- Is robotics-based automation only for large companies with complex operations? We believe that no company is too small to benefit from introducing a collaborative robot. The flexibility, small footprint and relative ease of use compared to traditional industrial robots make cobots a great option for introducing automation technology.
- Does robotics automatically mean fewer human workers? No, robotics offers a wealth of opportunities for companies to make better use of their human workforce. Not only do they increase productivity in certain areas to such an extent that companies may be able to take on new workers, they also create opportunities to upskill existing ones.
Cobots, or collaborative robots, are at the forefront of automation technology. But there are a number of myths around what these innovative machines can and can’t do. Here are five of the most common myths about cobots – and why they’re not true.
The 5 MYTHS
Collaborative robots, otherwise known as cobots, have allowed smaller businesses to save time and money with automation solutions. Cobot arms can fit into smaller spaces and make robotics a realistic prospect for companies that are looking for a cost-effective way to invest in automation technology. As with every new technology, many people have misconceptions about the capabilities and limitations of cobots. To help clear up the confusion, here’s a quick guide debunking the five most common cobot myths, from cobot pricing to their complexity:
1. ROBOTICS AUTOMATION IS FOR COMPLEX, LARGE-SCALE OPERATIONS
The typical picture of a robot is a bulky, enormous box that can only be used on an assembly line. Cobot arms can weigh as little as 11kg and can be mounted in a variety of different ways, meaning even small factories can make space for automation technology. Collaborative robots are flexible in nature too, so they can be used to automate even the simplest of tasks. Regardless of the scale of output, cobots can be deployed for processes that are repetitive, manual, or potentially strenuous for workers – such as pick and place, packaging and palletizing, screw driving, gluing, dispensing, and welding.
At Creating Revolutions, a small Miami-based start-up that makes a customer service paging system for the hospitality industry, assembling its communication disc is a complex task requiring great accuracy and repeatability, which prompted the start-up to look into automation.
The company looked at 40 different robot companies, “most of which proved to be too big, too complicated to program or too jerky,” said Einar Rosenberg, Creating Revolutions CEO. “The UR3 was elegant, smooth, and offered the exact precision we really wanted. It’s so exact that it’s even turned into a selling point, easily impressing our customers.” Before the UR3, Creating Revolutions experienced double-digit rejection rates. Now, with the UR robot in place, that number has fallen to less than 1%.
2. Robots steal jobs
For a long time now, there has been a false assumption that increasing automation means limiting the number of human workers. In fact, cobots and industrial robots can improve their human colleagues’ career prospects. Automation technology like robots actually relieves workers from strenuous and repetitive tasks so that they can take on better, more exciting roles within the company. And as cobots improve productivity in certain areas, companies often find themselves in a position to hire more people – meaning cobots can create jobs, rather than eliminate them.
A company that experienced this first-hand is Trelleborg Sealing Solutions in Denmark. It needed a single way to optimize production for orders – from one unit to several million. Customers were demanding lower prices, higher quality, and faster delivery, and the global competition was gaining on them in market share. The company was faced with the constant demand for increased efficiency on all fronts.
To accomplish its many goals, Trelleborg sought out Universal Robots. With UR’s flexible, lightweight robot, Trelleborg has a useful tool to optimize everywhere within its production. In just two short years the company went from zero to 42 robots and hired 50 extra employees to manage them.
Jesper Riis, head of production, commented that “Universal Robots has made a huge difference in our production line. Now we can produce at a much more competitive price than ever before.”
Only 30% of jobs will be fully automatable by 2030, and cobots can increase productivity in the jobs they’re capable of tackling by 50% – without job losses. By 2022, the World Economic Forum estimates that robots will create upwards of 2 133 million jobs globally, but no machine will ever replace human dexterity, critical thinking, decision-making, and creativity.
3. Implementing and maintaining robots is time-consuming
While some robots that are designed for enormous factories can be big, bulky and tricky to operate, that’s not the case for cobots. Cobot arms are comparatively much easier to operate and maintain. And, because they’re so compact and lightweight, there is no need to change the production layout when switching the cobot between tasks. They can be programmed or re-deployed to a new task without external assistance and require minimal maintenance.
At RSS Manufacturing and Phylrich in California, a short-run production company, it only took 45 minutes to set up and program the Universal Robots unit to perform simple tasks. Deploying a UR5 robot for its machine tending increased production speed significantly while opening up 30% more capacity on existing machinery, enabling RSS Manufacturing to compete with overseas manufacturers.
RSS required flexible automation solutions; its robots have to be moved and programmed quickly and taken from machine to machine. With Universal Robots, set up time between jobs is now only around 30 minutes, which greatly impacts overall efficiency.
“If you can write a to do list, you can program the robot,” said Shane Strange, automation and integration specialist with RSS. “The most beneficial part of the robot is the interface control so you can be right there next to it and troubleshoot as you go. You can do your programming from a handheld device. The convenience is unbeatable.”
“We were rookies at this. To have such success out of the gate is unprecedented and completely unexpected,” says Joe McGillivray, CEO of Dynamic Group in Minnesota.
Einar Rosenberg, CEO of Creating Revolutions, with a UR3 robot handling the assembly of a service pager for the hospitality industry
Norwegian meat producer Nortura has optimized the use of floor space by implementing a UR10 requiring no safety caging
RSS Manufacturing and Phylrich in Southern California uses a UR5 cobot to load and unload parts in a CNC machine. The company had the robot up and running in just 45 minutes.
42 UR cobots at Trelleborg Sealing Solutions increased efficiency and competiveness resulting in the company hiring 50 new employees.
4. COBOTS ARE DANGEROUS
With traditional robots, it’s impossible to work with them side-by-side without some serious safety concerns. Given their built-in safety functions, a collaborative robot can work in the same space as its human colleagues without safety barriers or cages in many cases (following a thorough risk assessment of course). Universal Robots' new e-Series cobot line has 17 safety functions certified by TÜV Nord and is in compliance with EN ISO 13849-1 and EN ISO 10218-1 machinery safety standards for unobstructed human-robot collaboration.
One company that relies heavily on the ability to work closely with cobots is Norwegian meat producer Nortura. The company needed to optimize palletizing but had no room for safety caging. With a Universal Robot and a ceiling-mounted vision system, Nortura was able to implement a cost-effective automation solution for palletizing in one-fifth of the space typically required. Now, it can stack upwards of 20 pallets a day – totaling around 1700 boxes. Not all cobots need to have space on the ground, so by being creative Nortura was able to increase production without having to rearrange its already tight production line.
5. Robots are expensive
Traditional industrial robots can be expensive, but cobot pricing is comparatively much lower. Upfront costs are typically only 20% of traditional robots, with an average payback period of under 12 months. Cobots are cost-effective and can often be installed without major infrastructure changes. And, unlike traditional robots, collaborative robots can also be redeployed to different functions in the production line and used around-the-clock.
For Dynamic Group, an injection molder in Minnesota that manufactures medical devices and other precision products, the challenge was finding people to work on its manufacturing lines. With its headquarters in an area with low wages and high unemployment, it looked to Universal Robots to implement tasks that normally would have been done by a human.
After installing three cobots, Dynamic Group experienced a 400% increase in injection molding production, paying themselves back in only two months.
“My initial assumption was that this would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and extra hires, and I was just wrong,” said Joe McGillvray, CEO.
If you’d like to explore the ways a cobot could fit into your business, speak to one of our experts.