Collaborative robots, or cobots, are already revolutionizing the manufacturing space — an industry hit particularly hard by worker shortages.

Capable of performing a host of manufacturing tasks such as packaging, assembly, machine tending, material handling and product quality control, among others, cobots are designed to work safely among human coworkers, unlike most industrial robots which are often surrounded by safety fence systems to protect operators from injury.

Taking over tedious, repetitive and sometimes physically demanding tasks, cobots are improving safety, reducing human error and increasing productivity in a variety of spaces.

Follow along with GlobalSpec for a review of some of the cobots currently employed in the manufacturing space.

Collision-free cobot

Kuka, a manufacturer of robots, has developed an autonomous mobile robot for intralogistics — which is the logistical flow of information and material goods within a fulfillment or distribution center.

The KUKA KMP 600-S diffDrive is a fast moving — up to 2 meters per second — mobile platform designed to offer high-speed support for production intralogistics and a 600 kg payload.

Source: KukaSource: Kuka

Outfitted with laser scanners and 3D object detection, the KUKA KMP 600-S diffDrive can reportedly work safely alongside humans without the need for safety fencing, according to its developers. Further, the robots can detect obstacles and is designed to work under adverse conditions such as water spray and dust.

Additionally, the KMP 600-S diffDrive can be linked to various workstations in a facility to perform an array of load-handling tasks, acting as a top-loading automated guided vehicle (AGV) or as a palletizer capable of lifting pallets or cartons up to 60 mm.

Food prep cobot

Cobot manufacturer Doosan Robotics has developed its National Sanitation Foundation (NSF)-certified cobot E-Series, which has been designed for the food and beverage industry.

Capable of preparing most food and beverage items, the E-Series offers industry-leading safety and hygiene standards with features such as sealed gaps between the cobot’s connecting axes.

The E-Series also features a slim design, a 5 kg payload and a 3 ft reach, which enables the cobot to easily handle virtually any food and beverage tasks, according to the company.

High payload cobot

Robot manufacturer Dobot Robotics has introduced its CR20A high payload cobot.

According to its developers, CR20A has a 20 kg payload, a 1,700 mm working radius and ±0.1 mm repeatability. As such, the CR20A is reportedly ideal for tasks such as heavy load handling, packaging, palletizing, workpiece machining and long-seam welding. Specifically, CR20A is capable of stacking up to seven items per minute in palletizing applications.

Material handling cobot

Techman Robot, a manufacturer of cobots, has introduced its TM20 robotic arm, which is a lightweight, high-payload AI cobot.

Source: Techman RobotSource: Techman Robot

According to developers, the 32.8 kg unit can carry up to 20 kg and has a demonstrated reach of 1,300 mm with six rotation joints, making it appropriate for heavy-duty autonomous mobile robot applications, as well as pick-and-place, material handling, heavy machine tending and high-volume palletizing tasks.

Furthermore, the TM20 robotic arm reportedly offers maneuverability for tasks involving frequent turning or tasks that occur in confined spaces. Additionally, the robot’s built-in smart vision overcomes positioning errors.

Grinding cobot

Kane Robotics, a provider of automation solutions, has developed a cobot that sands, grinds, polishes and finishes aerospace components.

The GRITTM cobot works alongside human personnel to sand, grind and polish components for aerospace and defense manufacturers. Such components, according to Kane Robotics, require precise sanding, polishing, grinding and finishing to meet regulatory requirements.

Warehouse cobot

An industrial grade cobot from tech company ABB has been developed for product handling applications in the manufacturing and warehouse spaces.

The ABB SWIFTI CRB 1300 industrial grade cobot can autonomously perform tasks such as machine tending, palletizing, pick-and-place and screwdriving, among others.

With a payload capacity of up to 11 kg (24.3 lb), a top speed of 6.2 m/s (20.3 ft/sec) and a reach between 35.4 inches and 55.1 inches, the ABB SWIFTI CRB 1300 is expected to improve a facility’s production efficiency by as much as 44%.

During palletizing applications, for example, the ABB SWIFTI CRB 1300 reportedly handles as many as 13 boxes per minute versus the nine boxes possible with other similar cobots, according to ABB.

Designed to work both independently and alongside human workers amid a global labor shortage, the ABB SWIFTI CRB 1300 features a safety laser scanner that detects nearby workers. If a worker is detected within SWIFTI’s operating area, ABB’s accompanying SafeMove software will automatically slow the robot or stop the robot entirely and resume operations once the worker leaves the operating space.

More material handling cobots

Researchers from Northwestern University have developed a team of mobile cobots capable of assisting humans with the picking up, handling and transporting of heavy, flexible and delicate payloads in the manufacturing, warehouse or construction spaces, for instance.

The Omnid Mocobots, which feature a mobile base and robotic arm, are designed to safely collaborate with each other as well as with humans to complete physically demanding manual tasks.

Source: Elwin et. al.Source: Elwin et. al.

Setting this group of robots apart from other collaborative robots, according to the Northwestern team, are three features that enable the cobots to work in close contact with humans.

"Firstly, the robot arms have built-in mechanical compliance," the researchers explained. "This 'softness' means that the robots are safer for human interaction and are less likely to damage the object compared to typical robot arms. Second, the robot arms are designed to precisely control forces at their grippers, unlike most industrial robot arms. Third, the control laws governing the mobile base and manipulator are designed to allow teams of Omnids to cooperatively render a large object weightless to the human collaborator."

These are just a handful of cobots currently in service in the manufacturing space. Check back with GlobalSpec on this and other automation topics.

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