Small Human Scale Collaborative Robots – Their Place in Automation
Recently there has been an increase in offerings of collaborative human scale robots for light automation tasks. Let’s define human scale – thinking of an arms reach – payloads of 5kg, and reaches of ~ 1.3m for the sake of this discussion. Collaborative meaning that these robots employ a method to limit forces applied within acceptable ISO collaborative robot standards to allow them to work safely alongside human operators without any special isolation.
With a variety of end effectors to handle many different products, the applications of these small robots are endless. From small assembly, material handling, labeling, glue path, packaging, etc. All are potential candidates for robots.
Robots are able to perform repetitive operations repeatedly through their lifespan. Whether it’s the first cycle, or the 10M cycle – they will be exactly the same. Contrast this to the performance of human operators doing the same repetitive tasks.
Where do they fit?
First, I would identify applications that fit within the robot payload and reach capabilities that are currently performed by human operators that can be trained to be proficient in minutes. These are perfect candidates for collaborative robots. Robots from Precise Automation are small enough to be carried by a single person. With their SCARA robot, it’s only 20kg, has a 4 bolt base plate that is 200mm x 235mm, and can accept 90-264VAC single phase power.
Who will program them?
Once the realm of trained robot programmers, collaborative robots are coming with tools to allow just about anyone do define a logic sequence. Whether it’s a simple matter of moving the robot to the points in a teach mode – recording positions, adding logic such as pick up, place, etc. – or implementing a vision guidance system that will automatically control robot paths; these tools are designed to allow a non technical person to achieve production productivity within hours of applying power.
Operational Lifetime Costs
Denso Robotics did a study of their small assembly robots – payloads of up to 20kg, and reaches to 1.3m. They evaluated a robot installed in an automotive part assembly operation on 06/11/2003 that was taken out of service on 1/6/2016. During that time the robot ran 45,500 production hours, and performed 35M cycles. Original purchase price was $20K USD. Maintenance over the life of the robot was $6,978 USD – which included items such as keep alive batteries (no longer required), belts, filters, amplifier replacement, and motor replacement. All this resulted in a total cost of ownership per production hour of $0.59 USD.
Enter the Robot Workforce
An article was published in the Toronto Star August 11th, 2017 titled, “Steady and drug-free, these robots are exactly what young factory workers aren’t”. It describes a Wisconsin factory that had problems filling mundane positions. Even with wages starting as low as $10.50 USD/hour they were able to justify hiring a robot worker for $15USD/hr. As simple as calling a temp agency for unskilled labour, they called a robot agency to provide them with a reliable workforce. No upfront costs, pay by the hour.
With the ISO industrial robot collaborative operational certification, ease of deployment, and low cost of ownership over the life, now is the time to look around your company for tasks that just may be better suited for a robot!