Collaborative robots, or cobots, work side by side with humans to complete a wide range of tasks, including welding, quality inspection and component insertion/fastening. They were introduced in the mid-1990s but didn’t make it to the industrial marketplace until 2008 (Engineering.com).

With anticipated global compound annual growth of more than 60 percent over the next five years to an expected $3.3 billion by 2022 (Markets and Markets), cobots are definitely here to stay. As collaborative robots become more relied upon, it’s important to extend their service life and reliability by designing and protecting their energy supply system.

Collaborative robotic technology

Cobots are integrated with several sensors which detect humans and other objects, allowing the robot’s speed and force to be immediately reduced. They’re also designed without any exposed motors and with a reduced number of pinch points and sharp edges to reduce the possibility of injury if contact is made with a human coworker. These added safety features mean that cobots can work alongside people without safety guards or light curtains.

The robotic systems are much smaller than traditional industrial robots, often tabletop scale for small, light tasks. A range of models are available from manufacturers like Universal Robots, which started with smaller-scale robots, and Kuka, which made its name in large industrial robots before developing cobots.

Energy supply for collaborative robots

Many cobots do not come with their own energy supply systems. This means that all cable management must be run outside of the robot by the integrator or end user. There are two major factors to consider when selecting and installing the energy supply system: the cables and the cable management system. It is important to select cables that can stand up to constant movement as well as a cable carrier with the flexibility to match the high-precision movements of a robotic arm. As the carrier moves with the cobot, the carrier should not constrict or damage the cables inside.

The triflex® R multi-axis cable carrier from igus® allows for extremely flexible movement around all robotic axes, even in restricted spaces. The ball-and-socket link design moves in a snakelike fashion and integrated slits make for easy cable installation. Unlike stiff corrugated tubing that can slow or even stop a robot’s sensitive movements, triflex® R’s flexibility does not impede the robotic program.

igus® has also partnered with Universal Robots and Kuka to develop special easy-open/close clamping brackets in a range of sizes to quickly and easily mount the triflex® R system to their cobots. These brackets offer easy connection with screw clips, so the full installation can be done with just an Allen key and a flathead screwdriver. They are also specially designed to allow for easy adjustment after initial installation and will not damage the robotic arm.