At INVOTEC Engineering, we try to stay abreast of the latest technologies in today’s manufacturing industries. To do this, we maintain close relationships with our vendors, and they keep us up to speed on what’s new in their world. Recently one of our robotics vendors, Yaskawa Motoman, held a partner forum to talk about the latest news in their industry.
At this forum, Yaskawa Motoman touched on a topic we’ve been hearing a lot of buzz about lately among our customers. Collaborative robots. Many folks are talking about this revolutionary robot that can interact with human workers with virtually no safety guarding. This sounds like a dream come true for most manufacturers, but here are some things to consider before you go out and buy your next robotic solution.
What are collaborative robots?
Collaborative robots are designed to interact with humans within the same workspace. This means you might not see light curtains, safety caging or guards on this robotic application. The safety features are held in the robot’s internal sensors that will shut the robot down if it makes contact with a human outside their manufacturing process function.
Typically these robots carry at least 6-axes per arm, allowing them to replicate virtually any human operation. This makes them great candidates for repetitive tasks that require a high level of human interaction.
What other types of robots are there?
Many customers decide to stick with the traditional, hard-guarded robots. These are the fast-paced industrial-sized robots you typically think of when it comes to mass production. These are still viable solutions for manufacturing processes that need a significant increase in production and don’t require much human interaction.
There is also a hybrid solution that Yaskawa Motoman characterizes as collaborative via control robotics. These robots marry the speed of the traditional robot with the delicate human interaction of the collaborative robot. This solution does require some safety guarding because when the robot is not interacting with a human it operates at full speed and full payload. However, when it does need to interface with a human, it slows down to offer the same awareness and safety rated sensor capability similar to pure collaborative robots.
How do you know which one is right for your manufacturing process?
All these robots have their advantages and disadvantages. Finding the right one for your manufacturing process means looking at your budget, you needs and your future plans.
Collaborative robots are great for mimicking a human operation. They’re an affordable, easy-to-install solution because they typically require less safety guarding. However, these robots have limited speed so they don’t risk harming human operators. Also, due to their safety sensors, they handle smaller loads. These robots typically have a payload one third of more traditional robots.
Traditional robots work well in fast-paced, high volume production lines with limited human interaction. These robots will be precise, handle a large payload and get your product through faster than human labor. However, these solutions can be costly when you add in the required safety precautions, and they typically require a more complex installation/integration.
Finally, collaborative via control robots are applied for increasing production with limited human interaction. These robots operate at much faster cycle times, can hold more payload than a typical collaborative robot and slow down to interface with a human when necessary. This can allow for more flexibility in your manufacturing process, but these systems tend to be more expensive than purely collaborative robots. They also require more safety guarding, integration and additional sensor systems to monitor the location of humans as they interact with the robot.
No matter what element you are looking to add to your manufacturing process, robotics or otherwise, it should always be justified in your budget, your requirements and future expectations. Each of these robotic solutions can work for the appropriate application. It’s important to choose a partner who can evaluate your needs and give you flexibility in your custom equipment solution so that they can help you meet your manufacturing priorities and goals.
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