Robots vs. Cobots: What do Designers and Manufacturers Need to Know?

Have you heard talk about a new type of robot called a cobot? Are you wondering what makes them different from the conventional industrial robots that are already in use?

The benefits of cobots in comparison to those of their traditional robot counterparts are what make them so popular. It explains why so many manufacturers are integrating them into their assembly lines.

According to the International Federation of Robotics, cobots are expected to lead the robotics industry in the coming years.

Keep reading to learn what cobots are, the top 3 benefits they provide to manufacturers, and how you can stay up to date with the latest innovations. 

What Are Cobots?

Cobots are collaborative robots designed to work alongside humans without the need for separate walls or cages to keep people safe. Watch the video below for a demonstration of how they work.

Top 3 Benefits of Cobots

Cobots will be in manufacturing facilities worldwide before long, and for a good reason. The following 3 benefits alone make cobots well worth the investment, but you’ll find there are many more when you add them to your assembly lines.

To explore everything there is to know about robots and cobots, visit the Robotic Industries Association website.

Benefit #1: Cobots Can Work Alongside Humans

The number one benefit to cobots is that they can work alongside your human workforce. You don’t have to worry about extensive health and safety regulations like you do with other robots.

Cobots have built-in features to make them safer to work with. Some of those features include:

  • Safety monitored stops that automatically make the cobot stop when it comes into contact with a person 

  • Power and force limiting sensors

  • Speed and separation monitoring 

  • Hand guiding

Cobots are safe enough for a restaurant in Japan to use one to make pancakes, ice cream cones, and cocktails for their customers. 

“The current robot can make about 5-6 [pancakes] per hour. It’s not fast at all, but it does the work neatly. As Japan ages and the population of the youth declines further, we’re experimenting with how we could operate this restaurant efficiently with fewer people.”
- Kotaro Takada, Executive Director of Huis Ten Bosch

Benefit #2: They Perform the Jobs Humans Don’t Want

Boxing, taping, and shipping packages is a particularly tedious job. It’s ergonomically terrible, and chronic back pain among factory workers is common.

60% of industrial workers report experiencing lower back pain regularly. With the introduction of cobots, factory workers can shift to better jobs within or outside the company that won’t take such a toll on their mental and physical health.

Packing and shipment facilities aren’t the only companies that can use cobots to allow their workers to do more desirable jobs. Any facility that has jobs that involve highly repetitive tasks that aren’t ergonomic can significantly benefit from investing in cobots.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, the CEO of Rapoo (Michael Zeng) answers questions about replacing workers with cobots and their impacts on China’s unemployment rate. 

“...in China there’s been a very big salary increase beginning from 2008. So we feel a little pressure from the labor side. So we decided to change a lot of our manufacturing system to robots,” said Michael.

When asked if he was worried about the workers he would lay off in favor of adding more cobots, he responded by saying, “No, they can easily get jobs. No problem. They will easily find another job because China is growing very fast.” 

Benefit #3: Your Productivity & Product Quality Skyrockets

As most people know, robots are more efficient and precise than humans, so it should be no surprise to learn that cobots will boost your facility's productivity and quality.

One company located in Oregon found that cobots increased their productivity by 30% when used in screw-driving and box-erecting applications.

They even noticed the quality of their products was improved because the cobots never missed any screws, and their precision was unparalleled.

"The screw driving application had some quality issues with screws being missing because the holes in the housing were kind of hard to see into, so, with the robot, it won't miss any of the screws. It'll hit em all. And we've seen, yeah, we've seen the quality go up because of it." - Sam Jacobson, Production Engineering Supervisor for Darex

Should Your Company Invest in Cobots?

Investing in cobots is a big decision, and it shouldn’t be made lightly. You have to weigh the pros and cons and compare costs and risks to determine if it’s a smart investment for your facility.

Keep in mind, your competitors are adopting this new technology at alarming rates, and if you don’t do the same, you might be left behind.

The number of industrial robots purchased is expected to grow from 381K in 2017 to 630k in 2021, and currently, China is the leading supplier.

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