For decades, industrial automation systems have been based on robots confined to fixed locations. Over the last few years, however, “collaborative robots” that operate within the same space as humans have become leading-edge technology.
Which of the two is the future of deeper, more versatile automation?
The answer might just be both.
The release of ISO/TS 15066:2016 was a watershed moment. Now, system planners and engineers at all levels have clear guidance for overcoming the safety issues inherent in robotic collaboration. In the end, however, conventional industrial systems and collaborative ones offer unique advantages that will keep both on the market.
Collaborative Robotic Systems at a Glance
Modern collaborative robots have been a long time coming. The central concept of the collaborative system is that it operates safely within the same physical space as humans, allowing people and robots to effectively work together. For example, humans can guide robots and resolve technical hiccups that would normally stop operations.
However, these systems rely on a number of factors coming together in the right ways. Collaborative systems demand powerful artificial intelligence. To make sense of the environment, they use machine vision or sensor systems that add to system price and create more failure points.
Collaborative robots are enticing, however, due to smaller size and user-friendly presentation. As they become more sophisticated, they will be capable of completing tasks that cannot be automated using older systems.
Conventional Industrial Systems Won’t Disappear
Older-generation industrial robots are large, bulky, and can be cantankerous. Though they are typically stationary, they can have their own safety and maintenance issues. However, they are capable of performing repetitive, potentially dangerous tasks at astonishing rates. This makes them popular for heavy manufacturing applications, especially automotive.
Although conventional industrial automation remains expensive, it has been refined to the point where robots can be trusted with common tasks – requiring little flexibility or responsiveness – for thousands of hours at a time with minimal defects. Indeed, even the limiting factor of price is beginning to come down. Traditional automation systems are being deployed worldwide.
Coupled with more “savvy” collaborative systems, these robots will likely remain as the workhorses of heavy industry. Meanwhile, their collaborative counterparts will continue to be refined for novel and sophisticated applications that remain out of reach for now.
With that in mind, it isn’t an either-or proposition – the future includes all kinds of robots!