Unlocking cobot potential

How cobots are changing the way shops approach their operations

cobots
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The evolution of safety standards, as well as the development of user-friendly robots, has company leaders feeling more confident than ever about robotic implementation. Highly flexible

Cobots
Cobots mounted on carts can be easily dropped into existing workcells or production lines and redeployed as needed to address current requirements.

and capable of optimizing operations, collaborative robots (cobots) are becoming more attractive to small and medium-sized manufacturers – especially now that they are becoming more affordable. A growing number of these companies are integrating cobots into their operations to address labor concerns specific to job shops in several areas. As the backbone of the U.S. industry, it’s critical that they do so.

The last decade has revealed drastic changes to the employment landscape, generating valid concerns about the lack of skilled workers available to fill the escalating job gap. From machinists to welders, the squeeze is being felt on all fronts. In today’s market climate, job shops cannot afford to halt production due to an injured or sick worker.

As a result, these manufacturers are identifying practical areas on the shop floor where space-saving cobots can help make a difference. Designed to work safely with or alongside humans, highly portable easy-to-program cobots are easily dropped into existing lines or workcells, creating hyper-productive floor layouts. Excelling at arc welding, part inspection, plasma cutting, machine tending, basic assembly and palletizing, cobots are addressing labor shortages and optimizing operational efficiency in the process.

Whether it is to accomplish a task that human workers are physically unable to do or to complete high-turnover work that would otherwise remain undone, highly flexible cobots are efficiently performing dull, dirty, dangerous and difficult applications. Not only does this utilization help compensate for the lack of skilled workers in certain areas, it also provides the potential for yielding transformative benefits.

Savvy shops

These benefits are encouraging savvy company leaders to create service-oriented careers that cater to delivering higher quality products as well

Precision hand-guided teaching
Precision hand-guided teaching makes programming fast and easy, allowing the worker to quickly implement the cobot.

as a personal customer experience that has the potential to enhance monetary gains. Much of the time, these meaningful worker-friendly positions are filled by employees that may have been displaced by robotic automation in the first place, creating a win-win environment.

Extremely repeatable, cobots bring high-level consistency to part manufacturing. This is especially true where welding is concerned. Whether through worker fatigue, tooling issues or supply chain part deviations, unacceptable welds can be detrimental. Lighter weight cobots are easily wheeled up to large, heavy workpieces or placed beside existing weld tables to supplement manual labor. Precision hand-guided teaching facilitates easy programming for fast implementation of the robotic system, and helpful tools like Yaskawa’s Universal Weldcom Interface helps programmers gain easy control of weld processes and parameters.

Providing the capability to quickly adapt and scale up production for quick deployment or redeployment on demand, these features, along with the ability to operate at full industrial speed when used with an area scanner, allow robust performance for meeting competitive time-to-market goals while reducing overall costs.

Market perspectives

While offshore labor can be cheaper than here in the United States, robotic automation helps mitigate the cost difference. To put collaborative robot usage in perspective, one cobot can do the work of approximately 3.5 human workers. When justifying a cobot purchase, company leaders could consider that it costs on average $25/hour for the first four years, and $8/hour thereafter. A human welder, depending on skill level, earns anywhere between $13 to $30/hour plus overtime and benefits.

Regarding the latter, it makes more sense to use a talented welder for design work or custom welding, especially if the higher end of the pay range is in effect. Similarly, moving workers to more value-added work builds employee moral for more productive environments. This, in turn, boosts the bottom line.

Something else for job shops to consider is the marketability of offering robotic automation. Prospective clients see robot availability as an asset – as it shows the ability to meet capacity. Operations that successfully use cobots to their advantage are more likely to gain confidence from local OEMs to perform overflow work for low- to medium-volume runs.

For those looking for further purchase benefits, Section 179 of the U.S. internal revenue code allows an immediate expense deduction that business owners can take for purchase of depreciable business equipment to reduce their tax burden the same year as the capital expenditure instead of capitalizing and depreciating the asset over a period of time. This applies to collaborative robots. The Section 179 deduction can be taken if the cobot is purchased or financed, and the full amount of the purchase price is eligible for the deduction.

Cobot readiness

KC Robotics
Cobots excel at machine tending applications and are helping manufacturers address the current labor shortage. Photo courtesy of KC Robotics.

The ability to produce maximum-quality products quickly with minimal expense is a must to stay competitive in the current industrial landscape. While this can prove difficult for busy job shops with limited staff, keeping up with technology is imperative. For this reason, utilization of easy-to-use cobots and equipment from companies with comprehensive support services is an ideal path forward for small to medium-sized manufacturers.

Robotic automation is key for addressing market concerns, boosting product throughput and fostering financial growth. As key players in the manufacturing supply chain, smaller operations are wise to implement affordable, user-friendly cobots and their peripherals. The wealth of benefits these versatile machines offer to job shops is highly attractive.

To be sure cobot automation is the proper solution to optimize operations, a thorough risk assessment by an experienced robot supplier or integrator is strongly advised. The cobot mitigates many risks, but it can vary by the application. This will go a long way toward finding a solution as well as adhering to ISO standards for the utmost safety and return on investment.

Yaskawa America Inc.

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