Busting Myths On Cobots

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By James McKew

In the late 1940s, the first conventional palletiser surfaced, then consisting of a series of conveyors to assist in palletising processes. 
Fast forward to the early 1980s, and palletisers were armed with robots, serving as an alternative solution to pick and place products onto pallets. Now, in the 21st century, the future of palletising processes has been massively impacted by collaborative automation.
Globally, robotics has assisted businesses to redesign and optimise processes, maximising production output, and resolving labour shortage challenges. While manufacturers face ongoing challenges including commodity prices, supply chain crisis, changing consumer demands, shortened delivery times, and lack of skilled labour, collaborative robots or “cobots” can help to resolve such challenges. 
Despite understanding the clear benefits that cobots can bring to the factory floor, effectively implementing automation in palletising processes is far more difficult. How can manufacturers get started with palletising cobots where benefits clearly outweigh any challenges? While the applications required for each company are different, there are key questions that manufacturers may consider to get the most value out of a palletising cobot.   

1. What are the limitations for cobots?

Typically, cobots handle small payloads of 3 kg to 10 kg. Hence, manufacturers need to identify the weight of the packages and products to be moved, ensuring that the chosen cobot model can conduct the palletising tasks as required. In many instances, manufacturers integrate cobots to handle multiple boxes simultaneously, resulting in a higher payload requested. 
There are misconceptions that cobots are unable to handle payloads of over 10 kg at a single cycle, leading to manufacturers adopting traditional industrial robots instead. While this may have been a typical scenario, Universal Robots understand the pain points of adopting industrial robots such as space and financial constraints. Hence, a new UR20 cobot, offering a payload of 20 kg, was launched to meet the needs of these manufacturers.

2. Do you need an engineer to operate a palletising cobot?

While it may seem intimidating to operate and program a robot, cobots are far more approachable. Cobots enable intuitive programming, ensuring that operators without robotics or programming background can also operate a cobot. 

3. Does palletising cobots take up a large space?

One of the biggest limitations faced by manufacturers is the amount of floor space available in the production line. Unlike traditional industrial robots that take up large spaces and require additional space for the installation of safety cages, cobots are designed with a small footprint. Cobots are capable of working alongside human employees and do not need safety fences (subjected to risk assessment).
For instance, Taiwan-based Tsung Shih Co., Ltd. has deployed two UR5 cobots in its production lines to perform pick and place tasks. Prior to the implementation of cobots, Tsung Shih had integrated industrial robots to automate the tasks and therefore, witnessed a large amount of space taken up to install the robots. Hence, space constraints had become one of the deciding factors to deploy cobots. The company further utilises the space in the factory to the utmost and eliminates the need to shut down existing industrial robots. After deploying cobots, Tsung Shih’s productivity has increased by 25 per cent, while 20 per cent of human labour has been freed up to handle tasks that require more professional skills.

4. Does small and medium enterprises (SMEs) require a palletising cobot?

Palletising processes are heavily dependent on human labour. In addition, human employees are required to conduct repetitive and dangerous tasks, including heavy weightlifting that puts strains on humans. For SMEs with limited manpower on the production line, absenteeism due to sickness or injuries can present significant problems to SMEs. Cobots are offering a cost-effective solution for SMEs to automate the picking, packing and stacking of physical goods. It has become an effective approach to help companies work faster, smarter and more efficiently, further driving sustainable and long-term growth.
While conventional palletising has done great deeds in assisting manufacturers to boost productivity and efficiency, the rise in advanced technology and automated solutions are resolving today’s challenges. This man-machine collaboration offers a cost-effective solution for SMEs to automate their palletising tasks. As with their conventional cousins, palletising cobots helps manufacturers speed up processes, further leading to an increase in production output. In addition, cobots are providing manufacturers with the capability to better utilise floor space and relieve human employees from performing long stints of repetitive and physically demanding jobs. Unlike the traditional palletising methods, cobots have proven to be a great productivity tool for manufacturing businesses of all sizes.

About the author: James McKew (pictured above) is the Regional Director of Asia-Pacific Universal Robots. This is an opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of this publication.

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