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Rethink Robotics: 5 tips for getting started with collaborative robots

Rethink Robotics outlines what manufacturers need to think about when making the leap into the world of cobots

Collaborative robots, or cobots, are providing manufacturers of all sizes with the capability to automate more than ever before. We know that getting up and running with a cobot quickly is a priority, to see results as soon as possible.

We’ve spent a lot of time in our customers’ factories, and many of our team members came from the manufacturing world themselves.

Here are our top five tips to getting started with cobots to ensure a quick deployment and increase in productivity and quality.

1. Identify and prioritise the right tasks: Cobots present manufacturers with automation opportunities for a variety of applications. Jobs that are mundane, repetitive, ergonomically challenging or high risk are typically ripe for cobot deployment.

We call them the dump, dull and dirty work. Tasks such as packaging, metal stamping, testing and quality inspection, and CNC machine tending, are all areas where a cobot can streamline operations and free humans to work on higher value functions.

Identifying these specific tasks and tackling them out of the gate will help ensure a smooth cobot deployment and drive results faster.

2. Educate and reassure your workforce: Employees might be initially sceptical about robots joining the team. Traditional manufacturing robots have worked apart from humans behind safety caging, but cobots are designed to be collaborative and they’re safe to work alongside humans.

Sawyer, for example, has high resolution force control on all of the arm joints, so it stops moving when it comes into contact with an object.

Workers may also worry about their job security – are these robots here to put me out of work? It’s important to communicate with employees that cobots won’t – and shouldn’t – replace human workers.

Rather, they are designed to handle the more monotonous, error-prone processes, allowing workers to handle the tasks that require more cognition, dexterity and reason.

The more workers know about their cobot teammates, the more likely companies are to maximise the benefits of this form of industrial automation.

3. Think 24/7/365: Cobots don’t need to sleep, or take lunch breaks or holidays. Productivity in the context of a cobot is different from a standard workforce, so it’s important to rethink planning and production schedules.

Cobots can perform overnight and lights out to add a third shift and have parts completed when workers arrive back at the facility.

Or they can fill positions in workcells that are hard to keep staffed so the production line does not have to stop and customer orders can be filled on time. With the possibility to rent Cobots through RobShare as artificial workforce planning becomes even easier and cost effective.

4. Work with your cobot manufacturer/distributor: Your cobot manufacturer and distributor know the best practices for cobots – what tasks are ideal, which grippers are most suited to the application, and how to deploy for a specific environment.

To speed deployment and start seeing positive impacts sooner, draw on the expertise of these partners from the beginning, utilise the training tools and courses they offer, and use them as valuable resource in getting your collaborative robot running effectively, faster.

5. Learn from your peers and your employees: Collaborative robots are extremely versatile and adaptable. They’ve already been put to work in plastics, contract packaging, metal fabrication, logistics, and electronics manufacturing, just to name a few.

Your industry may have unique challenges – explore how others like you have implemented collaborative robots. Cobots are also meant to work alongside people, and this proximity will inspire your employees to find new ways to work with cobots, different processes for improving production results, and new opportunities for cobot deployments.