Survival in the competitive manufacturing sector has always required the ability to adapt to changing customer requirements and the shifting fortunes of the global economy. Even in normal circumstances, manufacturers will tell you that change and a degree of uncertainty are two constant features of their reality.
There are times when the steady drip of change becomes a flood. And manageable degrees of uncertainty can easily become industry- and society-wide existential crises. The COVID-19 pandemic presents the global economy in general –and the manufacturing sector in particular– with exactly such a set of extraordinary challenges. Our recent blog series “Manufacturing in the Age of COVID-19” shows how companies around the world managed to pivot and adapt to a new reality overnight.
Compulsory factory shutdowns and restrictions on movement have brought economic activity in entire regions to a halt. Manufacturers face the unappealing prospect of shuttering facilities until restrictions are lifted or the traditionally daunting prospect of quickly deploying some automation to keep current operations running.
Watch how Spanish car manufacturer SEAT transformed a production line to make ventilators with UR cobots.
In other instances , manufacturers have had to modify existing production lines in double quick-time to produce pandemic-related products from personal protective equipment and hand-sanitizer to ventilators.
As the pandemic runs its tragic and uncertain course, manufacturers face tentative reopening schedules of unknown length and the added challenge of new social distancing and worker safety regulations to comply with. Historically, the manufacturing sector has survived the disruption caused by recessions, supply shortages and geopolitical turmoil by embracing innovation.
But the automation sector hasn’t always been able to respond to manufacturers’ needs in a timely manner. Traditional automation is costly and inflexible, taking months and even years to design, develop and deploy. Minor modifications can result in weeks of costly downtime. Furthermore, traditional automation requires a large footprint and is not designed for safe collaboration with humans. Just when manufacturers need low-cost, flexible automation the most –and with the minimum amount of disruption– traditional automation systems prove too costly, difficult and time-consuming to deploy.
Timely changes with minimal disruption
Collaborative robots (or ‘cobots’) are different. Cobots are low-cost, flexible robots designed for safe collaboration with humans. No coding background is required to program a cobot. This ease of deployment, allows production managers to make timely changes across a wide range of applications –and with a minimum of disruption to human workers.
DCL Logistics, a Silicon Valley-based fulfillment center, saw a significant uptick in e-commerce as the COVID-19 pandemic spread and customers increasingly turned to online shopping. The company has now deployed a second UR10 cobot on an expanded conveyor system to meet demand.
Despite being a niche product that accounted for just 3 per cent of global robot spending in 2018,
cobots are the fastest growing segment of the industrial robot sector. By 2025, cobots are expected to jump from niche status to thoroughly mainstream, accounting for 34 per cent of global robot spend.
Flexibility is an important driver of global cobot adoption. Whereas traditional robots can provide expensive, one-off solutions to a particular problem, cobots offer low-cost, flexible solutions to a myriad of problems. In the midst of all the uncertainty around COVID-19, cobots offer manufacturers a proven way to maintain business continuity, innovate and even future proof production processes.
Enter the UR+ Application Kits
The recent arrival of UR+ Application Kits –application-focused hardware/software tools designed to further streamline the deployment process– cobots are easier to get up and running than they have ever been. The UR+ range of Application Kits for Material Handling, for example, simplifies automation deployments from order and isolation picking applications to palletizing and de-palletizing.
In normal times, manufacturers embrace cobots to stay ahead of the competition. In these extraordinary times, the flexibility of cobot technologies could play a vital role in helping to keep manufacturing alive. In this series, I’ll be sharing the benefits of cobots with a focus on the most popular cobot applications.
20+ proven software and hardware kits are now available on the UR+ platform, the industry’s largest and most comprehensive ecosystem of products certified to integrate seamlessly with UR cobots. By reducing recurring engineering decisions for common applications, the ’Plug and Produce’ kits decrease project risk and complexity and are ready for fast implementation
With one eye on the temporary challenges being faced by the global economy and the other on the permanent features that make cobots attractive to manufacturers at any time (low-cost, ease of deployment and flexibility), I hope these posts will enhance your understanding and appreciation of cobots’ capabilities.
Let’s dive in! First application up is Quality Inspection