Are you in the midst of trying to apply more automation in your plant? Collaborative robots (cobots) could provide a simple way to automate or semi-automate manual tasks. Cobots and other robots are now used more in process-based tasks, not just pick and place jobs.
User-friendliness and systemic force-sensing are the main benefits of collaborative robots over traditional robots. Re-visit your processes in light of the “semi-automation” that collaborative robotics can help you achieve. Jobs such as vision-enabled inspections, buffing, and screw fastening lend themselves well to the use of collaborative robots.
A vision system combined with a 6-axis cobot can inspect different sides and angles of an assembly. This combination makes it a versatile tool. This setup can quickly connect to a Manufacturing Execution System (MES) or Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system. It can also act as a poka-yoke signal for a later process and give the needed data for traceability.
In addition, it is common for such systems to do each quality check in just a few seconds, allowing you to quickly and effectively inspect product.
Another application gaining in popularity is the use of cobots for buffing and grinding. Cobots are equipped with force sensors in all directions, which allow them to work alongside humans without imposing the safety risks of other automation technologies. Additionally, they utilize a depth sensor to navigate a specific path and regulate the force applied to the workpiece.
These features prove especially valuable for tasks that traditionally required a human touch. Most modern cobots can sense as closely as a single newton of force. When used for buffing and grinding applications, that feedback to the controller can result in very high-quality finished part surfaces. It also ensures consistency.
The feeding of automotive-style sheet metal screws is a process that has been understood and industrialized for a long time. However, there have always been technical challenges when attempting to apply industrial robots to tasks that involve complex shapes or parts with variable part fit up.
In screw fastening, the force-sensing technology of a collaborative robot can be used as a means to find pilot holes, usually as a backup to the waypoints programmed into the controller itself. Modern cobots have the capability to move concentrically around the hole’s center point and drive the screw when the force feedback shows little or no obstruction.
The Future of Cobots in Manufacturing
These types of applications are just a few examples of a major trend in the use of cobots in manufacturing. Whereas similar systems once took many engineering design hours, and months to onboard onto a shopfloor, systems like these are almost pre-engineered. They utilize off-the-shelf hardware and menu-driven or lead-through programming. By understanding the basic structure, programming, and safety standards applied to cobots, you can begin to imagine their application for more unusual tasks.
Automation is not an “all-or-nothing” proposition anymore- we now have the luxury to pick and choose how human labor and cobots can divide up each line item of the standard work. This approach can make all the difference for those trying to find new opportunities for automation in their plant.
If you are interested in learning more about how GaMEP can support your team as you implement collaborative robots or other new technologies, contact your region manager.
By: Tom Sammon, GaMEP Technology Project Manager