The future of manufacturing: How cobots can combine with robot offline programming and 3D simulation

The collaborative robot (cobot) market is on the rise, with its global value predicted to reach $11.8 billion by 2030, growing at a significant CAGR of 35.2% from this year. But why the projected boom in popularity? Cobots are beneficial because they work in collaboration with humans, leading to increased employee satisfaction and improved health & safety. They are also cost effective, creating increased ROI, and primed to support short-staffed workforces with insufficient skills. But cobots need effective programming to fulfil their capabilities on the factory floor. Without it, manufacturers face a scenario where they can’t deploy them in the most pressing areas.

 

Accuracy and repeatability

Cobots are the key to repeatable, quick and accurate processes. Human workers will always carry the risk of tiring throughout the day, leading to potential errors in repeatable processes. With cobots, manufacturers avoid this problem.

There’s a myriad of use cases for cobots. Sanding, polishing, screwing and palletizing are just some of the applications where cobots come into their own. If we consider polishing as a task, it’s essential that the same force is applied consistently to each product to prevent any discrepancies in quality. Workers would find this an almost impossible job over the course of an entire working day.

Flexibility is another benefit of cobots. Employees can set them up in areas with limited floor space to safely work alongside them. Being smaller and lighter, they’re also cheaper to deploy. But drilling down into specific tasks, cobots need to be programmed correctly so an item can make its way down the production line.

Manual programming is often needed for even seemingly simple processes, such as moving a welding torch in a circular 3D motion on a metal workpiece. The problem is that this programming journey can take weeks or even months in the worst cases. For every day where the cobot remains idle, the ROI figure worsens. Manufacturers are also often complicating deployments by bringing in multiple robot brands, with each possessing different features.

 

Straightforward programming

But instead of manual programming, there’s a digital option that streamlines the process. Robot offline programming (OLP) offers the opportunity for manufacturers to create a highly accurate digital replica of the real cobot and its accompanying work cell. Its movements and associated workflows can be fully replicated via simulation technology.

Factory staff can benefit in a number of ways from OLP. Concurrent programming can be completed alongside the deployment of the cobot, meaning that there’s no delay in production. An expensive purchase can immediately start delivering a tangible ROI. A virtual sandbox also provides unlimited opportunities to validate an item design, right down to the workpiece design and fixtures that support the workpiece. Any potential mistakes, such as the robot failing to reach its target component, can be fully avoided.

OLP can also form as one component in a portfolio of solutions. Moving beyond the cobots themselves, 3D simulation via a digital twin can be highly valuable in ensuring efficiencies across the entire factory floor. This digital twin fully replicates the individual processes and interrelationships between every piece of machinery. Where multiple cobots are required, manufacturers can identify opportunities to reconfigure their layouts to make the best use of available floor space.

Other robots often follow set paths around the premises to deliver parts and components to cobots. Staff are able to use the technology to devise the most efficient path they can take to their destination, saving valuable time in the overall production process. The technology itself is intuitive and made up of plug-and-play pre-defined components with incorporated operating logic, helping to upskill machine operators and build their skills.

 

Cobots as the future

The cobot market looks set for considerable growth, with the technology able to work in collaboration with humans and improve safety, efficiency and job satisfaction. Their value in precisely and repeatedly completing tasks will prove pivotal as their capabilities evolve, and wider integration with other solutions such as OLP and digital twins will streamline the deployment process.

With these advanced tools in place, manufacturers can add flexibility, scalability and productivity to their manufacturing environment, all while maximizing their ROI. While the manufacturing workforce continues to battle significant skills shortages, cobots, underpinned by supporting technologies, help to ensure continued productivity and quality to secure the manufacturing sector in the years ahead.

 

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