How Cobots Empower Production in the 5G Era

“Is cobot a pseudo-proposition? Why does the sale always linger around a hundred-unit volume? Whether cobot manufacturers need to do integration or not?” At the 2020 GG-Robot & GG Mobile Robot Annual Conference, Iris Ren, vice president of marketing of ELITE Robot, firstly put forward these questions that the industry was puzzled by in her speech “How Cobots Empower Production in the 5G Era”. Why should we pay closer attention to cobots?

Iris Ren answered the above questions by discussing the topics: 
– Why should we pay closer attention to cobots
– How cobots empower production
– How to implement new scenarios with cobots

01Why should we pay closer attention to cobots?

Consumption upgrading has given rise to multiple small-lot order demand, to which traditional production can not respond quickly. In this context, manufacturing production is in urgent need of transformation to flexible production featured by small lot and short cycle. Therefore the market needs flexible automated production lines that can be quickly and flexibly changed. This also means that production modes are shifting toward flexible manufacturing and the human-robot relationship is changing.
 
Cobots are designed to make it safe for humans to work within close proximity of it without fences. As such, cobots have bridged the gap between people and machines and changed the way of interaction.

First, from the perspective of business, cobots are the fastest growing and most sought-after category in the industrial robot market, outperforming all kinds of traditional industrial robots, including six-axis robots and SCARA. Moreover, compared with traditional industrial robots, the competition in the market of collaborative robots remains moderate.
 
Alongside that, cobots are the most human-like robotic arms targeted to replace   humans. Cobots can not only perform simple movements, such as pressing buttons, picking and placing cups, materials, etc. in unmanned retail shops, such as cafes and milk tea stations, but can also perform latte art with very high consistency.
 
ELITE Robot’s existing cobot product matrix is designed per the human-like logic, including the ultimate motion and dynamics design, modular hardware structure design, flexible and reliable adaptation software, and multi-language support.

In practical applications, ELITE Robot will also be equipped with various types of end-effectors, vision sensors, force control sensors, and can also work with AGVs to form composite robots. With all these efforts, cobots will be applied in more applications.

Imagination and openness is another icon of cobots. Apple’s strength does not lie in its hardware, but in its development system. All users who are interested in secondary development of products can develop their own apps on their system. That rule works for cobots too. Its core is not the hardware, but the platform.
 
ELITE Robot is committed to building the cobot into an application platform. For users who understand the process or are proficient in the vertical field, they can perform secondary development on the app end of the cobot platform to accelerate product automation, so that end users can enjoy plug-and-play services.

Currently, ELITE Robot is working with distributors, integrators, and eco-partners to create complete robotic station solutions which can be directly put into production for users.

02How cobots empower production?

In general, ELITE cobots boast four main features, including safety, ease of use, flexibility, and efficiency.

In terms of safety, cobot enjoys a lightweight joint design and weighs 17.5 kg for a 6 kg load, so the robot will cause minor damage to people or objects. In addition, the collision level of the cobot can also be adjusted according to the risk assessment results.

In terms of ease of use, the robot is easy to carry, transport and disassemble; the robot’s operating waypoints can be easily edited by simple dragging and dropping; interfaces are open; hardware and software are highly integrated.

The cobot is so flexible in multiple aspects such as 360° installation, the spherical working area with ±360° single joint, the lightweight and low-power design, the compact and modular design, etc.

ELITE cobot was deployed in a Tier One factory in Northern Europe to help produce car seat bracket. We can see a manual workstation on one side, responsible for preparing materials, and a bracket on the other side, where the robot tighten screws. European and American companies attach great importance to ergonomics, concerning whether employees are overloaded in the work scene. They hold the view that in such station, holding tightening gun for a long time may pose too much pressure to hands, so they prefer to use cobots to do such work.

As for the case of an electronic contract manufacturer in Chongqing, China, ELITE’s cobot is deployed for feeding and blanking hot-melt machines producing laptop cases. There is no personnel walking in/out of the working area, and the frequency of human-machine interaction is relatively low, but cobot has brought the opportunity of automation transformation for the client. After introducing the cobot, the client combined the two manual feeding and blanking stations. They used one cobot for preparation and transfer of the material as well as feeding and blanking of hot-melt machines. By doing so, the client saved the labor cost of 2 persons and the investment was recovered in just over 8 months.

As can be seen from above,in order to leverage the advantages of cobots, we must match the cobots with the right application scenarios and set proper automation tasks and goals. There are mainly two categories of applications for cobots: standalone workstations with cobots as the core, targeting clients desiring progressive automation transformation and SME clients; and workstations with cobots as the actuators, targeting OEM and production-line clients.

In another case of feeding and blanking for hot-melt machines in South China, the client planned to use cobots with vision sensors for sorting, but later they abandoned the solution as the robot can only function as an actuator and the advantages of the cobot cannot be fully leveraged in this process. Later, they turned to ELITE Robot and was recommended with a mixed production line solution after on-site evaluation: SCARA with vision sensors are used in the front section for sorting, industrial small six-axis robot are uesd in the middle section for feeding and blanking, and cobots are deployed in the last section to support hot-melt machines. This solution gives full play to the feature that cobots can work with employees in the working island and requires no modification for the existing line layout. Finally, the client was glad to find that cobots may play a significant role in such simple workstations.

Cobots are ideal tools for progressive automation. In progressive automation, companies set automation goals by phase and progress step by step. Cobots are very suitable for transforming single stations. Many people want to achieve full automation one time for all. However, this approach does not apply to most of the clients for their level of automation is usually limited, which may lead to extremely high hardware and labor costs and technical risks.

Given this, cobots are ideal choice for “progressive automation”, especially for automation of single station, as not all factories can move to Industry 4.0 in one step.

03How will the new scenarios brought by 5G be implemented?

Featured by high speed, ubiquitous network, low power, low latency, Internet of Everything, safe reconfiguration and other features, the 5G era will create more flexible application scenarios. For 5G to be deployed, cobots are expected to become an important part for its offline implementation.

Iteration of end product processes will accelerate in the 5G era, and cobots as a flexible tool will gain more prominence. Stock markets, such as assembly and inspection in the automotive industry, shifting load, testing and assembly in the electronics industry, machine feeding and blanking in the machining industry, treatment, aided navigation and positioning and medical device manufacturing in the medical industry, will see expansion. Application of composite robots in inspection, shifting load and charging, as well as autonomous and teleoperation platforms based on cobots will be very promising. The newly released platform-level CS series cobots by ELITE Robot will also move faster to integrate with 5G scenarios.

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