Industrial Robots Vs Collaborative Robots
Industrial Robots Vs Collaborative Robots (Cobots)
Industrial robots have been in production environments since the 1960s, with the first being introduced in GM. Over the years, they have been developed, and the traditional car production workhorse has developed into numerous variations, with traditional robots now being used in all types of industries, from the automotive, biosciences, food and drink and medical device manufacturing lines.
Traditionally developed for large, heavier applications, these machines were traditionally bulky and were generally “fixed” for one application. Today, we see smaller, much faster “industrial” robots used in many applications, with some now bringing in collaborative style features.
Cobots are becoming more and more popular, and with an abundance of manufacturers bringing them to market, they seem to have gained good traction in the automation arena. Labelled as an almost out of the box solution, they do have a lot of kerb appeal.
Marketed as being designed to work next to humans, they can be a good choice for enhancing production by removing repetitive tasks and carrying some dangerous or risky tasks, so they can indeed potentially make working environments safer.
We cannot just deem machinery “safe”. Industrial robots have always seemed to be a beast that has to be put behind a cage to restrict access, not only to guard against their movement but also the payload that they are carrying, which can now be up to 2500kg. The use of scanning systems can now reduce the amount of fixed guarding needed, but it’s safe to say they do require guarding considerations.
So, which robot is the safer option?
The answer is it depends on the application. Cobots have been designed with many safety features in them to allow them to work next to humans. Force feedback, easy to program, small and portable, do make them sound like a good option. However, if you are considering purchasing one, there still needs to be a lot of thought put into safety. There seems to be a misconception that cobots are simply “safe.” If we put this into the same context as a car being safe when stationary but putting a spike on the front and driving it at 50mph into a human, it becomes very unsafe. The same theory goes for cobots it comes down to the tooling, the product, and the environment it is to be deployed in.
Now, this is in no way a means to limit their use, but it is important to understand that with each installation, you need to consider how the cobot is going to be used. Speeds and location all come into keeping the cobot and the human safe, and therefore, a full risk assessment needs to be carried out.
If we look at smaller industrial robots, and cobots, there isn’t a huge amount of cost difference. Cobots do, however, come with the advantage that they are much easier to program, and therefore, you can gain the advantage of not having to employ a software engineer for this. As previously mentioned, both types of robots do need risk assessments. The level of protection or guarding will depend on the application and, therefore, affect the cost. Put a drill head on either, then both the cobot and Industrial robot will create exactly the same hazard.
If the process you are considering can have tooling designed to eliminate hazards and pick up from areas that won’t in itself create a hazard, then the cobot option can be a much more cost-effective way forward. In addition, the simplicity of the programming can be very attractive.
Cobots or Robots – Which is right for you?
It could easily be both or neither, and in reality, they are effectively two different animals, both suited to different purposes. Cobots and robots aren’t necessarily in competition with one another as they perform complementary, albeit similar, roles in the world of manufacturing. Think of cobots as being a bit like a laptop, while industrial robots are more like mainframes. For some tasks, cobots make more sense. For others, nothing but an industrial robot will do.
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