In 2008, Universal Robots was the first company to develop a commercially viable collaborative robot – a robotic arm designed to work in close proximity with humans – and remains the industry leader.
The benefits of cobots include a small footprint, ease of operation, deployment and re-deployment, and their ability to serve as tools that enable humans to do their jobs better and more easily. If necessary, however, they can also be used without human intervention.
Re-shoring or repatriation – In the early years of globalization, many companies found that they were able to make use of a low-cost and relatively unskilled labor force in other countries. Re-shoring is bringing manufacturing, assembly and finishing operations back closer to the markets in which their end products are to be sold.
Proximity to markets – When a manufacturing, processing or assembly plant is located in the same country (or in close geographical proximity) as the recipients of its goods and services, the whole supply chain and logistics infrastructure is much shorter, easier to manage and has less of an environ-mental impact. Cobot-enabled automation makes it easier for companies to produce goods close to consumers, which benefits the manufacturer, employees, consumers and local communities.
Companies of all sizes benefit – Collaborative robot arms are making the once-costly benefits of robotic technology affordable for companies of any size, including small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). Due to their lower cost and smaller footprint, cobots enable even the smallest companies significantly enhance their production capabilities without major facility renovations or expensive installations. In addition to their cost – which is only a fraction of the cost of a traditional industrial robot – collaborative robots offer benefits that really matter to SMBs. They can be unpacked, mounted and programmed to complete simple tasks in just hours. And the programming does not require special programming skills. They operate safely right alongside workers, even in the smallest shops.
“I think of this trend as ‘the return of the human touch,’ and I believe that demand for it is driven by the fundamental human need to connect with others,” he continues. “Not with simulations of others in the form of robots, artificial intelligence and so on, but actual human beings, with human bodies, human experiences, human frailties and human stories to tell. This is something that technology cannot replace, because technical artifacts are simply not human.”
Cobots enable companies to pair the unique skills of craftspeople and other skilled human specialists with the technical capabilities and consistent repetitiveness of a robot in order to reduce production times, boost accuracy and improve product/finish quality.
This frees up human employees to apply their intangible skills and difficult-to-pro¬gram creativity to more complex projects – or to notch up a considerable boost in productivity for their particular craft or skill. This in turn makes it possible to comply with new kinds of market requirements and consumer expectations, often involving greater personalization to individual preferences.