Are Collaborative Robots Safe?

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August 2020

Are Collaborative Robots Safe or do I need an Industrial Robot?

 

Safety within any workplace is extremely important; after all, we are talking about people’s lives. Manufacturing, in particular can be a “dangerous” environment if measures are not put in place to protect people as well as machines and of course the product that is being produced.

The term safe, effectively means “protected from and not exposed to danger”, so can collaborative robots be deemed as safe?

Collaborative robots are becoming a very popular addition to many companies, who looking for a cost-effective and flexible addition to their manufacturing process. The term collaborative means that two or more “things” that can work together and presumably in a safe manner. Are collaborative robots safe?

 

 

These robots have been designed with safety being the main technological change in the robotics industry. What makes them safe? They have been designed with a number of key features including dual redundancy features so if one device fails, the other one will take over, force feedback is also configurable to minimise impact should a collision occur.

 

The way they look is generally quite friendly, and the aesthetics are there for a reason. No sharp edges and lots of curves means that out of the box, these robots look the part.

 

Just like when you buy your new car, it arrives, it looks great and you admire it sitting in your driveway. It’s pleasing to the eye, and you’ve probably bought it not just for its looks, but you’ve also bought it with a certain amount of safety in mind. Sitting on your drive stationary, it’s safe but as soon as you sit inside, start it up and drive it, the safety aspect reduces. This is no different from a safety point of view to a collaborative robot. They are absolutely 100% safe out of the box with no power.

 

As with your new car as soon as you start to drive it you have to consider your surroundings. Likewise, would you feel comfortable putting a spike on the front of your car and driving it at speed? I’d hope the answer would be no. With your new collaborative robot, this is no different, you are keen to “tool” it up to suit your production and make it earn its keep. This is when you need to consider your surroundings. End effector tooling can make this “safe” new member of staff into a dangerous animal. Tooling should be designed and risk assessed to ensure this does not compromise safety in any way.

 

cobot robot safe

 

End effect tooling is one thing, but what also needs to be considered is the product that your cobot will be handling. Will this in itself present a risk?

Does this limit a cobot’s usage? The answer is no. Additional safety can be added into your production cell, such as safety scanners, light curtains which when triggered, can either slow the coot down to a safe operation speed or stop it. But this is not always required.

Currently, there is limited guidance on collaborative robot safety, however an ISO technical specification (TS) IS0/TS 15066, has resulted in a lot of data being gathered, outlining pain thresholds for humans for both static and dynamic scenarios, and we recommend you obtain a copy of this on the link below.

With any piece of equipment, it paramount that you carry out a risk assessment, to ensure all factors are taken into account. Such as the working environment and the competency of the people using or working with the equipment.

 

So, are Collaborative Robots Safe?

In our opinion, we would say YES, and they are certainly developed with safety at the heart of the design. If introduced into your manufacturing process in a well-planned way, with risks fully assessed and reduced, these flexible and adaptable “machines” can be a valuable asset to your organisation.

 

So, what is the Best Collaborative Robot to Buy?

With a number of cobot manufacturers out there, there are a good number to compare. They all have their own benefits, with regard to payloads, ease of programming, and compatibility. As a few examples, Staubli has its new Staubli cobot TX2 range which can be switched between industrial and collaborative mode. Another is Kuka, which has its own Kuka collaborative LBR range.

Universal Robots which has around 60% of the global sales for collaborative robots, can certainly be viewed as one of the best cobots to buy. The well-marketed cobot is simple to program, priced very competitively, and seems to be appearing in so many factories and establishments. However, it may be that a collaborative robot is not suited to your application.

Sometimes we are asked, should we buy a collaborative robot instead of an industrial robot?

The topic of Collaborative robots vs Industrial robots often gets raised and sometimes the product being handled, the speed requirement or indeed the environment may dictate one or the other. As an example, you may struggle to find a collaborative robot that could be classed as an ATEX robot.

 

 

In our opinion, the challenge or question of Collaborative Robots Vs Industrial Robots is quite simple to answer as both are completely different animals. Think of the cobot as being your everyday laptop, designed to be portable and flexible around a number of areas in your business. The industrial robot on the other hand can be thought of as mainframe or server, used to carry out heavy-duty multi-tasking at high speeds and can be the backbone of your organisation.

 

The rule of thumb is to expect to be paying more for an industrial robot solution, as this will require heavier a duty manufacturing cell and will more than like be guarded in a cage.

There are a number of factors to consider when buying a collaborative robot or an industrial robot, and it’s not as simple as you may think. Our advice to you if you feel robotics is required in your business, is to collaborate with a company who won’t just sell you a “box”, but will be able to advise and support you from the selection to the installation, with an unbiased approach.

 

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