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Collaborative robots: advantages and applications

Collaborative robots, also known as cobots, have existed since the 1990s, but in recent years advances in sensors and automation and the emergence of Industry 4.0 have significantly increased their presence in the industry. Cobots are the next natural evolution of the workforce and they will mark an unprecedented level of productivity and global workforce by eliminating many skilled labour jobs.

Currently, it cannot be denied that the number of cobots is growing. A 2016 MarketsandMarkets report predicts that the market of collaborative robots will move $ 4.28 billion in 2023, boosted mainly by the automotive, metal and machining, furniture, food, plastics and polymers sectors. The research mentioned the growing safety of cobots as the main driver of their implementation.

Advantages of collaborative robots

The rise of cobots in such markets is the result of their advantages: they are safe, easy to use and inexpensive.

  • Safe: thanks to the new generation of sensors and force and torque limiters, vision sensors, voice stop control, artificial skin, among other redundant security systems for the safety of the staff working at plants. Integrated systems have a good synergy with the security applications related to virtual and augmented reality and allowing, for example, to show visually to the operator the trajectories of the cobot to act preventively and to avoid safety stops.
  • Easy to use: they are easy to use and install thanks to their programming languages, which have been simplified and even some manufacturers admit programming by demonstration, where a person performs the action with the robot and it is able to replicate it, thus avoiding needing an experienced programmer whenever it is necessary to reprogram it.
  • Inexpensive: they do not require security areas nor need experienced programmers, so it increases their functional flexibility. They are easy to assign to multiple applications without changing their production design. They allow greater production flexibility since it is not necessary to reorganize the staff in case of changes in the desired production and allow Edge-computing, so their cost compared with traditional robots is much lower. In addition, the return on investment (ROI) for most cobot models is less than one year.

Plastic industry applications of cobots

It is understood that the industrial applications of cobots in the plastic processing sector are very wide and diverse depending on the transformation process. In this document, we will talk about some of the most representative ones.

  • Mould release agent: after injection, it is possible to integrate a robot equipped with suction cups that pick up the parts of the mould, thus cutting tools that remove the left-over plastic components such as the supply channels and dispose them for further processing.

  • Surface finish: surface finishing tasks such as chroming, bonded joints or even sanding require a very specific ability and often a great delicacy. A robot with strength control as a part of its programming structure has these applications and offers a flexible solution that will automatically adjust its position in order to achieve the strength required even on parts with curved or irregular surfaces.
  • Pick and place: by automating the repetitive tasks of picking and placing parts, accuracy increases, and losses are reduced, for example for stacking thermoformed packages. Robots can implement most pick-and-place applications autonomously, which allows your company to continue managing the inventory even when employees have ended their day.
  • Packaging and palletising: the automation of packaging and palletizing tasks will allow facing the packaging costs of new products and the shorter life cycles of products. Collaborative robotic arms allow reprogramming and reallocating according to the needs in all its operations, thus maximizing the flexibility, effectiveness and productivity.