Traditional industrial robots are designed to work on their own, a safe distance from human workers. They may be in a cage, behind a guard rail, or even in a separate room from the people working in the same facility.
Collaborative robots are able to work alongside humans safely, working together to accomplish a specific goal. Rethink Robots, makers of two of the most famous collaborative robots — Baxter and Sawyer — recently shut down. “We were pioneers and innovators in the industry and responsible for the creation of the collaborative robot category,” CEO Scott Eckert told the Robot Report, “but unfortunately we didn’t quite achieve the market success we had intended.”
So does this mean that Rethink made business mistakes, or that collaborative robots were a business mistake?
The collaborative robot market is still strong
Universal Robots sold their 25,000th collaborative robot in September 2018. It’s expected that cobots, as some companies style their collaborative robots, will account for 35% of all robot sales by 2025. The idea of having robots and humans work safely together still seems to have plenty of appeal.
There are robot puppies specially programmed to behave in ways that human beings find cute. They aren’t much use in a factory, because they don’t have the required skills. The same is true of humanoid robots designed to seem creepily human. The effort involved in designing and programming a robot to be cute or creepy can get in the way of designing and programming robots to assemble packaging.
Sometimes there’s a trade-off. At this point, we can program robots to do a lot of things, but not all at once.
The Rexroth collaborative robot
Rexroth has been building a stable of Automatic Production Assistants (APAS) which use KUKA technology to integrate Rexroth capabilities with experienced collaborative robot technology.
One of the special things about APAS is special sensor skin which leads the APAS to stop moving when a human draws close. Since the cobot stops moving before contact, injuries are avoided. Once teh human is out of range, the APAS gets right back to work.
APAS robots have the power and precision of Rexroth machinery in general. They are able to take on repetitive and monotonous tasks and perform them independently over the long term. They have the high degree of precision you expect from Rexroth, and enough power to do a wide range of jobs.
However, they also have the flexibility to take on new tasks. Rather than buying one machine for one job, manufacturers can plan for occasional jobs that won’t be needed for the long term.
Collaborative robots will be part of Industry 4.0, and we are beginning to see ways they can be used for maximum value.
In the meantime, if any of your Rexroth electric motion control components need service, we can help. Call now for immediate assistance.