When you’re ready to automate your manufacturing processes, one of the first questions you’ll face is whether to use traditional industrial robots or collaborative robots (cobots). While there are many differences, it’s also important to remember that robots are only part of the equation. The robot itself can’t do any work without end-of-arm tooling (EoAT) such as grippers or sensors.
Industrial robots are typically large, fixed equipment designed for high-volume, extremely high-accuracy, and high-speed production. Because of the speed of the robot’s arm movement, industrial robots can present safety risks to human workers, so they usually require safety measures such as a cage to keep humans out of the robot’s work envelope. The integration of the robot and its safety caging can drive costs up substantially, as can the need for professional services to program these complex robots and integrate them with other production equipment and machines.
These characteristics make traditional industrial robots best suited for production processes that will continue unchanged for years, where return on investment (ROI) can also take years.
For traditional industrial applications, EoAT will often be highly specific for the task. Because human workers are kept out of the work envelope, the tool doesn’t need to be designed for collaborative safety, and since the application will be programmed by an integrator, simplicity isn’t required.
Cobots are ideal for manufacturers with low-volume, high-mix production or who need to safely automate processes alongside human workers. That might include automating a repetitive task and handing a part off to a human for inspection or to complete a complex assembly process.
Cobots typically have lower upfront costs and are easy to program with no previous experience, so they offer fast ROI. They are small and lightweight enough that they can be easily moved and redeployed to automate different processes throughout a manufacturing facility. These versatile, cost-effective, and user-friendly tools allow businesses of almost any size (and any level of technical expertise) to increase productivity, improve quality, and respond more nimbly to changing customer demands.
The EoAT becomes a critical element of getting the most out of cobots. These tools are designed for safety around human worker and to be easy to program through the robot’s teach pendant. They’re cost-effective, highly flexible, and easy to change for different processes to support fast ROI and quick results.
Here is a quick look at some of the differences between traditional industrial robots and cobots.
Traditional Robots vs. Cobots (via OnRobot)
Traditional Robots Cobots Cobot EOAT Requirements
Big batches, little variability
Ideal for large companies that manufacture high volumes of the same products for long periods
Designed for low-volume, high-mix production, where the robot is often redeployed for new processes
Easy to change
Flexible, quick-change tooling to eliminate downtime between processes
Requires extensive programming skills and takes days or weeks to set up
Fast and easy deployment
Easy to deploy with simple programming that inexperienced users can set up in minutes
Easy to program
Tooling that is fast and easy to program and deploy using the cobot's built-in teach environment
Programmed for unchanging environment and the same movement with minimal need to adapt
Adapts to environment
Flexible to adapt to changing environment and workpieces to be handled
Tools that easily adapt to varying sizes, shapes, and conditions of workplaces and the environment
Not safe without guarding
Typically requires safety guarding to keep human workers out of the robot's work cell
Collaborative and safe
After risk assessment, humans can work alongside robot in collaborative applications
Design for safety
Safe, collaboratively-designed tools that simplify interaction with humans
Focus on the robot
Repeats the same actions for years, with unchanging tool that is integrated for a specific process
Focus on the EOAT
As robot arm becomes a commodity, focus shifts to EOAT to increase robot utilization
Flexible tooling that can be used for multiple processes
Big investment, longer ROI
Expensive robots, system integration, and operator training requires larger upfront investment and takes longer for ROI
Lower upfront cost, faster ROI
Competitive pricing, in-house integration, and ease-of-use minimize upfront costs and speed integration, uptime and ROI
Cost-effective tooling that speeds integration and reduces need for additional equipment