes
Both globally and locally, the world of production is undergoing a transformative process. Now is the time to prepare your business for a successful future and start transitioning towards cobots.