IIoT and the rise of the cobots

Though traditional robots remain relevant, collaborative robots are starting to emerge more in the industry, as they should with their small size, low cost, and adaptability to offer.

07/12/2017


Spending on robotics among industrial companies will continue to climb over the next decade – but smaller, less costly, and highly adaptable collaborative robots are ready for their turn in the spotlight.

The differences between collaborative robots (or sometimes, "cobots") and their predecessors couldn't be more clear. Traditional industrial robots are bulky, expensive, and potentially dangerous beasts. In the manufacturing plants of large industrial companies, these valuable workhorses are generally kept caged, to keep human workers safe and out of harm's way.

Human/robotic collaboration at work. Credit: Universal RobotsThese older machines are not that smart, either: they're built to faithfully carry out specific actions repeatedly, without variation and to a high degree of accuracy, determined by programmatic routines that specify the direction, velocity and distance of coordinated movements.

Nevertheless, traditional industrial robots dominate the market. Working from figures provided by the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), a recent report from Chicago-based venture capital firm Loup Ventures said: "Of all the industrial units shipped [in 2015], we believe 250,073 of industrial robots were in the form of traditional systems, while the remaining 3,675 units were collaborative machines."

In other words, collaborative robots, designed to work side-by-side with their human colleagues, often assisting them to perform tasks, accounted for only 1.4% of shipments that year, in an industrial robotics market worth $11.1 billion in total.

Cobot benefits

That looks set to change. Cobots are smaller, safer, less costly and highly adaptable to different tasks. This is why many believe they have a bigger role to play at industrial companies of all sizes. In particular, their main benefits might be felt by the small and medium-sized organizations that provide between 40 and 80% of total manufacturing jobs in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries (and often far more in emerging economies).

It's their use of sensors and processing power—getting cheaper every day—that make cobots smarter. They can sense the presence of a human colleague in their immediate proximity and adjust to avoid collisions. They're easy to train in new tasks, thanks to machine learning. Because they're mobile, they can easily be redeployed to different manufacturing cells across a factory.

With that in mind, Loup Ventures expects cobot shipments to increase from 8,950 units in 2016 to around 434,404 by 2025, representing a market value of some $9 billion.

"In the manufacturing sector, robots and humans are beginning to work together side-by-side; as a result, the cobot industrial market will likely be one of the fastest growing markets in the robotics space," they write.

For example, at one of the world's largest manufacturers of bathroom accessories and auto parts, Xiamen Runner Industrial Corporation in China, 64 cobots have been deployed on the production line, performing tasks as varied as tending to injecting-molding machines to product assembly.

Meanwhile, Acorn Sales Company, a manufacturer of customized, handmade rubber stamps and embossing seals in Richmond, Virginia, is using a cobot to operate a band saw. This cobot transfers, aligns and cuts pieces of wood to be used as mounts for rubber stamps—a skilled and multi-step process. Its use has maintained throughput while improving quality at the family-owned and operated firm. "Since deploying Sawyer, we have drastically reduced the length of our supply chain, which has saved us money, and given us more control over the quality of our products," said Holly Raidabaugh, a vice president of the company.

Time for center stage

This doesn't mean the end for traditional systems, however: Loup Venture's analysts expect sales in that area to remain strong. Nor will traditional systems and collaborative systems compete, they add. The two are complementary. "However, due to advancements in computer vision, AI and motion sensing capabilities, collaborative robots are beginning to take center stage."

All of this has important repercussions for the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) because cobots are typically equipped with more sensors and produce more data to be processed and analyzed than their assembly-line counterparts. Their mass deployment in factories is likely to force a new focus among factory owners on edge computing to support them all. And getting the most from them will demand a new focus on artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques.

Jessica Twentyman is author at Vinelake. This article originally appeared on Internet of Business. Vinelake is a CFE Media content partner. Edited by Carly Marchal, content specialist, CFE Media, cmarchal@cfemedia.com.



The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2015 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
Each year, a panel of Control Engineering and Plant Engineering editors and industry expert judges select the System Integrator of the Year Award winners in three categories.
Doubling down on digital manufacturing; Data driving predictive maintenance; Electric motors and generators; Rewarding operational improvement
2017 Lubrication Guide; Software tools; Microgrids and energy strategies; Use robots effectively
Prescriptive maintenance; Hannover Messe 2017 recap; Reduce welding errors
The cloud, mobility, and remote operations; SCADA and contextual mobility; Custom UPS empowering a secure pipeline
Infrastructure for natural gas expansion; Artificial lift methods; Disruptive technology and fugitive gas emissions
Mobility as the means to offshore innovation; Preventing another Deepwater Horizon; ROVs as subsea robots; SCADA and the radio spectrum
Research team developing Tesla coil designs; Implementing wireless process sensing
Commissioning electrical systems; Designing emergency and standby generator systems; Paralleling switchgear generator systems
Natural gas engines; New applications for fuel cells; Large engines become more efficient; Extending boiler life

Annual Salary Survey

Before the calendar turned, 2016 already had the makings of a pivotal year for manufacturing, and for the world.

There were the big events for the year, including the United States as Partner Country at Hannover Messe in April and the 2016 International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago in September. There's also the matter of the U.S. presidential elections in November, which promise to shape policy in manufacturing for years to come.

But the year started with global economic turmoil, as a slowdown in Chinese manufacturing triggered a worldwide stock hiccup that sent values plummeting. The continued plunge in world oil prices has resulted in a slowdown in exploration and, by extension, the manufacture of exploration equipment.

Read more: 2015 Salary Survey

Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
The maintenance journey has been a long, slow trek for most manufacturers and has gone from preventive maintenance to predictive maintenance.
Featured articles highlight technologies that enable the Industrial Internet of Things, IIoT-related products and strategies to get data more easily to the user.
This digital report will explore several aspects of how IIoT will transform manufacturing in the coming years.
Maintenance Manager; California Oils Corp.
Associate, Electrical Engineering; Wood Harbinger
Control Systems Engineer; Robert Bosch Corp.
This course focuses on climate analysis, appropriateness of cooling system selection, and combining cooling systems.
This course will help identify and reveal electrical hazards and identify the solutions to implementing and maintaining a safe work environment.
This course explains how maintaining power and communication systems through emergency power-generation systems is critical.
click me