How will Collaborative Robots (Cobots) Accelerate our Recovery from the Pandemic?


May 2020

How will Collaborative Robots (Cobots) Accelerate the UKs Recovery from the Pandemic

On the 23 March 2020, the UK was put into lockdown, in an attempt to reduce the spread of the Covid-19 virus. As the whole country ground to a halt, none of us could have imagined the impact that this horrendous pandemic would have.  Eight weeks on, snippets of our of “old” lifestyles are slowly beginning to emerge with some aspects of the lockdown measures now being relaxed.


With many people now allowed to return to work, in the background, manufacturing companies have been putting social distances measures in place to enable their production lines cogs to start turning again to allow them to get their products to market.


Social distancing will inevitably change the way that we all work, and this may also impact on the amount of output that manufactures can safely handle. To overcome this, many UK manufacturing companies are changing their normal working to now include shift patterns to help meet the social distancing measures.


This approach is just one of many changes that we are adopting as a manufacturing nation. Still, it is probably safe to say that even by introducing shifts, this may also increase labour costs, and therefore increase production and the end product cost.



Listen to our podcast from on how SP Elements have become the sole distributor for Universal Robots and have officially brought collaborative robots (cobots) to Scotland…

How can Collaborative Robots (Cobots) help UK Manufacturers with Social Distancing and the UK Pandemic

Social distancing will mean that workers will have to maintain a two-meter distance when working on production lines, which effectively means doubling production areas. Companies with lots of spare space to allow for this are few and far between so without introducing additional shifts what option do they have.

Companies that have embraced automation may not have such an issue, as the machines will still operate with minimum human interaction, and therefore social distancing may not be an issue. However,  It is an unrealistic expectation to think that all UK manufacturing could suddenly move to full automation to help overcome the social distancing issues. Two factors that limit this form happening are cost and time.

Collaborate robots from companies such as Universal Robots may help fill this gap. Designed to work next to humans to carry our repetitive and sometimes dangerous task, these can be quickly deployed into production lines to replace tasks currently carried out by humans.


The Fear of Introducing Collaborative Robots (Cobots)

Proposing the use of cobots to manufacturers who haven’t used them before may raise some concerns, both in terms of costs, and the technical aspects of them.


Cost of Collaborative Robots 

The reason and history behind the rise of collaborative robots were to produce a flexible and collaborative solution to help remove mundane and repetitive tasks from production environments, to free up workers to allow them to carry out more value-added tasks. To make this financially viable, cobots have to pay for themselves quickly. In general terms, it is estimated that the payback on a cobot from universal robots would be around eight months. Bearing in mind that after the payback period, this dedicated new employee will then be increasing your bottom line, as no further outlay is required.


But I Can’t Afford Purchase One Now Due To Cash Flow Problems

As manufacturers begin to ramp up production, look at the financial impact that the coronavirus pandemic has had on them, many companies will be hesitant to invest. To help overcome this, leasing options are available for Universal Robots cobots to minimise outlays. The actual monthly leasing cost will be less than the cost of the worker carrying out the task at the moment; therefore, the cobot is paying for itself from day one.

Ramping up the usage to two shifts then you are effectively getting double the work done for the same cost as a single shift. With a life expectancy of each cobot joint being 36000 hours, this can reassure you that it is possible on a single shift for the cobot to be producing trouble-free for 12 years.


No Programming Experience?

Universal Robots, has developed an incredibly simple programming platform, which will allow you to have the arm carrying out simple movements within hours of being out of the box. This is based on someone with no robot or programming experience. In addition to an enormous library of online tutorials, SP Elements with SP Automation and robotics backing can also help to ensure your new cobot is production as quickly as possible. With regards to the robot delivery, this would be around two to three weeks from placement of order.


Cobots Allow You To React To Change

It will take an effort to adapt to the new norm, but as a nation of manufacturers, the UK has to look at changing its approach and move away from “we’ve always done it this way” to “this is what we have to do now”. As we all know, the pandemic will not disappear overnight and may take months if not years to get over this.


This has and will continue to affect almost every manufacturing company in the UK, and the ones that will survive are more than likely to be the ones who can adapt to their new norm the quickest. As can be seen from the graph below, there is a tremendous growth rate in cobot sales, with more and more companies across the globe employing them. This is not just as a result of the global pandemic, but because they now see the need to be able to adapt quickly and react to changes in demand.



Before the pandemic outbreak, the UK was already having problems with regards to employing labour for manual processes. Now that’s the pandemic is here, it may be that even fewer people will want to work in factories, providing employers with an even bigger headache.

This is already the case in China; which has one of the fastest-growing markets for cobots. This not only driven by labour shortages but also because efficiencies need to improve. Outside of China In the next five years, it is expected that cobot sales at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) will rise by 30% over the next five years.


Who Is Buying Cobots And Are They Right For Me?

The answer to this is simple. Cobots are used in almost every industry and sector with the applications being limited only by peoples imaginations. As a simple summary, they are suited to virtually any applications that are repetitive. A few typical applications are shown below, but this can be expanded to machining, material removal, sanding, grinding, ……….the list is endless.



Collaborative Robots (Cobots) to Increase Productivity

Although cobots can are used to help overcome labour shortages, a bi-product of this is also an increase in production. Although they may carry out a task in a similar time to human, the main difference is that they won’t stop. A study was carried out by MIT researchers at BMW factory; it was shown that by having a mix of humans and collaborative robots working together, the idle time of the production line was reduced by 85%. The main reason for this is that the cobot sets the pace.


collaborative Robots cobots


What’s Next for UK Manufacturing and Collaborative Robots?

No one can really answer that, but it’s a fair assumption that our usual way of working will be forever changed. If there is a lesson to be learned from this horrendous outbreak, it is that UK manufacturing needs to be able to react quickly to events such as this., to allow it to come out the other end and hit the ground running. Away from the “normal” UK manufacturing, scientific innovation has accelerated to help find an antibody and cure for this, which has been nothing short of a monumental effort. Even in science and lab environments, cobots have been and will continue to be used to assist in manufacturing and processing test kits and diagnostics.


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