Human-Robot Collaboration

Author / Editor: Mag. Victoria Sonnenberg / Theresa Knell

In Human Robot Collaboration, a collaborative robot, Cobot for short, encounters its human colleague without barriers. To do this, the robot has to meet various requirements. Read here which ones and much more.

A collaborative robot can influence many processes in a sustainable and, above all, long-term way. If it is possible to implement such a system, experts expect an increase in efficiency of up to 40%.
A collaborative robot can influence many processes in a sustainable and, above all, long-term way. If it is possible to implement such a system, experts expect an increase in efficiency of up to 40%.
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Robot Human Collaboration (HRC) refers to all processes in which humans and machines work and interact with each other in the same work flow, without any barriers between the individual work areas. People and HRC robots therefore share a single workspace, which does not require separating protective equipment. A more precise and technically optimized definition is given by DIN EN ISO 10218-1, which specifies international standards for the use of industrial robots.

Use of collaborative robots in production

First, the advantages of human-robot interaction must be examined in detail. Companies can benefit from the use of collaborative robots in manufacturing:

  • Maximum flexibility in a wide variety of production areas
  • Professional execution of processes that can be reproduced at any time without the need for component-relevant investments
  • Intelligent sensor technology can improve plant complexity over the long term
  • Higher productivity due to reduced downtime and higher load capacity of the collaborative robot
  • Reduction of potential hazards by avoiding injuries, e.g. by using appropriate grippers
  • Reduction of strain on employees in production: Process steps that were previously impossible to automate can now be handled by grippers and HRC robots.

In order for companies to benefit from the advantages of human-robot collaboration, a number of requirements must be met. But, a collaborative robot alone or the use of grippers is only half the rent.

Important prerequisites for human robot collaboration

In order for a collaborative robot to be used in a productive environment, different prerequisites and standards must be fulfilled. After all, a collaborative robot must work directly with people across a wide range of production areas and must not harm them in any way. On the one hand, this means that there must be suitable and sufficiently dimensioned safety systems for human robot interaction. Furthermore, the type of production must be suitable for the use of a human robot collaboration in the first place. This can be the case, for example, when parts of human production can only be carried out with difficulty or in non-ergonomic positions. Such a case can either be handled by a collaborative robot equipped with a gripper, or it can support the human operator in these steps.

Where do HRC robots pay off?

There are hardly any restrictions or limitations on the use of human robot collaboration in different industries. After all, an HRC robot can be designed and deployed in different sizes and with different functions. Starting with small grippers for production in the fine parts segment through to semi-automatic production in vehicle construction or industrial manufacturing, many systems are feasible and already exist in some parts.

The more important question for many companies is how profitable the use of a human robot collaboration actually is. This is usually a question of economic calculations. Human-robot collaboration can, for example, replace employees in different manufacturing processes or simplify production steps and thus save direct costs. By assuming undesirable tasks that can only be performed by people under physical strain, a collaborative robot also saves secondary costs caused by sick leave and corresponding production downtimes or overtime. In addition, a comprehensive and complex human-robot collaboration system can also streamline the entire production process, resulting in higher output, better workflow, and higher production output. The better the human-robot interaction can be integrated into a production process, the more economically this process can be used.

Implementation of HRC in the actual production process

Various collaborative robots and grippers are already in use in certain applications. The first HRC robot that has been approved worldwide is the lightweight robot LBR iiwa from Kuka. Thanks to the integrated sensor technology, the gripper can be easily trained for human-robot interaction and thus integrated into a wide variety of processes. This HRC robot, for example, detects the correct and required installation position and can therefore assemble individual parts quickly and with maximum precision. In the area of human-robot collaboration, the LBR iiwa assumes those tasks that would burden the employees because of unergonomic and monotonous tasks. As a collaborative robot, the LBR iiwa reacts to the human being in its surroundings and can be adapted to its field of work by this person without any further knowledge. Various safety systems ensure that a collaborative robot does not pose a danger to employees. The HRC robot thus serves as the third hand of the employees in small-scale production processes and supports the human being as required.