Collaborative Robotics

UR5_VW_GlowPlug_Source_FotogesignGasparini_3With the recent changes in the standards for robotic safety, United States manufacturing now has clear guidance towards collaborative robotics, like that being used in Volkswagen’s plant in Salzgitter, Germany.

Earlier this week we shared a story from 60 Minutes that’s been much talked about on the internet — being both criticized and lauded. Regardless of whether or not they have the definition of “robot” correct, there’s no doubt that manufacturing robots are being developed to replace human workers. Is collaborative use of robotics like in the Volkswagen plant the answer to the problem of potential job loss?

Volkswagen isn’t the first to use collaborative robots that are outside of protective cages. But their press release about the use of robots in their manufacturing process reveals some key information about the future of robots:

By using robots without guards, [operators] can work together hand in hand with the robot. In this way, the robot becomes a production assistant in manufacture and as such can release staff from ergonomically unfavorable work

Collaborative robots can make humans more effective and efficient at doing their jobs, while reducing repetitive injuries. Instead of replacing all human workers with robots, the workflow has been changed to encourage productivity and reduce human downtime from injury. Any reduction of downtime, whether robotic or human downtime, is a good thing in manufacturing. The more we work and the better we do it, the lower our costs and the better the products we can make.

However, we all know that manufacturers can’t invest in new robots if they don’t make more money than the current human-driven setup in an individual plant. Rexroth servos were introduced in manufacturing because they made processes more accurate in less time and took out human injury—that idea is nothing new.

There are a lot of unanswered questions when it comes to robotics and the economy. Collaborative robotics might be an approach that will help provide a new set of answers.

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