Cobots vs Robots: Why Cobots are Taking Over the Robotic World

15th Oct 2021
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Traditional industrial robots: Big, heavy and wielding mechanical arms, working in isolation to weld, pick, spray, transport, label or unload.

Whilst these robots are doing a great job at taking over the manual, laborious and low-skilled jobs, freeing up employees to focus on higher-value tasks, they are cumbersome. They are tricky to programme. They are expensive to buy and manage, and they can only work by themselves which takes up valuable space on the factory floor.

But times are a-changing. As technologies are advancing, so is the world of robotics: We’re now seeing a smaller, cheaper, more accessible, approachable and collaborative descendant of traditional industrial robots emerging: The cobot, or the collaborative robot.

From healthcare and food to computers and consumables, cobots are now being used across all industries, by all companies, regardless of size. Therefore, the global value of the cobot market is expected to rise from $800 million to $13 billion by 2025.

Let’s find out more about this little pocket robotic…

What are cobots?

Although we can trace the beginning of robotics back to the industrial revolution where machines were built to replace certain industrial jobs, collaborative robots (cobots for short), have actually been around since the ‘90s. The first cobot was built by J Edward Colgate and Michael Peshkin in 1996. They created a device that was able to physically interact with a computer-controlled manipulator. Since then, innovative technology has rapidly advanced and we’re now seeing cobots performing regular tasks alongside humans.

They’re able to imitate human reactions and actions and work together to get tasks done. Because they’ve been built to operate next to people, they work at a slower, safer speed and have force sensors in their joints which means they can stop immediately if they make contact with a person.

And, as they’re effectively computers, cobots have quicker reaction times and higher levels of accuracy. But rather than taking our jobs away from us like robots are threatening to do, cobots are actually helping us perform our day-to-day tasks better.

Cobots are designed to work alongside human employees, while industrial robots do work in place of those employees.”Universal Robots

Robots’ vs cobots

Large-scale industrial robots still exist and are in use around the world today. But thanks to advances in controls and actuators, safety features, sensors, and computing power – THESE new types of robots are capable of working near and with human co-workers in a wider range of settings.” – Robot IQ

Traditional, industrial robots like those articulated arms or wheeled mobile robots are typically big, heavy, fast, and strong. Therefore, they’re only able to work in isolation to complete singular tasks, such as welding, drilling or spraying, at a safe distance from people working on the factory floor.  Unlike cobots which are, as we’ve established, built to assist employees. They’re designed to support employees with jobs and tasks that are too dangerous, strenuous, or tedious to complete on their own.

Another key difference between robots and cobots is how easy they are to set up and reprogramme. Developers are needed to write code and reprogram robots, whereas, with cobots, anyone can do it. For example, a factory worker can simply move a cobots arm and the cobot will “remember” this movement and be able to then repeat it on its own, without the need for any engineers or any new code. It can take a company weeks to deploy a fully functional cobot, but months and a team of experts to set up and use an industrial robot.

There’s a time and a place for both robots and cobots. Because robots are bigger, heavier and stronger, they can handle heavier, larger materials: Like those used in auto-manufacturing for instance. Cobots aren’t suited to heavy manufacturing, but they’re perfect for smaller, more complex tasks. 

What types of tasks can cobots help us with?

Because cobots don’t need the same level of safety infrastructure that robots do and are built to work alongside humans, they’re able to complete a myriad of different tasks: From blood testing and food packaging to even making coffee. These ‘people-focused’ robots make dirty, unsafe, boring, or repetitive tasks easier.

Like these tasks, for instance:

Picking and packaging tasks

Manual picking, placing and packaging tasks are so monotonous and repetitive that they can often lead to silly mistakes and repetitive strain injuries. A cobot has a pressure-sensitive device at the end of its arm. A human operator can teach this arm how to identify objects, how to pick them up with exactly the right amount of pressure and how to package them to make sure there’s no damage. 

Take Amazon for example: 

They’re using cobots that not only transfer items from one place to another but also sense the item’s fragility to adjust their grip accordingly.” – TM Robot

Finishing tasks

Finishing jobs such as polishing, grinding and deburring require a lot of manpower and a lot of force. And often, the vibration from the tools used to complete these finishing tasks cause injury to workers. Cobots can be taught by humans to apply the necessary force, repetition and accuracy needed to complete these tasks.

Quality control tasks

A meticulous inspection of parts or products needs a level of attention to detail that can only be achieved through a machine. Cobots have multiple high-resolution cameras that can process images faster and capture faults or discrepancies better and quicker than the human eye can. This results in higher-quality inspections and more accurate production outcomes.

The 4 biggest reasons to use cobots

Cobots work alongside humans to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of day-to-day processes, and we’ve already touched on some of the other positives that cobots bring to the workforce:

They create a safer, more efficient workplace without eliminating factory jobs involved in the fabrication of a product.” – Universal Robots

But they offer manufacturers so much more.

Reason to use a cobot #1: Greater efficiency and productivity

Studies have shown that cobots can reduce the idle time of a human workforce by up to 85%. This is because cobots can work alongside humans. For instance, imagine a traditional assembly line, the entire production has to stop each time there’s a chance of human interaction or intervention. This costs factories thousands and thousands of pounds in downtime. But because cobots can work with a human workforce, efficiency is increased, and downtime costs are eliminated.

Reason to use a cobot #2: Fewer mistakes

As with robots, it’s been proven that cobots can complete our tasks with fewer errors. Unlike us mere mortals, they’re not prone to human error, and they can deliver accurate results consistently, with less required effort, in less time.

Reason to use a cobot #3: Fewer workplace injuries

1 in 50 workers has some sort of work-related repetitive strain injury, and almost 39% of discomfort at work is caused by back pain due to over-strenuous and repetitive movements. Cobots can eliminate these types of workplace injuries by taking over the manual, repetitive work. This not only frees employees up to focus on the bigger and better tasks, but it also means that employees will experience fewer sick days as a result of workplace injuries.

Reason to use a cobot #4: Easy to set up and use

As we discovered earlier, cobots are simple to programme and use. Setting one up requires no developer intervention or programming experience because they are capable of learning on the job. This means that training employees on how to use them is a doddle and companies can start using their cobots in a matter of weeks.

Conclusion

Cobots are a testament that automation and AI aren’t made to replace humans in the assembly line. Instead, they improve the lives of employees on the production floor.” - TM Robot

Cobots are smaller, cheaper, safer, and easier for non-experts to program. This is why the sale of cobots is expected to rocket from 5% to XX% over the next XX years as companies of all sizes, in all industries start to cotton onto the possibilities that these collaborative, pocket robotics can offer.

They’re able to take on repetitive, low skilled, strenuous or dangerous jobs, minimising workplace mistakes and injury and allowing employees to take on the tasks that require more creativity and skill.

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