As technology continues to evolve and new applications for its uses are found, the labor market and production lines are becoming increasingly automated. In fact, most large industries such as the automotive industry have already benefited from robots being a large part of the production process. However, automating our production line in the first place can be incredibly costly, as it requires an investment upfront. This means it can be difficult for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to robotize using machining robotics. In fact, the often-high cost needed to make automation possible can be a possible hindrance instead, even if the robots are beneficial to the company long-term. But why is that, and how can cobots solve this?
Why automation is difficult for SMEs
So, what makes automation so difficult for SMEs in the first place? Well, firstly, most processes and operations with SMEs tend to be changeable. This is because these companies usually run a high-mix, low-volume (HMLV) production process – otherwise known as make-to-order manufacturing. This is where a company produces a high variety of products, usually in small quantities. As such, this means that the end products tend to vary in application, batch size, and even type, which means the process tends to vary as well. So, the production processes do not necessarily run the same way every day, and there can be a difference in the number of volumes regarding products. This type of production method is often used to produce and handle complex products, especially those that have a specific quality requirement.
This contrasts low-mix high-volume manufacturing, which produces large volumes of goods but with little to no distinction between the products. This method still is quite popular, but lately, consumer tastes have started to change. More people are looking to obtain custom-made and tailored products, which is what HMLV is specialized in.
The good thing about HMLV is that companies can change any product requirements and adjust the production line quickly, sometimes even in minutes. This is also a necessity if the company is part of an industry that mainly supplies and produces customer-specific products, such as the metal and electronics industry. However, it is not very easy for an industrial robot to perform a different task every single day. This is because most robots are designed to do repetitive tasks for long periods of time, making them inflexible. Time also needs to be taken out to reprogram them – which is time that most SMEs do not have. So, for most SMEs, having an industrial robot is simply out of the question.
So, what can SMEs do instead if they wish to remain competitive in their industry? Well, they can use collaborative robots, or cobots instead. Unlike their industrial counterparts, cobots are generally smaller, take up less space, are cheaper, and are a lot more flexible to use. Here are a few more of their advantages listed below.
The main goal of implanting robots or cobots into your production process is to optimize it. Unlike larger industrial robots, cobots require fewer costs upfront, while still allowing businesses to achieve their maximum and optimal goals. Even errors are minimized, since human employees now have time to do other things that may require creativity or more strategic and long-term planning, instead of just repetitive tasks. Because of the increased productivity, in the long run despite the upfront costs, cobots can save the company a lot more money, and can even result in their bottom line increasing.
Collaboration with people
The special thing about cobots that make them different from most industrial robots is that they are designed to work alongside human employees on certain tasks. This is because these robots have built-in sensors that can detect activities happening in their working environment. If a robot detects that someone or something is nearby, it will automatically shut down. As such, safety screens are no longer necessary to keep employees away from the cobot. This makes it possible for the cobot and the human workers to work together in a shared workspace without needing to worry about safety issues.
Cobots also take up less space in order to interact with people. As such, they are usually very compact and mobile. They can be mounted nearly anywhere, whether it be a workbench, ceiling, or wall, and they can fit in most spaces easily.
Affects employees positively
As cobots generally take up tasks that are usually considered monotonous and repetitive, this ends up creating a better working environment for human employees. A lot of dirty and unsafe jobs can be given to the cobot to do instead. While human workers can focus on other more important tasks. Because employees are supported in their work, they are likely to be more optimistic and enthusiastic about what they do. Not to mention that cobots can help prevent certain health conditions like RSI, which occurs when someone performs the same operations for a long period of time without rest. In the long term, this means fewer sick days and injuries, a higher level of job satisfaction and retention, as well as more enrichment in their work.
Cobots have a variety of applications
Cobots can have a variety of applications, due to being so flexible. While a cobot could do the same thing for a long period of time, it is completely possible for them to perform a different task almost every single day. This is because they are not only easy to program but also easy to onboard. As such, instead of hiring a temporary employee to do a certain job, you can instead easily reprogram a cobot to do the job for you. For instance, say you are experiencing peak times or peak seasons in your production. It is a lot more cost-efficient and practical to use a cobot to do a few tasks in a short period of time than it is to onboard and hire temporary employees that will not stay in your company for long.
More consistent and accurate
No doubt, a cobot is a lot more consistent and accurate in replicating and completing certain tasks, unlike humans, which need to take into account human errors and mistakes. This is even truer if the tasks are dangerous or monotonous, because humans need rest and can be easily bored. Fortunately, a cobot does not need rest, and will not deviate from its actions unless reprogramed. It will ensure that its tasks are always the same, and will be performed with the same power and accuracy. This is important for certain jobs such as welding or tightening screws – they always need to be done with the same consistency, in order for the products to remain the same quality.