Collaborative robotic, or cobotics, is the leading buzzword for anyone relying heavily on the Industrial Internet of Things in 2017. While some say these innovations are still in their infancy, cobotics and Industry 4.0 are already making a substantial impact worldwide. Many expect the interactions between cobotics and IIoT to be one of the most disruptive forces realized in the modern era. Right now, the primary driver for the IoT growth is investments in Industry 4.0 made by those in manufacturing, utilities, and transportation.

Approximately 60 percent, or $102.5 billion, of the manufacturing sector’s investment into IoT is focused on improving their operations. Many experts describe cobotics as being the evolution of industrial automation, or even the catalyst for the next industrial revolution. Cobots are the next generation of robots fitted with advanced sensors to help facilitate successful interactions with humans. Another key focus of cobotics is augmenting the traditional complex programming with learning capabilities. Floor operators can now train cobots through a sequence of motions, record them and watch cobots repeat the process automatically.

Cobotics is one of the leading smart factory technologies currently making the global manufacturing marketplace more competitive and efficient. In contrast to the designs of traditional robots, cobots are lightweight and easily programmable. The primary function of cobots is to work in collaboration with humans in an effort to enhance manufacturing automation in a safe, cost-effective way. The ideal tasks for cobots would be any that require humans to interact with dangerous machinery or anything that requires mundane, but highly precise movements that don’t involve critical thinking.

Cobotics are already widely used in a number of industries, including the life science, automotive, manufacturing, electronics, aerospace, packaging, plastics, and healthcare, among others. For many of these industries, the ability to sustain a profitable man-machine shares workspace can be a significant advantage over competitors. The fact that cobots are easy to operate while remaining reliable, secure and accurate is also invaluable. Overall, cobots are proving to be less expensive and able to produce more consistent results than their predecessors.

Driven by a compound annual growth rate exceeding 50 percent, the global market for cobotics is expected to increase from $128 million in 2014 to $1 billion by 2019. Smart technologies and robotic applications are being aggressively implemented in manufacturing facilities worldwide, in both developed and emerging countries. Countries like India have realized a recent uptick in the number of manufacturing companies in the auto sector adopting IIoT-powered automation and robotics applications.

Continental Automotive, a multinational automotive manufacturer based in Spain was able to reduce its changeovers by 50 percent after acquiring UR10 cobots to automate how PCB boards were manufactured and handled. The changeover times were declined from 40 minutes when performed manually down to 20 minutes with the cobots. The improved productivity, minimum maintenance, and simple integration are what attracted the automotive manufacturer to cobotics. With the success of the first project, the UR10s also were taught to do machine tending and pick and place tasks as well.

While some robotics integrators may not yet fear the cobot revolution, it’s clear that the integration of cobotics into Industry 4.0 may prove to be one of the most disruptive events in our lifetime.

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