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DENSO Automotive Systems Australia (Australian Automotive Air) based in Croydon, Victoria manufactures engine cooling systems, air conditioning, air intake systems, fuel pump modules and instrument clusters as well as the sales of imported and aftermarket automotive products.
DENSO were looking to improve safety, specifically for operators lifting un-ergonomic Automotive AC / Heating motor body assemblies from the manual assembly station to a conveyor for transferring to the next work station. Initial internal investigation within the DENSO team resulted in the assumption that implementation of a robot to automate the process would be too complex and with poor return on investment.
DENSO, needing a solution that was able to remove potential for injury, be cost effective (ROI), fast to implement and easy for operators to adjust. DENSO selected a Universal Robot UR10 from Scott Automation & Robotics after attending SCOTT’s Melbourne office for a client demonstration. Denso worked alongside SCOTT to get a thorough understanding of the UR10’s capabilities, ironing out any questions or hesitations.
Staff at DENSO’s decision to purchase the UR10 was backed by Scott Automation & Robotics’ ongoing support and reputation as an industry leader in collaborative robotics, citing the main difference in Scotts’ approach “Scott have expert knowledge in the collaborative robot space. The technical guidance provided by Scott, along with their responsiveness to questions was second to none.”
The AC / Heating motor body assemble, weighing 8 kg is physically large and difficult to handle. DENSO considered other collaborative robot models and brands, but payload and reach eliminated most of the other units. The UR10 exceeded the project requirements in being able to perform the task required by the production process. The UR10 was able to eliminate the risk of repetitive strain injuries by removing the manual lifting and twisting that had exposed operators to risk.
“CoBots” is a contraction of the word “collaborative” and “robots” and covers a work situation where robots are working closely with people. The market for collaborative robots in the automotive industry is expected to grow by 43 percent annually over the next five years, so robot potential usefulness is far from completely played out.
If you choose to automate only the simplest 80 percent of a production process, the solution will typically be significantly cheaper than a fully automated solution. You can leave the remaining 20 percent (the technologically difficult sub-processes) to a human operator. This means that the robot may, for example, do only the dirty work such as heavy lifting or many monotonous repetitions, and has a human companion to perform the work that is more variable and requires a little more ingenuity.
Sharing processes between the robot and the operator means that operators often come into close contact with the robots. Therefore the robot must be safe – safety requirements for collaborative robots are far tougher than for closed robot cells.
Collaborative robots – in contrast to large robot cells that are either heavy maybe bolted to the floor — can typically be moved around the production area and potentially used in more than one production process. Companies that do not mass produce a product, but instead produce many product variations and different products (High Mix / Low Volume), can benefit from using collaborative robots because of the options of rapid relocation to where their work is needed, and rapid reconfiguration to deal with new tasks.
Because collaborative robots are distinguished by being flexible, they are often also much more user-friendly than their more traditional robot colleagues. It is normally easy for ordinary production workers to manage and reconfigure the robot.
5. Improving employees
Collaborative robots can perform tasks that are hard and laborious for human employees, and enable employees to produce faster, more safely and efficiently. Companies with collaborative robots are more likely to make products at a price that can compete with products produced in countries with cheaper labour. Businesses can also benefit from employees who have some spare capacity to e.g. devise new and creative methods of production and process optimization.
The World Robotics Report 2016 recently released by the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) forecasts that compact, user-friendly collaborative robots will become a key driver in the automation market.
Predictions of annual industrial robot sales will increase by minimum 13 percent per year between 2017 and 2019. This will be a ‘breakthrough’ in human/robot collaboration. This breakthrough will allow humans and robots to work side-by-side safely without the usual guarding and fences, whilst in turn increasing production quality and efficiency.
Collaborative Robot market leaders, Universal Robots welcome to report:“As the market leader of the cobot industry, Universal Robots welcomes the report which confirms the validity of our mission: lowering barriers and enabling automation in areas previously considered too complex or costly,” said Chief Commercial Officer of Universal Robots, Daniel Friis.
“Our installed base of more than 10,000 cobots worldwide illustrates the dramatic growth potential of this game-changing automation technology. We enable small and medium-sized enterprises to optimise their competitiveness on the global stage with an industry leading payback period.”
IFR has predicted the automotive, plastics, electronics assembly and machine tool industry to adopt collaborative robots at an increasing rate. Universal Robots sees strong growth in these areas.
“UR robots are now increasingly deployed on the auto assembly line, working hand-in-hand with employees, by relieving them of ergonomically unfavourable tasks. We have recent case studies documenting how cobots quadrupled injection moulding production, and how our new UR3 table-top robot is now a sought-after automation tool for light assembly, such as circuit board handling,” said Friis.
