Collaborative Robots: What They Are And What They Do

Until a few years ago, it might have seemed like science fiction. Today, hearing about mobile collaborative robots within a logistical environment such as a warehouse or a productive one such as a factory does not sound strange at all. Indeed, more and more businesses of any size and type have chosen to use cobots (collaborative robots) to help their workers carry out repetitive and tiring activities.

Collaborative Robots, Cobots, AMR: What Are They?

We hear them called in many ways “collaborative robots,” “cobots,” and “AMRs,” so it is worth clarifying a bit. It should first of all be explained that the term ” Cobot ” (Collaborative Robots) refers to any type of collaborative robot, whether mobile, fixed, or anthropomorphic, while here we will focus on the cobots known as AMR ( Autonomous Mobile Robots ) or collaborative robots mobile, able to move autonomously to collaborate with people, not replace them.

In practice, collaborative robots help people carry out their tasks. Taking into account this necessary premise, we can now use the terms that have been mentioned as synonyms. The main characteristics of collaborative robots are those of transporting loads (even up to 1500 kg, the weight of a full pallet) from one point to another in total autonomy, even at high speeds (up to 1.8 m/s) and in total safety, stopping in case of danger to people.

Furthermore, the most advanced mobile collaborative robots, such as the Omron models, have an autonomy that can last up to 15/16 hours, practically two shifts of a worker, without ever getting tired: a very appreciable partner for any logistics or production.

Collaborative Robotics: From Choice To Necessity

Before the pandemic, using collaborative robots in the warehouse or factory was seen as a first step towards a still relatively distant future. Still, unfortunately, this temporal distance was erased by the emergency in which the world found itself.

In any case, it was an already established path, which, however, in a few months, became an obligatory step for companies that could no longer afford to have very high levels of efficiency and productivity. The decisive push came from the total explosion of e-commerce. The lockdown period has led the regular users of this sales channel to use it more and more. Above all, thanks to the closed shops and concerns about infections, it has attracted many people who, until then, had not made purchases online.

The result was immediately visible with an increase in e-commerce purchases of +146% in the first months of 2020, an enormous value if you consider that from 2010 to 2019, this sales channel had recorded constant growth of 10% per year. In practice, warehouses found themselves overnight, working every day at the frenetic pace typical of holidays or Black Friday and satisfying customers who were increasingly less patient and more accustomed to speedy deliveries.

The first action that comes to mind to address this need could be to increase the staff and number of employees. This road, however, is challenging to travel for two reasons; the first is an increase in fixed costs in the long term in a period that is not precisely simple for any company, and the second is the need, currently present but almost certainly also future, to guarantee social distancing between workers. A warehouse aisle cannot be overcrowded with people, while a robot can easily stay a few centimeters away from people. Mobile collaborative robots represent the only possible winning choice in this challenging scenario.

What Are Mobile Collaborative Robots For?

So, what can these mobile collaborative robots do? Much more than you think. For example, let’s see how a typical warehouse picking scenario changes using or not mobile collaborative robots:

To carry out this activity in an “old school” warehouse without cobots, an operator equipped with a manual trolley must move within the lanes, picking up the goods based on a customer order, item by item, from the first to the last line. Consequently, the goods will be available for packaging only when the operator has finished picking up the entire order and has brought the trolley to the packaging area. When this activity is completed, it will then start again for a new withdrawal operation.

In a warehouse equipped with a fleet of collaborative robots, however, a cobot reaches the operator in the corridor. He inserts the products taken into the containers transported by the robot and sends them to the packaging line or another picking area. While the robot brings the collected products, he continues the withdrawals using another robot, and so on.

Comparing the results of the same picking activity, carried out with different methods, no doubt remains: if an order developed exclusively by one person lasts, for example, 1 hour, with a fleet of 3 or 4 robots, it could last 15/20 minutes: this means a notable improvement in efficiency, due to a reduction in time/cycle.

The Advantages Of Mobile Collaborative Robotics

At this point, the advantages of mobile collaborative robots to companies that decide to use them are already clear. However we can try to summarize them below:

  • Flexibility: Mobile collaborative robots can be equipped in multiple configurations, allowing for as many applications as needed. For example, the robot can be equipped with RFID readers and autonomously identify the entire contents of a pallet whose products are tagged with RFID technology.
  • Security: As mentioned, mobile collaborative robots solve the problem related to social distancing. Furthermore, by being able to transport entire pallets, a company can think about disposing of forklifts, which often cause very serious accidents in industrial environments. The cobot, in fact, not only chooses the most advantageous routes but stops every time it finds a person in its path, giving them the right of way.
  • Productivity: Warehouse and factory productivity increases dramatically with the use of mobile collaborative robots, thanks to a net drop in cycle time due to the cobots’ greater autonomy.
  • Analytics: Robots’ benefits in terms of results are always measurable, and based on them, strategic choices can be orientated on logistics activities.
  • Scalability: The robot fleet can be constantly expanded or reduced, as needed, with great ease of integration.

These are just some of the many reasons why equipping your company with one or more mobile collaborative robots is already necessary today. This will allow it to respond in an exceptional way to the new challenges that the market has placed (and will continue to place) in front of it without any warning. The only way to enter the future is to be ready when it arrives.

Also Read: What Are The Benefits Of A Robot Working In Your Company?

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