In the early stages of robotics, automation was tedious as robots were usually used to automate large-scale productions. This was a lengthy process, taking up to months at a time, and often involved high implementation costs. Robots were usually deployed in the manufacturing industry to automate large-scale production and for complex tasks. Such robotic applications involved complex deployment processes and required high levels of maintenance that could only be carried out by engineers with specialised skillsets.
More recently there have been significant strides in the development of robotic technology which has made automation easier than ever before. With the introduction of collaborative robots (cobots) – robots designed to work side-by-side with human workers – the process of automation has been simplified. Offering features such as safety, user-friendliness and an ergonomic design, cobots are able to carry out a wider range of tasks at a lesser cost.
It is now more accessible and affordable for small and medium-sized business owners to deploy robots to carry out even the simplest of tasks, such as machine tending and pick-and-place operations. This has translated into high demand for industrial robots, with investment projected to grow at 10 percent each year for the next 10 years globally.
Robots now have enhanced safety features which makes them perfectly safe to work alongside humans without the need for safety barriers, subject to prior risk assessment. They are also user-friendly – easy to program and easy to use – due to their intuitive nature, allowing them to be integrated easily into existing applications, regardless of a company’s production type or size. Robots have also become ergonomically designed in that they are lightweight, small and compact, creating more opportunities for robotic automation and process optimisation. Today robots have expanded beyond heavy industries and are now frequently deployed in sectors such as food and beverage manufacturing, as well as healthcare, presenting a gamut of benefits for both businesses and end-users.
Cobots In Food And Beverage Manufacturing
In the food and beverage manufacturing industry robots are commonly used to automate food preparation processes to maximise operational efficiency. Since robots offer the precision required for certain tasks, they are highly capable of handling different skillsets such as cutting, weighing and packaging.
An example is a food manufacturer using Universal Robots’ UR5 and UR10 cobots to label, pack and palletise gourmet food products for convenience markets and retail chains. By automating the production line with cobots, they were able to prepare on average 228 items per hour for delivery. This eliminated downtime by up to five and a half hours, allowing them to supply fresh goods to customers at a competitive price while reducing wastage.
It is also possible to redeploy cobots to new and different tasks rapidly and efficiently. This can be done by end-users themselves and only takes a few hours, instead of days. The ability to easily redeploy the robots back and forth between packaging food and labelling packages has also saved the food manufacturer a significant amount of time – a key factor for manufacturers of perishable produce looking to seal the freshness and prolong the preservation period. The manufacturer was also able to achieve cost savings and reap a substantial Return On Investment (ROI) as these cobots could easily adapt to different tasks or production lines.
Cobots In Healthcare Applications
There has also been considerable development in robotic applications in the healthcare sector. For example, a contact lens manufacturer in Japan was able to produce an innovative packaging for their one-day use contact lenses packed into 1mm-thick flat package. This was possible through deploying a cobot.
With the innovative flat packs, the manufacturer could now offer a wider variety of contact lenses in each box compared to traditional packaging. Once opened, consumers could easily retrieve the lens, improving hygiene at the same time. Lesser packaging also translated into savings in production and logistics costs, as well as a reduction in raw materials.
Advantages For Businesses Using Cobots
Firms can easily benefit from the use of cobots without incurring high integration costs, making cobots a viable investment for long-term business sustainability and growth. Cobots have proven to be a valuable tool through which businesses can enjoy increased efficiency and productivity with output per worker shown to increase by as much as 30 percent in the manufacturing sector.
They are also designed to perform a particular task round-the-clock, allowing businesses to maximise operational efficiencies and reduce production downtime.
Cobots: Bringing Value To End-users
Cobots not only bring benefits to businesses, but also to the end-users who interact with them on a daily basis. The greatest benefit offered by robots is that they help end-users reduce mistakes by ensuring consistent, dependable output while relieving the amount of arduous physical effort required to carry out certain tasks. In such instances, cobots serve as an assistive tool to enhance performance and raise productivity by delivering high-quality results each time, rather than as a replacement for human staff.
Employees can also be redeployed from dangerous and repetitive tasks to take on more stimulating and higher level responsibilities, allowing them to upgrade their skillsets. Contrary to popular belief that many jobs will be lost through the automation process, an entirely new set of roles will be created. These roles will require people with the relevant technical skills needed to upkeep and update these systems. As businesses grow and expand, additional manpower will be needed to meet the increased market demand and new product offerings. The use of robotics in business has in fact created many new jobs; market research shows that robots will create up to two million jobs globally from 2017 to 2020.
Robots have been deployed to solve business problems and maximise efficiencies. As businesses continue to automate, new robotic applications will be developed in new industries. This will result in a significant improvement in productivity and upgraded skillsets for employees, delivering a greater competitive advantage.