Strong and continued robot growth is forecasted by IFR in Australia and Asia, with suggested rises of 18 percent in robot supplies this year followed by installations at a rise of 15 percent. China is to remain to main growth driver with an expansion of almost 40 percent of the global supply of robot installed by 2019.
“The Asian and APAC regions are a strong focus area for Universal Robots. We opened a Shanghai subsidiary in 2013 and are constantly expanding our distributor network in the regions where customers are increasingly using our cobots to optimise product quality and automate repetitive tasks that many manufacturers have difficulty staffing with manual labour,” said Friis.
According to Friis, the demand for consumer goods across global markets is pushing manufacturers to produce innovative, high-quality products more quickly, consistently, and sustainably around the world.
“To support the growing demand for flexible cobot solutions, Universal Robots recently launched Universal Robots+, anonline showroom for end-effectors, software, peripherals and accessories from the UR ecosystem of 3rd-party developers that are optimised to work flawlessly with UR robots. This allows UR’s integrators, distributors and customers to hit the ground running when completing their next UR robot installation,” said Friis.
Free e-learnimg modules complement Universal Robots+ and are available to all, making up the basic programming and training for Universal Robots. The e-learning modules include adding end effectors, connectiong I/O’s for communication with devices (external) and setting up zones of safety. The e-learning platform is expected to help support Industry 4.0.
“It’s unprecedented in the industry to provide hands-on interactive teaching modules available for free with no licensing required. The Academy offers an instrumental tool in helping us educate the market on how our technology can address key business challenges. As Australia faces widening skills gaps reported across the agricultural, manufacturing and medical technology industries, educating future operators and programmers now to bridge this gap becomes even more important,” said Friis.
With offices in globally, SCOTT have years of experience in robot automation and are an official Australian distributor for Universal Robots. Contact one of our Solution Engineers to discuss a solution to suit your manufacturing facility.
Universal Robots, founded in 2005, makes single-arm collaborative robots that are used to do repetitive tasks in the automotive and manufacturing space for such companies as BMW. UR has sold about 10,000 robots around the world.
Universal Robots has reinvented industrial robotics with lightweight, flexible robot arms. The collaborative robots automate production even in small operations regarding automation as costly and complex. Programming is done through an intuitive touch screen, eliminating the need for skilled programmers. The robots can work alongside personnel with no safety guarding after risk assessment and are easily moved around production sites to complete detailed tasks.
The robots, lightweight and mobile, are used for a variety of jobs, including CNC machining, injection molding, and assembly-line tasks such as packaging eggs and sealing car doors. But the applications are endless: One robot assists a neurosurgeon during surgery, another UR bot films football matches in Europe, and another makescustom flip-flops.
“Our robots do the dirty, dull, and dangerous tasks people don’t want to do,” Scott Mabie, UR general manager, says.
Employees require minimal training to learn how to teach a robot a certain task and put it to work, he says. The ease of adoption is important as employees–to avoid losing their jobs–essentially have to learn how to operate the robot. In free-drive mode, an operator manually moves the arm through a task and the movements are recorded and programmed into the software.
When asked if UR bots steal jobs from humans, Mabie doesn’t hesitate: “No,” he says. “What they do is allow employees to enhance positions they are in.”
When Scott Fetzer Electrical Group, a Nashville-based appliance-motor manufacturer owned by Berkshire Hathaway, bought its first fleet of robots from UR, the employees were worried about their jobs. But Rob Goldiez, general manager of Scott Fetzer, said the company saw a 20 percent increase in productivity after the robots were deployed, which has helped Fetzer put more people to work.
“We’re bringing back business we used to send to China,” Goldiez says in a company video about the robots.
With offices globally, SCOTT have years of experience in robot automation and are an official Australian distributor for Universal Robots. Contact one of our Solution Engineers to discuss a solution to suit your manufacturing facility.
Robots that can work side by side with humans are changing the way manufacturing is done.
Collaborative robots could soon be a common sight in Australian and New Zealand factories as robots increasingly move out from behind the cage and take their place alongside workers.
Known as cobots, these robots are machines designed to interact with human employees in close working quarters. For example, during the manufacturing process, robots can undertake the physical and repetitive labour while its human counterpart simultaneously performs quality control inspections.
By collaborating with human workers, robots can provide a way to combine the benefits of automation with those of human ingenuity and handcraft. In most cases it results in a faster, cheaper and more flexible work approach – with cobots able to reduce worker idle time by more than 85%.1
Unlike their big industrial brothers working behind cages at automotive plants and other big assembly lines, collaborative robots can easily be moved or repurposed to new workstations in the factory to carry out different tasks, helping to reduce costs related to downtime. In the future, human and robot teammates could even swap tasks to learn each other’s preferences, resulting in a process that gets the job done more quickly.
