Collaborative robots, or cobots, are providing manufacturers of all sizes with the ability to automate more than ever before. It’s important for cobot users to get started quickly, so that they can see results as soon as possible.
Rethink Robotics employees have spent a lot of time in our customers’ factories, and many of our team members came from the manufacturing world themselves. Based on our experience, we want to provide the most flexible cobot to be found in the market. Our Intera software is designed to make collaborative robots easy to use, helping cobots find acceptance among human co-workers.
Here are our top five tips on how to get started with cobots to ensure a quick deployment and an increase in productivity and quality.
1. Identify and prioritize the right tasks
Cobots present manufacturers with automation opportunities for a variety of applications. Jobs that are mundane, repetitive, ergonomically challenging, or high-risk — better known as “dull, dirty, or dangerous” — are typically ripe for cobot deployment.
Tasks such as packaging, metal stamping, testing and quality inspection, and CNC machine tending are all areas where a cobot can streamline operations and free humans to work on higher-value functions. Identifying these specific tasks and tackling them as you get started will help ensure a smooth cobot deployment and drive results faster.
2. Educate and reassure your workforce
Employees might be initially skeptical about robots joining the team. Traditional manufacturing robots have worked apart from humans behind safety caging, but cobots are designed to work safely alongside people. For example, Sawyer has high-resolution force control on all of the arm joints, so it stops moving when it comes into contact with an object.
Workers may also worry about their job security – “Are these robots here to put me out of work?” It’s important to communicate with employees that cobots won’t – and shouldn’t – replace human workers. Rather, they are designed for the more monotonous, error-prone processes, allowing workers to handle the tasks that require more cognition, dexterity, and reason.
The more workers know about their cobot teammates, the more likely companies are to maximize the benefits of this form of industrial automation.
3. Think 24/7/365
Cobots don’t need to sleep or take lunch breaks or vacations. Productivity in a collaborative robot context is different from a standard workforce, so it’s important to rethink planning and production schedules.
In “lights-out” production, robots can add a third shift, operating overnight to have parts completed when workers arrive back at the facility. Or they can get started in workcells that are hard to keep staffed so the production line does not have to stop and customer orders can be filled on time.
With the possibility to rent cobots in a robotics-as-a-service arrangement through HAHN RobShare, artificial workforce planning can become even easier and more cost-effective.
4. Work with your cobot manufacturer/distributor
Your cobot manufacturer and distributor know the best practices for cobots — what tasks are best to automate, which grippers are most suited to an application, and how to deploy for a specific environment.
To speed deployment and start seeing positive impacts sooner, draw on the expertise of these partners from the beginning, use the training tools and courses they offer. They can be a valuable resource as you get started with using cobots to increase efficiency and productivity.
5. Learn from your peers and your employees
Collaborative robots are extremely versatile and adaptable. They’ve already been put to work in plastics, contract packaging, metal fabrication, logistics, and electronics manufacturing, just to name a few markets. Your industry may have unique challenges – explore how others like you have implemented collaborative robots.
Since cobots are meant to work alongside people, this proximity can inspire your employees to find new ways to work with robots, to change processes to improve productivity, and to get started with more cobot deployments.
Editor’s note: Rethink Robotics GmbH, which shared its experiences and insights in this blog post, is the successor to collaborative robotics pioneer Rethink Robotics Inc., which existed from 2008 to 2018. HAHN Group acquired the intellectual property around the Sawyer cobot after the Boston-based company shut down last year.
The shutdown came as a shock to many robotics industry observers, and it was the result of difficulties with engineering and financing. Germany-based HAHN Group said it plans to continue supporting and developing collaborative robots.