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Looking for a Helpful Ops Assistant? Cobots are Here to Lend a Hand in all Industries! Collaborative robots do not only work wonders overseas but they also offer the same realistic promise in India too

By Pradeep David

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From serving incredibly thin-crusted pizzas and stylishly cutting hair in the US to spray-painting jeans in Germany, collaborative robots (cobots) have enhanced manufacturing productivity and proved that the sky is the limit when it comes to the applications they are able to optimize. Every industry – be it F&B, Fashion, Beauty, FMCG, Auto, FMCD, Aviation, Healthcare, Electronics or Agriculture – has its own unique operational challenges, but there is no industry to which cobots cannot offer an automation solution to.

Collaborative robots do not only work wonders overseas, but they also offer the same realistic promise in India too. With several success studies already under their belt, they are the trending sought-after invaluable assets that manufacturers in every industry want to get their hands on to expand MSMEs and MNCs alike.

Cobots, Employees' Third Arm

To begin to understand the impact that collaborative robots, known as cobots, can have, one needs to understand what they are exactly first. In essence, cobots are a niche type of robot that is designed to work hand-in-hand with humans in a shared physical environment. These friendly and compact robotic assistants were created to address the safety challenges posed by their more foreboding predecessors, i.e. traditional industrial robots.

With six articulation points and a wide scope of flexibility, collaborative robot arms are designed to mimic the range of motion of a human arm. Unlike industrial robots, cobots are lightweight and – subject to risk assessment – can work with humans without additional fencing or caging, enabling deployment virtually anywhere. With its advanced technology, a "'protective stop'' is triggered when a cobot comes in contact with a human, ensuring that the movement of the cobot is halted and does not harm the person. The cobot can then be re-enabled with the push of a button.

With cobots, the idea is for humans and robots to be inter-dependent and focus on what each of them does best, safely. This makes them an especially ideal solution for the Indian SME, where land is a limited and valuable asset, and a constrained shopfloor does not allow for bulky industrial robots and the space for safety fencing they require. Cobots, in contrast, work side by side with factory workers, taking over dull or repetitive tasks and allowing employees to instead take over other tasks that require human efforts. Cobots, thus, help balance the scales for companies by upskilling their existing staff to engage in more meaningful work. In fact, according to a study by MIT Technology Review, efficiency increases by a whopping 85 per cent when humans and robots work together.

The Latest Addition to the Toolbox

By simply changing the end-of-arm tool on the cobot and programming it through a touchscreen tablet, cobots enable unparalleled ease of use in a multitude of applications, even for those with no prior robot programming experience. This means that a cobot can be up and running within a day of installation, and anyone capable of using a smartphone can be taught to program a collaborative robot.

Cobots can be used as a multi-tool and moved around the production line depending on one's needs. Many SMEs have thus maximized their floor space with cobots by redeploying them time and again for different tasks, thus optimizing their value and increasing their business' productivity drastically. This empowers companies to have a flexible workforce, allowing a business to meet rapid changes and increased demand.

India's Bridge to Industry 4.0

Inter-dependent collaboration between robots and humans is particularly appealing to the Indian manufacturing industry because labour-intensive conditions, the scarcity of skilled labour, and the collaborative nature of these cobots can help the nation's market achieve the best of both worlds by making precise use of this distinctive, innovative and affordable technology.

The implementation of cobots has catered to an array of problems faced by Indian manufacturers. They standardize and improve productivity due to their compactness, flexibility and accuracy. In fact, they are shown to have a 0.1mm repeatability precision in their tasks and this has been of incredible benefit for applications that require the utmost precision. Cobots have also taken care of ergonomic risks posed to factory workers, ensuring that staff are no longer susceptible to any physical injuries from the strain of repetitive movements or from lifting heavy loads. In other cases, they enable lines to be run without interruption by automating tasks like the spray painting of components.

By enabling partial automation, cobots provide a unique solution to Indian manufacturers who want to take a step in the direction of Industry 4.0 but are skeptical about the cost of automation or advanced technology. In fact, the advantages of collaborative robots have benefit global cosmetics companies and 10-man engineering MSMEs in India alike, and thereby enable affordable, accessible automation.

With technology so versatile, there are still many untapped industries that could benefit from the deployment of cobots. For example, the film industry can benefit from having a cobot assist make-up artists that can spend several hours on end getting actors character-ready. It can also film shots from unusual or physically difficult angles. In the aviation sector, pilots could possibly dream of having a robotic co-pilot to rely on, while in retail, custom footwear according to your individual foot shape might not be such a far-off daydream. Enterprises around the world are turning to this affordable automation solution to help its employees' performance to optimize operational productivity and improve product quality. The question now is, will anyone remain passive and watch from the sidelines as the world embraces this new cutting-edge resource?

Pradeep David

General Manager, South Asia, Universal Robots

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