What Drives Automation

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By Ix Lee

Collaborative robots (cobots) are now adopted in many diverse industries. From more industrial applications such as machine tending, welding and palletising, to facilitating work in healthcare and agricultural sectors, to consumer applications in food and hospitality, it is clear that cobots are extremely versatile.
Technology vendors tend to create innovative products that target specific problems, and are not “be all to everyone”.
Cobots are the same.
This means that the most useful cobot system should not only have a cobot with well-specified hardware and pliable programmable software, but should ideally be extensible to accept compatible sensors, interfaces and tools. An extensible architecture is one that can extend the functionality and programmability of a cobot to allow adopters to maximise the mileage and applications of such an acquisition. 

Extending the functionality

Universal Robots (UR) has an extensive ecosystem, UR+, of independent businesses growing around the cobot architecture, by extending the functionality of the cobot through pluggable hardware and complementary software. 
By combining the effort and expertise of different organisations within UR+, all partners in the Universal Robots network are better able to innovate, grow, and increase their competitiveness on many levels. 

The value of a collaborative ecosystem

An open ecosystem approach is a great way to get sophisticated technology in the hands of customers. While some may make their own end-effectors (the cobot’s “hand”), a cobot ecosystem may offer more options and desired functionality. 
For example, the UR+ platform now includes more than 300 UR+ partners, bringing more than 400 certified UR+ components, kits, software, safety accessories and solutions that seamlessly integrate with the UR cobots. Collaboration on this scale has led to both innovation and choice. Due to the size and diversity of the UR+ portfolio of certified products, customers are more likely to find just the right tool for their application than with other suppliers. The size of the platform creates a fertile ground for driving innovation while maintaining high standards and encouraging collaboration and creativity that benefits customers. 

A stream of new innovative applications

As more businesses turn to collaborative automation, the number of turn-key solutions and custom-built hardware will rise exponentially. These are often created by Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs). These companies add significant value by creating customisations or new applications and products around the cobots. 
Cobots perform common tasks that may be dull, dirty and dangerous in general.
But thanks to the ingenuity of UR’s partner companies they have also broken into new markets. 
For example, cobots have been deployed to assist with the CNC and engraving machines in Singapore-based manufacturer Seng Heng Engineering.
After implementing two UR10e cobots with UR+ certified Onrobot electric grippers as end effectors, the company experienced a 50 percent increase in productivity and efficiency on the production line within three months. 
Across the globe in China, cobots are being used to connect power lines up to the national grid and are controlled remotely by a field worker.
Advanced Mechanics Assistance System (AMAS) from Extend Robotics allows a UR cobot to be tele-operated by a remote user over the internet. Within the AMAS virtual reality environment, the user is immersed in a game-like 3D representation of the robot’s workspace.
Even something seemingly as mundane as welding can see innovation.
A decade ago, welding with cobots was not thought to be possible but recently, an array of sophisticated cobot welding technologies are now being implemented in manufacturing. 

The future of the cobot industry

According to The Collaborative Robot Market 2022 Report by Interact Analysis, the cobot industry is projected to grow to US$2.2 billion by 2026. While cobots will remain instrumental for picking, packing, palletising, welding and assembly, they will continue to expand into different industries as the ecosystem expands.
As automation and cobots continue to expand through an ecosystem and open up opportunities for customers and partners, there is no limit to new and imaginative ways to bring cobots alongside humans into the world of work and performance. 

About the author: Ix Lee is the Head of Southeast Asia and Oceania for Universal Robots.

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