Robotics & Mechatronics

Future-proofing SMEs with cobots

Fourth Quarter 2023 Robotics & Mechatronics

Many countries around the world are likely to experience skill shortages over the coming decade, especially technical specialists. At the same time, product lifecycles are becoming shorter. Despite this, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can be reluctant to invest in automation due to the cost factor. However collaborative robots (cobots) are easy to set up, and offer a quick and cost-effective solution. An example is the Omron TM series of collaborative robots. They can increase the flexibility, quality and speed of production, and enable companies to respond rapidly to changing market conditions.

Robots are not new to the industrial world. They were first used in industrial manufacturing in the 1960s, and since then their numbers have increased exponentially. Some 500 000 to 600 000 new robot systems are now becoming operational throughout the world each year. If small and medium-sized production companies in the EMEA region want to keep up with constant economic growth internationally, they need to invest more in automation, for cost reasons alone. Due to technical skills shortages, greater automation is needed to counteract this decline.

Cobots provide greater flexibility

Classical industrial robotics might not be the solution for all applications. Traditional production lines are designed for manufacturing large numbers of products. In today’s world, product lifecycles are getting shorter. For example, in the 1970s, the average product lifecycle of a vehicle was eight years. Today, car models often get their first modifications or facelifts after just two to three years. Production and automation must adapt to the shorter lifecycles of products, and cobots can help with this.

Cobots were first introduced in 2008 and represent a relatively new category of industrial robots. In contrast to traditional robots, which must be shielded from the human workspace by a security fence, cobots were developed to work safely with people. Users also need less time and money to program an application with these helper robots. In addition, cobots can easily be moved from one location to another to work on different tasks, whereas conventional industrial robots must stay in one location and can normally only be used for a specific task within the robot cell. Cobots, therefore, provide greater flexibility to the user.

The diverse tasks they can handle vary from simple pick-and-place applications for parts handling, sorting and palletising, through to machine assembly, order picking, packaging and testing. They can help to apply adhesive and sealants, assemble or disassemble parts, measure, test, check, and take over screwing operations. The result is seen in significant benefits for employees, who no longer have to carry out monotonous, physically demanding or dangerous work. Instead, they receive support with precision work and can concentrate on their core abilities.

Cobots are user-friendly and versatile

Omron’s TM series of cobots illustrates how versatile and straightforward cobots are. The different versions are suitable for practically any environment, for example, the automotive, semiconductor, food, packaging and cosmetics sectors. Due to flowchart-based programming, an intuitive HMI user interface, and simple hand-guided teaching functions, almost no previous knowledge of programming is required. Just like with a PowerPoint presentation, the user can assemble complete function blocks and fill the predefined attributes with the desired parameters. The cobots have options that include an integrated camera, vision, and a lighting system. These enable them to handle and trace items precisely.

Core functions such as pattern, barcode and colour recognition, enable detection, inspection, measurement and sorting applications to be implemented easily. With the help of Omron’s Landmark positioning recognition facility, the cobot knows where it is, and can be aligned with another machine without much effort or recalibration. It can even move autonomously and work wherever it is needed because cobots can be combined with Omron’s LD series of mobile robots.

From needs analysis to support

Additional components such as extra axes, grippers, force sensors, communication devices or screwdrivers can be easily used by the cobots via a plug-and-play system. Omron has set up a partner network that offers a range of suitable components. The company’s automation experts also provide support with any queries about the use of cobots. This starts with the analysis of the production task and the environment, and the selection of the appropriate cobots and grippers. It includes risk analysis and assessment, commissioning, training, and technical support. All of this makes it easier for SMEs to gain a foothold in the flexible manufacturing industry of the future.


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