Much is discussed when it comes to the future role of humans in the workplace. And predicting the future is never an exact science.
What we do know, however, is that we are charting paths through a Fourth Industrial Revolution. It is blurring the lines between physical, biological, and digital realms like never before. One example of this in action is in the manufacturing industry – where humans are working side-by-side with collaborative robots or ‘cobots’.
An introduction to collaborative robots:
So, what do we mean by the term ‘collaborative robots’? The name speaks for itself in essence; robotic systems and machines that complement human activity on the factory floor. It becomes a shared workspace where man and machine join forces and get the job done.
Here, the interaction between the two ‘realms’ is both expected and encouraged. And it appears to be working well.
It is a complete step-change from the now-traditional concept of industrial robots. These heavy, bulky structures could often prove too dangerous for humans to work around due to their quick movements and significant weight. But cobots are bringing a new plug-and-play generation into the workplace. And they have the power to respond to their human co-workers if needs be too.
How cobots are benefiting the industry:
The size and movement of cobots are a major plus for the manufacturing industry. First, there is the compact and lightweight exterior of these machines that allow for greater flexibility in how they are used. Second, advances in robotic components including gearmotors and sensors offer a noticeable uplift – whether that’s the accuracy of the activity or the length of operating time.
Accuracy is a very important point too. Unlike humans, cobots can take over the function of the most repetitive tasks. And they can perform those tasks on a continual basis for hours on end – always applying the same technique and pressure. All the human operator needs to do is install and program the cobot. That process, in itself, is a quick and easy one too.
For the industry as a whole, the overriding benefit is that cobots are enhancing productivity and streamlining tasks. So, from a cost perspective alone, they are an appealing proposition.
Will the future remain a collaborative one?
Of course, there will always be that debate around the future of the workforce. With cobots, the most obvious question is whether it’ll continue to be a collaborative process. Or, in other words, will humans always have a place alongside machines? It’s natural to feel hesitant about a wider uptake of cobots in manufacturing. But the early prognosis is that collaboration will continue.
One report shows that idle time is reduced by 85% when humans work with cobots. So, from a business perspective, there is no rationale for removing the human touch yet. And there will be instances where a creative mind is best suited to a task or solution, which ensures that humans always have a role. As such, it very much seems the future of manufacturing is a shared one.