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What Are Cobots?

By Mark Arkell

 

The first thing that pops into my mind when someone mentions a cobot is the robot vacuum that wanders around the house cleaning the floors. In my family, we added some googly eyes to our robot mop and named it Botty. While its effectiveness of cleaning the floors is in question, it has provided many hours of entertainment for our two-year-old, who chases it around the house excitedly yelling, “BOT!”

When we talk about cobots in an industrial context, different imagery comes to mind. First off, industrial robots are usually physically quite large, and can therefore move a considerable amount of weight in a short amount of time. Since these traditional industrial robots don’t understand where people are or what people are doing, they are required to use a series of safety gates and light curtains to prevent people from entering the robot’s workspace while it is in operation. This can create an “all or nothing” dilemma when considering installing a robot, as all tasks in that guarded area must be either fully automated or moved to a different area. There has not been an easy way to have people safely work with, or next to, these traditional robotic systems. This is where collaborative robots (or cobots, for short) come into play.

Cobots are a new type of robot that is specifically designed to operate alongside humans. With an appropriate risk assessment, the need to prevent workers from getting too close is reduced or completely eliminated, decreasing the overall space requirements and maintaining access to nearby equipment. Because cobots have a lot of safety features built in to avoid accidental harm, minimal training is required to teach or program new movements. These movements may be repeated with higher precision than the average person’s capabilities, providing continuous improvement and flexibility on the plant floor.

With all these benefits, you should also be aware of a few limitations. The two most common are related to the load cobots can handle and the speed they can accelerate.

If you haven’t already done so, the next time you’re walking a plant floor, give some thought as to how a cobot may help improve someone’s task. If you have any experiences with cobots that you would like to share, drop a note in the comments section.


This article is a product of the International Society of Automation (ISA) Smart Manufacturing & IIoT Division. If you are an ISA member who is interested in joining this division, please log in to your account and visit this page.

 

About the Author

Mark Arkell is a father, spouse, and friend. He is passionate about helping people find meaning and purpose in the work they do. He hopes for a world where most people go to work inspired and leave fulfilled. He finds fulfillment in building relationships with otherswhile finding ways to use technology to improve our quality of life.

A graduate of SAIT Polytechnic's School of Manufacturing and Automation in Calgary, Alberta, Mark has more than 10 years of experience designing, programming, and commissioning numerous projects for a wide range of industrial automation applications spanning several industries. He currently works out of JMP Solutions, Calgary Branch as a senior automation specialist, primarily serving the manufacturing, food and beverage, and agricultural sectors. Mark is a past president of the ISA Calgary Section and a current member of the ISA Executive Board.


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