Collaborative Automation Powers Palletizing Tasks
Cobots Reduce Costs and Complexity, While Improving Performance, Quality and the Employee Experience
By Kristian Hulgard, General Manager – Americas, OnRobot
Despite the massive growth in automation adoption over recent decades, many important end of line tasks such as palletizing are still performed by humans. In large part this is due to the cost, complexity, and oversize footprint of traditional palletizing automation. While some larger companies can absorb the cost, most small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs) have traditionally been left out in the cold, unable to enjoy the benefits of automation.
Traditional industrial robots are highly effective, but they are also expensive — not just in terms of the initial capital outlay, but due to the costs associated with set up, programming, and ongoing maintenance. For most cash strapped SMEs struggling to find a solution to labor shortages in palletizing operations, the numbers simply don’t add up.
Footprint is another challenge. Traditional palletizing robots take up a considerable amount of precious floorspace compared to alternative solutions because of the need to install extensive safety barriers to keep humans safe.
Collaborative robots spur automation adoption
Over the past 15 years a new class of robot has appeared that addresses these challenges. Dubbed ‘collaborative robots’ (or ‘cobots’), these systems are designed for safe use in close proximity to human workers. Immediately, this means that following a risk assessment, collaborative automation doesn’t always require all the fencing and guarding that their traditional robot counterparts require.
Moreover, collaborative automation requires less capital outlay, many systems are available through robots-as-a-service models, and due to how easy they are to deploy and program, the ongoing costs are considerably smaller than those that come with traditional industrial automation. With faster ROI and lower total cost of operation (TCO) compared to traditional automation, collaborative automation makes automation feasible for companies of all sizes.
No fuss automation
Collaborative automation delivers the benefits of traditional industrial automation –improved productivity, throughput, quality and consistency—but in a way that vastly reduces the complexity involved. People without any previous robotics experience and with no knowledge of coding or technical background can easily set up a simple collaborative application in minutes.
Gone are the clunky interfaces on traditional programming teach pendants. When it comes to collaborative automation, those cumbersome systems have been replaced by easy-to-use software and attractive, user-friendly interfaces.
All this is a massive boon for SMEs, as it removes the complexity that has been one of the main obstacles to successful automation adoption. And, of course, ease of deployment means ease of redeployment too. Change out your end-effector and the same collaborative robot you used on a sanding application can easily be moved to a new location to work on assembly, machine tending, packaging, or any number of other applications.
Collaborative automation’s high scores on usability also provide an upskilling opportunity for an existing workforce. With minimal training, operators can move from manual work to a robot operator role.
What to look for in collaborative automation
Collaborative automation solves many of the problems associated with traditional palletizing solutions through user-friendly software, but some interfaces are more user-friendly than others. Make sure to look for solutions that match your end user requirements in terms of usability, and the provision of accompanying training and education resources. Usability is key to successful adoption, especially among SMEs, so it’s crucial to explore this feature.
Also look for collaborative automation that is application centered. This means automation solutions in which every aspect of the hardware and software has been designed specially to take on the specific application you have in mind, whether that’s palletizing, pick & Place, screw driving, packaging, or some other tasks. Putting the application first makes for extremely streamlined deployments regardless of robotics experience. For the ultimate in fast, no fuss deployments, be sure to use collaborative automation solutions that include software designed to guide you, set by step through the deployment process itself.
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