When many initially see the word “cobot” they may assume it’s a typo and should read as “robot” instead. However, it is not a typo. Cobots are a type of industrial robot and the latest trend in robotic automation. Cobot is the nickname for collaborative robots. While these robots have been around for a little over two decades, they have recently experienced an explosion in their growth as more companies are converting to robotic automation. The rise of cobots has led to the development of new robot models from some of the biggest robotic manufacturers including FANUC and KUKA. There has also been the creation of several new robotic companies dedicated solely to the production of collaborative robots.
What makes cobots standout from traditional industrial robots is that they are designed for direct human interaction within a shared space or a space of close proximity. Cobots are compact robots that can safely operate around humans without any barriers. Traditional industrial robots are required to be blocked off from workers with safety fencing as they can pose a significant risk otherwise, but not cobots like the FANUC CR-15ia. Cobots are designed with built-in sensors, lighter materials, rounded edges, and force limitation to ensure safe operation around humans. Sensors in the Universal UR10 allow it to detect when abnormal force occurs and will slow or stop its operation to prevent a collision with a person or object. FANUC’s CR-35ia even features a softer exterior for additional collision protection.
Another characteristic of cobots is their ease of use. Since cobots are designed to interact with people they tend to be easier to setup and program than traditional industrial robots. Cobots do not require any elaborate setup or installation and often can start running right out of the box. Their small size and light construction make them easy to integrate on production floors and allows them to be moved around to fill in where needed. Hand guidance programming means anyone can operate a cobot. They learn applications simply by manually guiding their robotic arm through the steps of an application.
Cobot TypesThere are currently four types of cobots. They include power and force limiting, safety monitored stop, speed and separation, and hand guiding. The majority of collaborative robots used in manufacturing are of the power and force limiting type. Power and force limiting cobots feature embedded sensors to detect force and limit operation. Within this category are four subcategories that classify cobots based upon the type of sensor used.
What are Cobots Used for?Cobots have been implemented in numerous industries. They have been widely adopted by the automotive and electronics industries. They can also be found in the pharmaceutical, medical, food, and warehousing industries.
Cobots are ideal for automating repetitive tasks in which they operate independently from workers, sequentially with workers, or collaboratively with workers. The Universal UR5 along with many other cobots are popular for robotic material handling tasks. They can perform pick and place, packaging, light palletizing, and assembly. They can also be used for welding automation, finishing, and inspection among many other applications.