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Cobots Collaborative Machines Can Work with People in Assembly and Production

May 09, 2016 09:59 AM EDT
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Rethink Robotics developed Sawyer 'Cobot', a collaborative machine designed to work side by side by human factory workers.
(Photo : Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

With the increasing demand of the manufacturing industry, there's a need to expedite output production per day. However, man alone cannot produce enough products in such a high speed manner, that's why companies are looking at hiring 'Cobots' or the collaborative machines who can work side by side with humans.

"Walking across the floor of SEW-Eurodrive's factory in Baden-Württemberg is like moving through a time warp" said National Geographic. In this scenario, men and robots are working side by side.

The report said this specific company used both human and collaborative machines to produce parts of mostly everything including car parts. This new concept seems to increase production rates of factories in a rate that can never be achieved by men alone.

Instead of being threatened by robots who might steal their job, some workers are actually elated with the 'cobots', they claim that the bots make their workload easier.

"Everything is just where I need it. I don't have to lift up the heavy parts" said Jürgen Heideman SEW employee. Thist collaborative scenario may be the future of the production industry.

That's why companies are developing collaborative machines designed to work in the manufacturing industry. Like the robot called Sawyer 'cobots', it was recently revealed during the National Manufacturing Week made by Rethink Robotics.


The 'cobot' is designed to be functional, user-friendly and reprogrammable so they can easily be transported to the specific section of production where their services are needed.

"Cobots can be quickly set-up and trained by staff who don't have coding knowledge or a computer programming background" according to a report by Man Monthly in Australia.

The same report says "Sawyer is designed to execute machine tending, packaging and other precise tasks that are impractical to automate with conventional robots."

In a video released by Rethink Robotics, they mention how Steelcase, a production company is going to benefit from 'cobots'.

"We are driven to find more ways to implement automation and advanced technologies to take (production) to the next level" said Walter Adams, manufacturing engineer of Steelcase. The company recognized the advantage of employing cobots especially with the demographics of their workers which is dominated by older generation.


Rethink Robotics, the maker of 'cobots' believes that the manufacturing trends are changing and the industry should be able to change with it. They founded the collaborative machines because they had foreseen the demand for cost-effective yet fast-phased production methods. "Our smart, robots are leading to a more productive tomorrow" Rethink Robotics said.

The Sawyer robot only weighs 19kg. It has a reach length of 1260mm and can maneuver in tight spaces. It is safe to say that these collaborative robots are not only trained to lift heavy objects, but they can also perform specific tasks performed by humans. Physically, it looks like a connection of tubes with an iPad of a head, which has long arms to perform its tasks.

"These cobots can deliver organizations no matter their size, with a highly attractive solution given their broad capabilities and rapid return on investment (ROI). On a double shift at current interest rates, Sawyer is a $4 an hour, possibly less, option for many repetitive tasks found in many manufacturing and materials handling businesses" said Impact Robotics General Manager, David Birnbaum.

Although, of course, it would appear that manufacturing companies will have to pay a bigger sum to hire 'cobots' compared to humans, the output quantity will make it a good investment.

"Even at a conservative measure of a single shift per day, payback is extremely attractive," added Birnbaum.

Experts foresee that robots will co-exist with men in the future. The interest of inventors is a sign that it will definitely happen.


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