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Collaborative Robots Part 2: Benefits and Expanding Capabilities

Nathan Busch | 16 November 2017

Automation, robotics, and artificial intelligence are hot topics in many industries right now, and one of the most influential technologies making its way into the material handling industry is collaborative robots, or cobots. Traditionally in the material handling industry, large industrial robots are seen palletizing or de-palletizing cases; handling large, heavy, and hazardous products; picking product; tending machines; etc. These solutions are great for improving operations from a productivity, throughput, and safety perspective, but collaborative robots are expanding the realm of possibility for robots.

In part two of our series, we’re discussing the benefits of cobots, which are leading to their growing use.

Coexist with humans

Collaborative robots are still considered industrial robots. It’s the unique design for every operation that allows them to operate collaboratively. Speed, force, power, and payload are what dictates if it’s a “collaborative” solution or not. Collaborative robots have varying degrees of “collaboration”, based on each unique operation.

  • They can operate as normal industrial robots, and stop when an operator is within its zone.
  • They can operate as normal, but when an operator is within its zone, it reduces its speed and force. This allows the robot to continue to operate while keeping operators safe.
  • Robots can also operate where it is intended for operators and the robot to coexist, or even collaborate. The speed, force, and power are designed for this type of operation, but are also adjustable.

Most traditional industrial robotic solutions require a high level of safety equipment, including fencing and gates. Not only does this limit the ability to work “anywhere” (e.g. where operators are present), it also requires more physical footprint in a solution.

Ease and Speed of Set Up and Integration

The physical size of the robots allow for easy and fast setups. Many collaborative robots are almost out of the box as far as mechanical setup and installation. They can be placed on tables, workstations, in tight quarters, mounted to fixtures, mounted on automated guided vehicles, mounted on automated storage and retrieval system shuttles, etc.

Traditional industrial robots are physically larger, require panels and PLCs, safety equipment and fencing, etc. This limits the physical locations where these solutions can be integrated. Normally, this is fine in a distribution center or manufacturing facility, but as mentioned above, collaborative robots are expanding that realm of where they can be beneficial. They can handle tasks such as each and case picking, product inspection with cameras or vision, tending machines with small parts, work side-by-side with humans, etc.

Another benefit for ease and speed of integration include the ability to change out the “end-of-arm-tool”, or the part of the robot that interacts with the product. The robots can be specifically trained or programmed ahead of time, and just selected when the end of arm tool is changed out.

Ease of Programming

Many collaborative robots offer the option of a teach-pendant for easy and fast programming and training of the robot. Traditional industrial robots require panels and/or PLC controls, and complex coding. These robots still offer the ability for coding, and providing more precise tasks, but the teach-pendent allows designers, integrators, and end-users the ability to quickly and easily program and teach the robot right at the point of use. Consider when a new product, part, or new pallet configuration needs to be added, it can quickly be trained by a super-user, engineer, manager, or even the end-user or operator.


The ease and speed of setup, as well as the ease of programming, allows for great flexibility as well. With traditional industrial robotic solutions, reprogramming, and oftentimes additional functionality with the “end of arm tool” would be necessary for additional scope. Also with traditional industrial robotic solutions, the entire robotic cell, including conveyor, safety equipment and fencing, panels, etc. would have to be disassembled and reassembled in a different area.

Collaborative robots can change over very quickly and easily for additional tasks, including new or different products. Robots can also be deployed, and redeployed very quickly without having to endure major changes to an operation. It can essentially be picked up and moved to wherever it is needed. Oftentimes they are mounted to rolling fixtures.

Collaborative robots are often able to achieve the collaborative features due to handling lighter-weight and smaller payloads compared to traditional industrial robots. Many providers offer a range of weight and reach limitations, but most are able to achieve up to 10 kg (approximately 22lbs) with a reach of approximately 51 inches, and in some cases up to 35 kg (approximately 77 lbs) and 71 inches.

With the ever-changing material handling industry and wide variety of products, this seems to fit many applications. Take ecommerce for instance. Orders are being sent directly to consumers. This typically means single, or few-piece orders, which translates to smaller orders. Picking and handling cartons for these types of outbound orders is no problem for a collaborative robot.

To learn more about these technologies and to find an integration partner contact one of our engineering experts today.

You can also see part one of our two-part series on collaborative robots here: Collaborative Robots Part 1: Pros, Cons, and Applications.

Author: Nathan Busch


Collaborative Robots Part 1: Pros, Cons, and Applications | The Material Handling Blog says:
8/28/2018 10:09 AM

[…] Collaborative robots are opening up new possibilities for opportunities to automate an operation.  While they won’t replace traditional industrial robots, they are an excellent way to enhance the spaces where robots can help make our lives easier and our processes more efficient.  Hopefully, seeing a few applications where cobots have been successful can spark new ideas for their implementation. For more information, contact our team or read part two of our series: Collaborative Robots Part 2: Benefits and Expanding Capabilities […]

Enhancing the Value of the Workforce with Material Handling Automation | The Material Handling Blog says:
8/28/2018 10:09 AM

[…] Collaborative Robots Part 2: Benefits and Expanding Capabilities […]

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