Collaborative robot applications for non-standard businesses

Industries that have never been interested in robotics are finding collaborative technology can help them reap benefits because collaborative robots are easier to program than typical robots and their impact is growing. Three questions for companies to consider are highlighted.
By Josh Westmoreland, Cross Company March 1, 2018

Courtesy: Cross CompanyCollaborative robots have been a disruptive technology in not only the manufacturing industry, but they have also opened the door for automation in other industries as well. Industries that have never been interested in robotics, are suddenly finding that with collaborative technology they too can reap the benefits that come from automation. What’s the difference? Why can companies outside of manufacturing now look to robotics when it hasn’t been an option before? There are two simple reasons.

First, collaborative robots are capable of operating around people without the need of external guarding or safety devices (pending a risk assessment of the total application). This has been a gateway to new industries for robotics. Without the need for a large safety enclosure, robots can now be used in places that just wouldn’t have been feasible in the past. Some may think it’s a gimmick, but there is no doubt these robots are effective, reliable, and their impact on other industries will continue to grow. But in these new industries such as food etc, companies typically do not have robotics engineers on staff to handle the robot.

Second, collaborative robots are typically much easier to program than traditional industrial robots. Companies no longer need a staff of robotics engineers to program simple applications. The complex world of robotics has gotten much simpler with the introduction of collaborative robots and the surrounding technologies.

When deciding if collaborative robots are a good fit, companies should ask these three questions:

1. Is the task repetitive?

This is first on the list because it is possibly the most important question for a quick installation. Robots, whether collaborative or traditional, are programmed to carry out a task over and over again. While there are some methods to allow robots to have flexibility, the simplest and easiest of installations require the robot to carry out the same task over and over. An example of this could be placing hamburger patties onto a grill and flipping them at a predetermined amount of time before removing them from the grill and placing into another location. This task, if performed by an employee, could involve someone standing in front of the grill and handling this process over and over until their shift is complete. These type of repetitive tasks lend themselves very well to collaborative robot technology. The examples are endless and are not limited to just the food industry. Wherever a task is performed the same way over and over, there is the potential for robotic automation.

Courtesy: Bob Vavra, CFE Media2. What are the operating hours for the task?

When it comes to considering robotics, one must consider not only the feasibility of the application but also the return on investment (ROI) to determine if the application makes sense from a business perspective. Oftentimes, this component gets overlooked until many hours have been spent on the engineering side. ROI is variable and has to take not only the application into account but the hours of operation and the burden rate of an employee. With minimum wage on the rise, many companies are starting to realize faster return on investment periods for adding collaborative automation.

3. Is the task one of the 3 "D’s" (dirty, dull, dangerous)?

Dirty jobs are generally the tasks that employees do not want to perform. They could be smelly, grimy, or even involve the employee needing to take regular breaks to get cleaned up. These can be a morale killer and impact productivity by employees feeling negative about the task they are being asked to perform. Some of these tasks even start falling into the dangerous category. Chemical cleaners, working around hot objects, or working in tightly confined spaces can become dangerous very quickly.

In some robotic applications, the main goal isn’t just to increase throughput or reduce costs, but to alleviate the need for the operator to carry out dangerous tasks. However, the two are not mutually exclusive and all of these factors can be considered when evaluating the potential of robotic integration.

Josh Westmoreland is a robotics specialist at Cross Company. This article originally appeared on Cross Company’s blog. Cross Company is a CFE Media content partner. Edited by Chris Vavra, production editor, CFE Media,


Keywords: Collaborative robots

Collaborative robots are designed to work without a safety fence, which allows them to be used in non-traditional applications.

Companies considering collaborative robots for their applications need to ask if the task is repetitive, dangerous or dirty, and the operating hours.

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What other considerations should companies have when deciding whether to use a collaborative robot?