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Industrial Cobots on the Move… Everywhere

April 6, 2022
The use of cobots is expected to rise dramatically through the rest of this decade, finding homes in industries ranging from manufacturing to defense to food and beverage.

This article is part of the 2022 Electronic Design Forecast issue

What you'll learn:

  • What are the differentiating factors separating cobots from industrial robots?
  • What industries today are taking advantage of cobots?
  • Specifics on the expanding cobot market.

Cobots or collaborative robots have revolutionized the manufacturing industry. Their case studies of process efficiency, cost reduction, automation, and machine-human collaboration are being replicated in other industries as well.

Cobots have come a long way in terms of utilization. As per a report by Future Market Insights (FMI), the global collaborative robot market is estimated between ~$1,200-1,500M currently, and expected to grow at a CAGR of 26% through to 2029-30.

Today, cobots are designed for moderate-volume, extremely high-accuracy, and high-speed production in areas that require safely automating processes alongside human workers. This is in contrast to industrial robots, which are designed to work with extremely high volumes. They’re also as efficient, but may be hazardous when working with humans. Thus, the safety aspect of traditional robots must be kept in mind.

In most manufacturing processes, cobots are in fact preferred over industrial robots because they have lower upfront costs, with quick and fast ROI. Cobots could easily be the physical version of augmented and artificial intelligence. In addition, previous studies on the efficiency of cobots show that human-machine collaborative workforce is the most efficient followed by human-human and machine-machine workforce combinations.

The human-machine collaborative workforce will form the workplace of the future: Cobots augment the abilities of humans with precision and data capabilities, while humans augment cobots with intuitive capabilities.

Application of Cobots

Most new cobots are designed to achieve much higher accuracy than traditional robots, using absolute encoders at joints that also help them achieve higher repeatability. Human safety is a key component while designing cobots, Thus, most are designed in such a way whereby no cable management is outside the robot. Also, some have capacitive skin or skin like sensors to sense any abnormal impact.

Cobots have a payload capacity ranging from 1-5 kg to 5-10 kg to more than 10 kg, in some cases reaching 40 kg.  The lightweight categories are the most used across industries due to cost-effectiveness and ease of handling and flexibility.

While the largest application of cobots has been in the manufacturing industry to improve efficiency and productivity, now they’re being put to use across several industries and on the customer facing front for instance customer interfacing, marketing, and customer service:

  • Manufacturing and industrial plants: This industry spends the most on cobots and it’s easy to see why. Cobots are largely used to increase production volumes to meet rising demands of the manufacturing industry and create a more efficient inventory management and supply chain. It’s led to immensely reduced production costs for manufacturers due to the cost-effectiveness of cobots versus industrial robots. Cobots also help improve accuracy and precision in the product quality, as well as enhance efficiency in back-office functions
  • Aerospace and electronics: These industries also are heavily inclined toward collaborative robots due to their need for high-precision automation. Key reasons for adoption of cobots in these industries is to leverage flexibility and speed, coupled with the reduction of ergonomic issues.
  • Food and beverage: Again here, cobots are used to increase production. Easy programming of cobots helps food and beverage manufacturers, packagers, and other companies in the value chain quickly adapt to flexible and fast-paced delivery requirements. Seasonal demands for produce also plays a key role. And cobots won’t be relegated to only the back end. Experiments are underway to use them in customer-facing processes such as customer interfacing, marketing, customer service, etc.
  • Logistics: Cobots are largely being used by logistics companies to streamline back-office operations like scheduling and tracking shipments, invoice generation, reporting, and customer service. The main ROI sought in this case involves operational cost reduction, and an increase in efficiency and productivity.
  • Healthcare: Cobots are leveraged in healthcare due to their ability of mimicking human interaction, allowing them to log in to applications, move files, fill forms, and more. Healthcare providers gather huge amounts of data every day, such as personal information of the patient or treatment cycle of the patient. By using automation software and cobots, healthcare organizations can extract and manipulate the data to generate analytics that gives valuable insights to make accurate diagnosis and give treatment to the patient accordingly.

Global Marketscape for Cobots     

  • The global collaborative-robot market is a moderately competitive market with approximately ~40% share of the market being held by tier-1 players.
  • Expansion of business through M&A, collaborations, and alliances are the strategies followed by key players in this market. The main objective is adoption of new technologies, enlargement of sales and distribution channels.
  • Noteworthy investments in R&D for novel and sturdy products is projected to boost the growth prospects of cobots.
  • Cobots with a payload capacity of up to 5 kg is expected to remain as the most preferred product type. Some of the popular cobots across diverse payload capacity are AURA by Comau, APAS by Bosch, YuMi by ABB, and i5 by Aubo.

Deriving Value from the Cobot Revolution

The benefits of cobots and how they’re empowering different industries are well-documented. But before investing in cobots for the workforce, enterprises must be aware that they don’t have any skewed representation of cobots applicability, benefits, and immediate ROI and are well-aware of cobots’ limitations, too.

An exhaustive consultative study is needed to understand what areas of the current workforce can be enhanced using cobots and what will be the short- and long-term ROI on such investments. Furthermore, manufacturers must carefully evaluate which cobots are well-suited for their environment and make the biggest impact in operations and productivity.

It’s not enough to merely invest in cobots, though. Since these are collaborative machines, ample training is needed for both human and machine to work together. Plans must be drawn out on how to upskill the human workforce and train them to work collaboratively with cobots, as well as how humans and machines can best augment each other’s intuitive and precision capabilities.

Read more articles in the 2022 Electronic Design Forecast issue

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