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ABB and Kawasaki partner to launch ‘world’s first’ operating system for collaborative robots

ABB and Kawasaki Heavy Industries are showcasing the world’s first common collaborative robot operating interface at the ongoing Automatica event. 

The two companies are among the world’s largest industrial robot manufacturers, with almost half a million installations worldwide.

The companies say the new common interface will help address the shortage of skilled workers in many industries. In Japan, for example, one person in five is within a decade of retirement. 

Demand for collaborative robots has outpaced the rapidly-growing industrial robot market, as easier-to-use robots open doors to new users.

The fact that collaborative robots can be programmed and operated by people without specialized training helps small and medium enterprises, in particular, to leapfrog traditionally longer industrial robot learning curves.

Industrial companies from a variety of sectors say that collaborative robots – also referred to as cobots – can help offset labor shortages because they are useful and can that can be operated by almost anyone.

Additionally, collaborative robots’ flexibility to work nearly anywhere in a factory without safety barriers also makes them ideal for meeting sudden and unexpected demand peaks, say proponents of the technology.

Per Vegard Nerseth, managing director of robotics for ABB, says: “The new state-of-the-art, industry-standard operating interface will accelerate the already rapid growth we see in collaborative robots.

“It will give many new manufacturers flexibility and scalability, while providing more interesting jobs for the world’s vital industrial workforce.”

The new interface is a result of the collaboration between ABB and Kawasaki announced in November of 2017, designed to share knowledge and promote the benefits of collaborative automation, in particular, dual-arm collaborative robots.

It includes a simplified human-robot interface with intuitive, smartphone-like navigation and icons.

Yasuhiko Hashimoto, managing executive officer and president of the precision machinery and robot company, Kawasaki Heavy Industries, says: “We are proud to take this first big step together with ABB and it is entirely appropriate that we usher in a new age of collaboration automation with a collaborative approach.

“Collaborative robots will make a large contribution to society in making manufacturing more flexible and efficient and in keeping our factories productive with an increasingly scarcer workforce.”

A joint collaborative automation demonstration located at the East Entrance of Automatica is scheduled to feature Kawasaki’s unique and innovative dual-arm SCARA robot, called “duAro”, working together with ABB’s dual-arm YuMi robot.

In addition to continued development of the operating interface, the collaboration also focuses on other topics such as common safety standards.

Traditional industrial safety standards are based on years of practice, supported by very specific parameters.

ABB says the goal for collaborative automation is to develop safety standards which ensure worker safety, but also allow for entirely new ways of working together without unduly restricting collaborative robots’ many benefits.