As businesses grow and their levels of automation increase, many choose to implement robots or their cousins, cobots. A robot or cobot is definitely an investment that any business has to be ready for. Your small business may be ready sooner than you think. Most manufactures are surprised at the quick ROI a cobot can achieve. But, before we get into that, let’s talk about the classes of robots and that question you’ve been asking, “What’s a cobot?”
The International Organization for Standards has created definition 8373, which describes what exactly a robot is. It states that a robot is an automatically controlled, reprogrammable, multipurpose manipulator. It’s programmable in three or more axes, which can be fixed in place or mobile for purposes of industrial automation.
Now that we have a technical definition of these machines, we can look at the 4 different classes of robots and the cobot.
- Service robot – performs tasks instead of a person or equipment to the exclusion of tasks relating to industrial automation.
- Nota Bene: A robot will be designated as the service or industrial variety based on its intended function.
- Personal service robot – performs non-commercial tasks. These include robots for domestic service or personal mobility assistance. Pet exercisers and automated wheelchairs also fall into this category.
- Commercial service robot – performs commercial tasks, usually under the supervision or with the direct involvement of a trained human. A commercial service robot’s operator typically initiates, monitors, and stops the machine’s functions.
- Cobots – or “collaborative robots.” These robots are designed to work directly and in collaboration with a human operator. There are several common traits of these machines:
- Only small-footprint robotic arms,
- Readily programmable and deployable by the average operator,
- Designed to facilitate the work of the operator rather than entirely replacing the human worker,
- Full control of automated processes is maintained by companies.
What Can Robots Do for My Company?
One of the most noteworthy and pervasive benefits of employing robots is that they sharply improve the consistency of quality of products and the consistency of product flow. In the global marketplace, these two factors are critical to a company’s ability to compete.
Quality is frequently a challenge when manufacturing in a country with abundant cheap labor. Mass-produced products made by hand by unskilled, low-cost toil has a potential to compromise quality. The more robots are involved in any process, the higher the level of quality and consistency of that quality. If your company is small next to the likes of Apple or GE, this boost in consistency of quality can give you the competitive edge needed to get you into the global market and keep you there. Naturally, robots are also a boon to a production facility efficiency and allow quotas to rocket upwards like Curiosity the Mars rover.
In The Risk of Automation for Jobs in OECD Countries: A Comparative Analysis (2016), it’s revealed that only about 10% of jobs can be fully automated at current levels of technological capability. This is because current robots aren’t capable of performing tasks requiring a human’s naturally-high level of situational and other knowledge. Think about how many facts about driving you have stored in your head: a good few, but not as involved as some other areas of life. Now consider how many years teams of brilliant, world-class scientists have been working on self-driving cars. It takes a long time to get a human’s level of knowledge about the world into the hard drive of a robot. While this means you shouldn’t expect to pick up Rosie the robot from The Jetsons in Costco anytime soon, it also means that most jobs in the world are squarely in the humans-only column for the time being.
In tandem with this, demand for cobots that assist – rather than replace – human workers is projected to grow at a much higher rate through 2021 than is demand for traditional, human-replacing industrial robots. Cobots collaborating with humans also allow for their products to maintain a certain hand-hewn element while maintaining modern standards of quality and mass production. Autonomous robots often lack the in-depth process knowledge possessed of a human that’s required for these products. While overall robot demand is expected to grow by 11.5% yearly through 2021, cobot demand is expected to grow by a total of 60.3% from 2016 to 2021.
Many factors need to be considered before deciding to invest in a robot and which model to select. The process of determination could easily make up a whole series of these posts, so we’ll hold off on that topic. We hope this post has helped you learn about the fantastic automation technology of robots, their future in the world economy, and how they might help you compete in it. If you’d like to learn more about what automation opportunities might apply to your company, please get in touch with our office. We specialize in determining which technologies are best for manufacturers, and it would be our privilege to help you take your business to the next level.