Collaborative robot optimization with AI, for safer manufacturing during COVID-19

Collaborative robots use artificial intelligence (AI) to increase usefulness in dynamically changing workspaces. Cobot factory applications can create more space between workers, lowering COVID-19 risk for manufacturers while increasing throughput.

By Mark T. Hoske October 13, 2020
An Oct. 22 Control Engineering webcast from Universal Robots will cover “Leveraging AI to Maximize Collaborative Robot Efficiency” by using video case studies and a live question and answer session. Learn more at Courtesy: Universal Robots


Learning Objectives

  • Artificial intelligence (AI) is adding to productivity of collaborative robotic implementations.
  • Collaborative robots decrease risk by increasing distance among workers on the factory floor.
  • Use of collaborative robots can have return on investment (ROI) under one year.

Artificial intelligence (AI) advancements have enabled collaborative robots (cobots) to precisely execute tasks in dynamically changing workspaces, enabling operations to run more smoothly, efficiently and productively. In addition, cobots are being deployed to lower risk, ease programming and cost-effectively deploy automation to increase worker distancing. Return on investment (ROI) for cobot implementation often is less than one year, according to Universal Robots, a collaborative robot manufacturer.

Using AI to improve robotic efficiency

AI-powered cobots can increase production, decrease costs, and shorten cycle times in high-tech manufacturing environments. AI leverages billions of hours of iterative machine-learned practices to intelligently direct cobots in manufacturing, production and engineering.

Tim DeGrasse, channel development manager, Universal Robots, said artificial intelligence:

  • Can decrease return on investment in collaborative robot applications.
  • Be deployed more easily with use of open interfaces.
  • Increases collaborative robot production, decreases cost and shortens cycle times (which can increase throughput).

DeGrasse plans to give video examples of how AI helps collaborative robot efficiency in manufacturing in an Oct. 22 webcast “Leveraging AI to Maximize Collaborative Robot Efficiency.” While the webcast, with collaborative robotic video case study examples, will be available for viewing for a year after presentation, registrants listening live have the opportunity to ask DeGrasse requestions in a live question and answer session immediately after the 1 p.m. webcast.

Examples of worker distancing with cobots

Collaborative robots can be used to add distance between workers without significant assembly line redesigns, in turn decreasing risk of COVID-19 exposure, said Joe Campbell, head of U.S. marketing, Universal Robots, in a Sept. 23 webcast, “How cobots can be leveraged in the COVID-19 age.”

Collaborative robots, seen as faster and easier to implement than conventional robotics, include benefits such as rapid payback; Campbell cited eight examples with return on investment (ROI) less than a year. Because collaborative robots are easy to implement and lower cost than traditional robots and more easily redeployed as needed, they’re being added to manufacturing application to increase worker distancing on the factory floor. Cobots also help with round-the-clock shiftwork to meet tighter delivery schedules. Pandemic-related collaborative robot benefits Campbell discussed follow:

  • All Axis Machining, a 20-person contract machine shop and fabricator, was turning away orders because of COVID-19 reduced capacity. With fewer people in the shop, productivity increased, including addition of a lights-out third shift.
  • DCL Logistics, an order fulfillment company, increased business 30% in 60 days as online business exploded with the pandemic. The company avoided increasing risk to existing employees by avoiding the usual practice of hiring temporary workers. Labor content on each order decreased by half by using collaborative robots.
  • Homtex, a home textile manufacturer, decided in April to add disposable face masks, personal protective equipment (PPE), to its offering, creating a $5 million investment and 80-120 jobs in Cullman, Ala., an area struggling to hire. Investments include 5 kg and 10 kg payload Universal Robots to help with end-of-line case packing and palletizing, on the way to making 350-million masks per year.

The webcast has four more detailed examples of how collaborative robots are helping manufacturers increase productivity and decrease risk during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mark T. Hoske is content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media and Technology,

KEYWORDS: Collaborative robots, AI, COVID-19

Artificial intelligence (AI) is adding to productivity of collaborative robotic implementations.

Collaborative robots decrease risk by increasing distance among workers on the factory floor.

Use of collaborative robots can have return on investment (ROI) under one year.


How could a collaborative robot add efficiency in your facility?

Author Bio: Mark Hoske has been Control Engineering editor/content manager since 1994 and in a leadership role since 1999, covering all major areas: control systems, networking and information systems, control equipment and energy, and system integration, everything that comprises or facilitates the control loop. He has been writing about technology since 1987, writing professionally since 1982, and has a Bachelor of Science in Journalism degree from UW-Madison.