Market scenario The rise of cobots!

Editor: Ahlam Rais

With the growing demand for high quality processes that ensure accuracy and precision along with the need to automate tedious tasks, manufacturers are looking at collaborate robots aka cobots to assist them on the shop floor.

Fanuc’s collaborative robot CR-35iA claims to be the world's only cobot with a payload of 35 kg.
Fanuc’s collaborative robot CR-35iA claims to be the world's only cobot with a payload of 35 kg.
(Source: Fanuc)

What is a collaborative robot? A collaborative robot or cobot can be defined as a robot intended to physically interact with humans in a shared workspace. According to a positioning paper titled ‘Demystifying Collaborative Industrial Robots’ by the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), cobots are designed to perform tasks in collaboration with workers in industrial sectors. In other words, this means that cobots have been created to work together with humans in a shared workspace in order to carry out tasks that ensure greater accuracy and precision in the production process. Collaborative robots are mainly used across the manufacturing sector such as automotive and electronics. Healthcare, food packaging, logistics, and construction are some of the other fields that make use of collaborative robots.

Market pulse

The global collaborative robots market is expected to be worth almost 9 billion dollars by 2025, demonstrating a compound annual growth rate of nearly 47 % from 2018–2025, states a report by market research company Research and Markets. Supporting this view, Swaminathan Ramamurthy, General Manager of Robotics Business Division, Omron Asia Pacific says, “Consumer demands and expectations are increasing, leading manufacturers to search for quick but flexible ways to set up their production lines and meet frequent product changes. This, in addition with a skilled labour shortage in many markets has led many to automate the simplest and most monotonous tasks to optimise their workforce and place talent in the most strategic roles.” He adds that tasks like picking, packing, and simple assembly procedures are being automated and carried out by collaborative robots in response to these market changes.

Cobots are growing strongly in the North American market, Greg Buell, Product Manager – Collaborative Robots, Fanuc mentions, “Currently the market in North America is strong for collaborative robots. Many companies are looking for line side help in repetitive and strenuous tasks that operators currently perform. Implementation of collaborative robots to work with operators in these tasks has multiple benefits including potentially reducing ergonomic stress, freeing up operators for more value added work, and increasing efficiency of the entire process.”

Collaborative robots play an important role in the European automotive industry. The European cobots market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 50.02 % from 2018 –2026, states a market research report by Inkwood Research. It further reports that high investments for research and development as well as strong government support for new age concepts like Industry 4.0 are leading to the growth of cobots in the region. The European market is also a hub for many of the major cobot manufacturers such as KUKA, ABB, Epson, Rethink Robotics, etc.

The current global market for collaborative robots is still in its infancy, states IFR in its positioning paper. This is due to the fact that end-users and system integrators are still trying to figure out what works and does not work in the design and implementation of collaborative applications.

The way ahead...

With new technological concepts such as Industry 4.0, IOT (Internet Of Things) and machine learning gaining ground, the future of cobots looks quite impressive. Buell elaborates, “Collaborative robots are poised to be a valuable asset to Industry 4.0 and IOT as long as they are equipped with the underlying systems to be able to communicate and provide relevant information related to the data tracking trends and requirements.”

Ramamurthy adds, “As technology advances, cobots can be expected to participate in more crucial activities and take on more proactive roles due to their ability to sense. Advanced analytics, AI (Artificial Intelligence) and machine learning will allow cobots to arrive at programmed actions based on the intelligence they discover. However, instead of thinking for humans, these robots will take on partnering roles in factories.”

Cobots are not only being used by large scale companies but medium and small scale firms as well as it occupies less space and is quick and flexible to use on the shop floor. As technology advances, the number of cobots installed in a factory is also bound to rise.

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