Are you cobot ready?
Steve Jobs once said, “Great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people.” In the manufacturing industry, collaborative robots are joining the team to achieve even greater things. Here Jonathan Wilkins, marketing director of industrial obsolete parts supplier EU Automation, explains how to manage a mixed team of collaborative robots and humans.
Collaborative robots, commonly known as cobots, make up just three per cent of all robot sales worldwide, according to a report by the International Federation of Robotics and Loup Ventures. However, awareness of their benefits for manufacturers is increasing and it’s expected that, by 2025, the sales of cobots will have jumped to 34 per cent of all robot sales.
Despite the benefits that manufacturers can obtain from implementing cobots, concerns are developing about their effect on worker safety, satisfaction and even job retention. To dispel these concerns, plant managers must know how to effectively manage a mixed team of humans and cobots.
Traditional industrial robots are often encased in a cage to keep human workers safe. This is not necessary with cobots because they are intended to work alongside humans. Instead, advanced technology is used to keep staff safe.
For example, the safety-rated monitored stop function causes cobots to stop moving when they get close to a human. Also, power and force limiting functionalities ensure that if a cobot does directly contact a human, it reduces its force to avoid causing injury. If your cobot will be hand-guided by people, it’s advisable to purchase one with power and force limiting properties.
The safety of your employees is not only down to you and the cobot. All staff must be trained on how to work with cobots safely, which requires an understanding of how they work, their benefits and their limitations.
Regardless of your cobots’ safety features and the amount of training your employees receive, the transition to a mixed team of humans and cobots must be gradual, so that the staff have time to adjust to the new technology.
Begin with just one cobot and monitor the response of the workforce. Allow open communication with your employees, because questions will arise as they gain more experience with the technology. It’s also important to continue the staff training programme, so that any concerns can be addressed in a practical manner.
Another important consideration is how to delegate tasks. Cobots, unlike humans, don’t tire, so can be given jobs that require repetitive, continuous actions. They also work with high accuracy and precision, so can be used to increase repeatability and product quality.
On the other hand, jobs that require creativity are most effectively executed by humans. Likewise, empathy and adaptability are important for customer-facing roles and are traits that cobots are yet to master.
When Steve Jobs co-founded Apple in 1976, he probably didn’t envision robots and humans working side by side in his manufacturing facilities across the world. However, his views on the power of teamwork suggest that he would have raised to the challenge of managing a mixed team of humans and robots.
Jonathan Wilkins is the Marketing Director of EU Automation.
IMF: Variants Can Still Hurt Manufacturing Recovery
After a year of on-and-off manufacturing in the US, UK, and the eurozone, demand for goods surged early last week. Factories set growth records in April and May, suppliers started to recover, and US crude hit its highest price point since pre-COVID. As vaccination efforts immunise much of the US and UK populations, manufacturers are now able to fully ramp up their supply chains. In fact, GDP growth could approach double-digits by 2022.
Now, the ISM productivity measure has surpassed the 50-point mark that separates industry expansion from contraction. Since U.S. president Biden passed his US$1.9tn stimulus package and the UK purchasing managers index (PMI) increased to 65.6, both sides of the Atlantic are facing a much-welcomed manufacturing recovery.
Lingering Concerns Over COVID
Even as Spain, France, Italy, and Germany race to catch up, and mining companies pushed the FTSE 100 index of list shares to a monthly high of 7,129, some say that UK and US markets still suffer from a lack of confidence in raw material supplies. Yes, the Dow Jones has made up its 19,173-point crash of March 2020, and MSCI’s global stock index is at an all-time high.
Yet manufacturers around the world realise that these wins will be short-lived until pandemic supply chain bottlenecks are solved. If we keep the status quo, consumers will pay the price. In April, inflation in Germany reached 2.4%, and across the EU’s 19 member countries, overall prices have increased at an unusual pace. Some ask: Is this true recovery?
IMF: Current Boom Could Falter
Even as Elon Musk tweeted about chip shortages forcing Tesla to raise its prices, UK mining demand skyrocketed; housing markets lifted; and the pound sterling gained value. The International Monetary Fund (IMF), however, cautioned that manufacturing recovery won’t last long if COVID mutates into forms our vaccinations can’t touch. Kristalina Georgieva, Washington’s IMF director, noted that fewer than 1% of African citizens have been vaccinated: “Worldwide access to vaccines offers the best hope for stopping the coronavirus pandemic, saving lives, and securing a broad-based economic recovery”.
Across the globe, manufacturing companies are keeping a watchful eye on new developments in the spread of COVID. Though US FDA officials don’t think we’ll have to “start at square one” with new vaccines, the March 2021 World Economic Outlook states that “high uncertainty” surrounds the projected 6% global growth. Continued manufacturing success will in large part depend on “the path of the pandemic, the effectiveness of policy support, and the evolution of financial conditions”.
Mathias Cormann, secretary-general of the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) concurred—without global immunisation, the estimated economic boom expected by 2025 could go kaput. “We need to...pursue an all-out effort to reach the entire world population”, Australia’s finance minister added. US$50bn to end COVID across the world, they imply, is a small investment to restart our economies.