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The manufacturing industry has been increasingly adopting automation in the shop floor and assembly lines. Integrating smart manufacturing into operations has transformed the industry in recent years. In today’s digital era, smart and advanced technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), automation, Machine Learning (ML), robotics, industrial Internet of Things (IoT) and others are helping manufacturers to enhance their quality throughput and increase their market share. One such technology that is making automation much easier than before for organizations of all sizes is the Collaborative Robot or the Cobot as it is widely known.

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Cobots empower the human workforce

Cobots support human workers in manual tasks that are laborious and repetitive and can be leveraged in many applications. To achieve cognitive behavior, they combine perception, reasoning, and action. i.e., they can be your eyes, brain, and hands of your operations. Cobots are empowering the manual workforce to focus on higher-value work that requires greater cognitive capabilities.

By identifying potential issues and fixing them, Cobots bring about a significant reduction in errors leading to enhanced production accuracy and higher revenues

These versatile Cobots work alongside humans and are very similar to co-workers, and at the same time enable improvement in productivity, increase in throughput, and better product quality. By identifying potential issues and fixing them, Cobots bring about a significant reduction in errors leading to enhanced production accuracy and higher revenues. Besides optimizing manual work, Cobots ensure the safety of workers and enables better work efficiency.

Need for Cobots in quality inspection

For an efficient production process, Quality Control (QC) or Visual Inspection is a key component where any deviation from the quality standard is immediately identified and addressed. However, this manually performed QC process is many a time subjected to errors and inconsistencies leading to defective goods, product recalls, bad customer experience, customer churn, and brand damage causing much concern to businesses.

Today, by leveraging automation with Cobots the QC process can be enhanced significantly. It ensures consistency and accuracy in the visual inspection process. Cobots can be used for testing and inspecting products while ensuring defects do not get missed. By continuously repeating the inspection process, Cobots ensure all the products on the assembly line are examined leading to 100% inspection. Those defects which can be missed by the human eye can be easily detected by these Cobots thereby setting the bar high in visual inspection and improving product quality.

Cobots are programmed to stick to a set of predefined instructions and not deviate from them. They eliminate the fatigue factor that is found in the human workforce which otherwise leads to numerous errors.

Powering productivity, efficiency & safety

Many a time human workers find the shop floor tasks mundane and repetitive and sometimes strenuous and dangerous too. Injuries and absenteeism lead to staff shortages and bring inconsistency in quality control. As Cobots work alongside humans and free them from performing monotonous and tedious tasks, employees have begun to welcome them. Because of their introduction, workers experience job satisfaction and there is an increase in employee retention too.

Workers can move on to more creative technical roles with better working conditions, higher pay, and newer opportunities. Moreover, Cobots can be easily moved around and deployed for various tasks in case there is a shortage of workers, the job is hazardous for workers, or it can be mounted on mobile stations to perform tasks as and when required.

Cobots also provide the flexibility to scale production based on the market demand thereby bringing in more efficiency to the shop floor.

When to use a Cobot

Cobots provide the ROI required for the manufacturing industry when applied to the following scenarios:

  • When the product is heavy and has to be either tilted, flipped, or 360-degree inspection needs to be done. e.g.: Engine block
  • Or the size of the product is larger than what one human can look thru, for e.g., Paint inspection for a car
  • For faster flipping of smaller products, for e.g.: PCB boards

One has to carefully choose when to leverage a Cobot and where automation based on conveyor systems will suffice. Typical use cases where it has been leveraged are:

  • Presence or Absence of detection
  • Part verification
  • Defect detection
  • OCR/Barcode reading
  • Sorting

Benefits of using Cobots for visual inspection:

  • Cost savings
  • Increased productivity
  • Utilize full capacity
  • Constant quality output
  • No fatigue

Rise in the usage of Cobots

According to the International Federation of Robotics, Cobots are of various types based on the extent of collaborations between the human workforce and robots. They include co-existence, sequential collaboration, cooperation, and responsive collaboration. According to the Federation, the market for Cobots is still in its infancy stage.

In 2021, about 7.5% (39,000 out of more than 478,000) of industrial robots installed were Cobots, an increase of 50% over 2020. Cobots applications and use cases include material handling, welding, screwing, gluing and sealing, quality control, inspection and testing, and automated picking and placing among others.

Cobots are used across automotive and industrial manufacturing, healthcare and pharma, FMCG, electronics, metal works, plastics, food processing, logistics and warehousing, and more. However, when an organization decides to replace its legacy systems with advanced technology and Cobots, it is first important to identify the processes suitable for them and proceed with the implementation.

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With more and more organizations moving toward automated manufacturing the growth in the Cobots market is on the rise. According to Market Data Forecast, the global Cobot market is estimated to progress from USD 981 million to USD 7,172 billion by 2026 expanding at a CAGR of 41.8% over the foreseen period 2022 – 2027.

With Cobots delivering consistently, accurately, and at speed by co-existing with humans they are able to bring more flexibility to the shop floor. Manufacturers can now lower the production cost at scale besides reduction in cycle times and downtime. More manufacturers today agree automated manufacturing processes have become a necessity and that Cobots provide them with the much-required competitive edge.

Guest contributor Shyam Kumar is the Director of Sales and Marketing at Jidoka Technologies, a company that combines Artificial Intelligence with automation to deliver cognitive inspection of defects in the manufacturing domain. Any opinions expressed in this article are strictly that of the author.


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