Know Your Machine: Traditional Industrial Robots vs. Cobots
- How does a cobot differ from an industrial robot? Cobots can perform a similar range of activities to traditional tndustrial robots but are smaller and lighter. This means that the average cobot cannot match a traditional industrial robot in terms of payload, reach and speed, but has a much smaller footprint and is more adaptable.
- How can you decide which is right for your business? When comparing cobots and traditional industrial robots, the main differentiators are often price, flexibility and ease of use. For a lot of small and medium sized businesses, cobots represent a more cost effective and simple way to introduce automation into their workflows
Businesses know that automation is the future of manufacturing and that being able to introduce it effectively is an important part of remaining competitive in the coming years. But understanding that you need automation is not the same as knowing what solution is right for your operations. With so many options on the market, committing to one can be a difficult choice.
For manufacturers, robotics is a way to create better working environments. Industrial automation lets companies better utilize both their workforce and machines by creating safer and more productive workspaces. It has the potential to free millions of people around the world from dirty, dangerous and taxing jobs while also helping companies increase profitability.
The first step of harnessing the power of industrial automation is working out which robotic solution is right for your business. The two main options are choosing between collaborative robots (cobots) or traditional industrial robots. They may look similar but are in fact very different. Here’s everything you need to know.
What’s an industrial robot
When many people think about robots in manufacturing settings they are probably picturing traditional industrial robots. Heavy, hulking and large, these machines are designed to work extremely fast with a high level of accuracy. They are typically fixed in place and are designed to essentially perform the same task to the same level of quality forever. This, as well as the fact that it can take years to get ROI, makes them suited for production processes that are unlikely to change for a long-time.
The speed and size of traditional industrial robots can cause problems though. While they are great at high accuracy work or those that need lots of heavy lifting, they can have force control issues that make them less suited for tasks that demand varying degrees of sensitivity. Traditional industrial robots typically require extensive safety barriers so they can safely work in the same room as humans. It is common for humans to have to work in protective cages for example. Designing these safety systems can take a lot of time and drive up costs. Cobots, in comparison, are often deemed safe enough following a risk assessment to be situated next to their human colleagues, with little or no fencing in between them.
What is a cobot?
Cobots perform a similar range of activities to traditional industrial robots but are typically smaller and lighter. While you’ll always need to carry out a risk assessment before starting any cobot job, they can typically work near humans with minimal or no safety fencing. A cobot has built-in force control and sensors that mean they automatically slow or stop their actions when a human approaches.
Their multi-axis manipulator design means that they can be used in a wide variety of sectors and tasks. For companies looking to introduce some industrial automation into their processes, cobots are an easier and more flexible approach to take. Our cobots are light enough to be attached to a table and your staff can be trained to reprogram and redeploy them within your operations.
But this lightweight and adaptability means that the average cobot cannot match a traditional industrial robot in terms of payload, reach and speed. While cobots may not be as speedy, their versatility more than makes up for their lower capacities. For example, they are a much better fit for education and robotics training as there is less risk of injury and an easier learning curve. Cobots also take up much less space, meaning they’re well suited to smaller facilities.
Which is right for you?
Both cobots and traditional industrial robots allow businesses to automate previously manual processes and speed up your processes while also making sure the quality levels remain high. As more and more companies begin to implement industrial automation into their workflows, it could be tricky for those without it to overcome the ongoing worker and skill shortages and free their human workers up for more fulfilling tasks.
Here at Universal Robots, we believe that no company is ever too small to benefit from automation. And while a traditional industrial robot may be out of reach for a lot of companies, a cobot certainly isn’t. In fact, they offer a lot of other potential benefits too.
One of the biggest differences between an industrial robot and a cobot is the costs. For managers and teams looking to create a solid value case to get leadership buy-in, it can be easier to justify purchasing a cobot rather than a traditional alternative. Not only do cobots represent a smaller upfront cost, but the ongoing cost of ownership also tends to be lower. Our cobots typically achieve ROI in under a year, but lower maintenance costs and energy usage could also be a factor.
It is important to realize that if you decide to go down the traditional industrial robots route, you are committing yourself to a set course of action. Once an industrial robot starts doing a particular task, that is likely all it will ever do. This may be ok for larger companies with more intensive operations, but this inflexibility is not right for a lot of companies. The ability to reprogram a cobot more easily as well as modify them with a wide range of specialized grippers, sensors, components and software means that a single cobot can perform a variety of functions. With one in your toolkit, you can be confident you have an effective way to automate tasks as your business continues to grow.
Across the world the manufacturing industry is facing a labor shortage. The trend of digital transformation across every sector also means that digital skills relating to automation, machine learning and programming are in high demand. In this environment it can be hard to find a dedicated team of programmers and application engineers to implement, run and maintain an industrial robot.
Cobots from Universal Robots, for example, come with the UR+ ecosystem of resources on tap. Companies can easily purchase the end effectors, hardware and software they need to repurpose their machines and reprogram them in a much shorter timeframe. This means they can be put to work fast and that it doesn’t take much to train workers how to use them effectively.
Cobots offer a huge range of benefits for companies looking to use their resources more efficiently or increase their productivity. We should know because not only do we make cobots, we use human-cobot teams to do it. That’s how we can be sure that they are intuitive, simple to move and an effective way of automating industrial processes. While traditional traditional industrial robots are suitable for some jobs, cobots are a much more flexible and cost-effective tool for many businesses.