Collaborative robots – known as cobots – are no longer a scenario of the future. They are here now. People and cobots, when they work together as a powerful team, release an enormous amount of human potential. Nevertheless, they are only gaining acceptance in industry very slowly.
Every day, industrial workers arrive at work in manufacturing companies to take their place in the production line, where they, like well-oiled machinery, carry out their tasks. The same movements. Again and again and again.
But why do we make do with letting people work as if they are machines, when we can release enormous human potential instead? It is neither healthy for the body or the mind to make repetitive, strenuous movements at a machine or a production line day after day, year after year. And it is seldom the case that this kind of work encourages creativity and releases human potential.
Our knowledge about robots is both incorrect and limited
The cobot – which is a contraction of the English words ’collaborative’ and ’robot’ – is gaining ground in more and more industries. Progress, however, is being made at a surprisingly slow pace, and while we’re waiting for it, we miss out on considerable gains. We simply don’t make use of the technological opportunities, but are too cautious and allow ourselves to be limited by incorrect knowledge and lack of knowledge.
Our incorrect and limited knowledge is due, in part, to the fact that the cobot’s big brother, the robot, has been presented as a nightmare in countless science fiction films for decades, where they are humanoid monsters with their own free will, which in the most cunning and destructive way take over world domination. Consciously or unconsciously, we have given robots human attributes, which is both fascinating and frightening at the same time.
Created to carry out repetitive, boring work
But robots are not conscious. Robots are what we build them to be, and robots do what we program them to do. A robot is our tool for creating a better, less mechanical life. In our homes, they can be a vacuum cleaner or a lawn mower. In manufacturing companies, they are part of the production equipment; advanced tools.
Industrial robots have been used for a number of years, often in the form of large, expensive robots, which programmers and engineers have spent hours and days on programming and adjusting to become part of the manufacturing process, in which each robot has a specific task.
The robot’s little brother, the cobot, is also created to carry out repetitive, boring work with 100% precision – but in sharp contrast to its big brother, it has been created to carry out different tasks in collaboration with humans.
A sensitive helping hand
For safety reasons, traditional industrial robots work physically separated from humans, confined behind bars and similar safety barriers. In contrast, the cobot has been created to work together with its human colleagues and function as an extra hand, which moves around in the production area. Integrated software ensures that the cobot stops immediately if it touches something or someone.
Cobots create managers
In many ways, a cobot is like a new colleague – a colleague that loyally takes on the tasks that most people find trivial and physically debilitating. The manager is the industrial worker, who has an overview of where the cobot should be as part of manufacturing, and which tasks it is to carry out: put eggs in egg trays, drill endless rows of holes in an object, pack products in boxes… the work tasks are virtually infinite.
The cobot is programmed quickly through, for example, a tablet or by being ‘led around’ and showing it what movements it is to perform. This makes it possible to quickly and flexibly readjust the cobot to carry out different tasks and move it around in production.
Release human potential to create value
In this way, when the cobot can carry out the boring work and monotonous processes, the industrial workers can use their time and energy on solving problems that require reflection and creativity. Vast amounts of valuable knowledge can be obtained on the factory floor, and this is something that robots can neither gather nor gain experience from – only humans can do so.
The industrial value creation of the future can be found in the collaboration of humans and robots. With the collaborative robot, the cobot, we can exploit human potential to a much higher degree than we do today. But the perspective goes far beyond that: With cobots, interaction between robots and humans can make it easy and financially viable to experiment with alternative solutions. Thus, cobots are a tool for creating value through creativity and innovation on the factory floor.