Until relatively recently, the enthusiasm for this new collaborative approach has been hampered by concerns about man and machine working in such close proximity. This was in part due to safety concerns, outdated regulations and product misconceptions. However, during the past two years, significant headway has been made on all of these fronts.
The rise of the cobot
Collaborative robots aren’t the first technology to deal with largely unfounded concerns around safety. Looking back through history, fundamental technology shifts have repeatedly found similar challenges.
When the first automobiles began travelling almost at walking pace along roads that were not as developed as they are today, Britain introduced the Red Flag Act, requiring a man bearing a red flag to walk in front of every vehicle to ensure that no passers-by might be injured by this marvellous but dangerous new development in the history of mobility.
Clearly, however, it was neither practical nor feasible on a large scale to deploy such flag bearers. And if no-one had dared to dispense with them, the automobile would quite possibly never have progressed beyond the status of a rich man’s toy – despite the manifest need for mobility.
We have seen similar developments and innovation in the industrial robotics industry. It has now been 60 years since the father of modern industrial automation, George Devol, unveiled his vision of a robotic workplace, patenting the first true digital industrial robot, the Unimate, in 1954.2
Today, the rise of the cobot is proving a real game changer for the industry. Right now, cobots are redrawing the robot landscape that has existed to date and are ushering in a new way of working.
The demand for flexible and cost-effective robotic solutions has carved out a place for collaborative robots on the factory floor. However, building a safe robot is critical to the success of cobots; especially if they are going to operate in close quarters with human employees. As a result, the robotics industry globally is committed to developing new standards that include the appropriate regulations for collaborative lightweight robots to ensure businesses gain the maximum value from the technology.
Collaborative robotics has created an environment where human employees can now work safely alongside their robot colleagues.
Advanced safety features, such as using sensors to detect an opposing force or obstruction to the robot’s line of movement, ensure robots can function safely and efficiently without putting their human colleagues at risk. Cobots can also operate in a reduced mode when a human colleague enters the work cell, and then resume to full speed when they leave again – alleviating safety concerns.
In a collision, collaborative robots can deliver less force than the 150 N regulatory limit (EN ISO 13850), so depending on the application, the robot may be able to operate without an enclosure.
By reducing, or in most cases eliminating, the need for safety guarding, robotic and human employees are now able to work side by side, sharing the load of work tasks together. This also means there is often no need to invest in safety shielding and devices which need constant maintenance, providing a friendlier and more flexible work environment. Of course, end effectors and other environmental conditions could create a hazard, and a risk assessment should be done with any robotic industrial motion control application.
Collaborative robots can also help to significantly reduce the risk of employee injury. Manufacturing roles consist of labour-intensive manual tasks that can potentially be highly dangerous for employees; however, the reality is that for many workers these tasks will make up a large part of their working day.
Injuries related to both repetitive manual handling and workplace accidents cost the Australian economy millions of dollars every year. Packing and production lines in smaller operations are particularly at risk. However, in contrast to traditional industrial robots in the market, small and lightweight robots can work collaboratively with staff and take over the more repetitive and dangerous jobs, reducing the risk of staff being seriously injured while at work.
Safety in manufacturing is paramount and organisations in countries like Australia are working hard to maintain safe environments. Today, the Australian manufacturing industry is currently below the country’s average for workplace fatalities.3
For cobots to gain a foothold on the factory floor, it is critical that they maintain a high level of safety. Fortunately, new technological developments have helped this, and collaborative robots are now being considered a safe automation technology option for manufacturers of all sizes.
Giving SMEs the opportunity to grow
Collaborative robots are dramatically increasing productivity at small or medium-sized companies, providing them with the flexibility they need to grow and transform their business.
Results have shown that workplaces that encourage collaboration between humans and robots are experiencing higher levels of productivity than teams that simply consist of either humans or robots alone. This increased efficiency is creating strong growth opportunities for business and providing those, particularly in the SME sector, with the chance to drive cost down and revenue up.
Collaborative work approaches are also helping organisations maintain competitiveness in today’s global business landscape, without forcing them to take on a massive financial risk.
Making workers more productive, not unemployable
Despite the benefits of collaborative robots, there is still a strong perception within the workplace that cobots are actually going to take human jobs.
This view is completely misguided, as the need for humans on the factory floor is not going to go away. While collaborative robots are able to take away some of the more repetitive and mundane jobs from their human colleagues, they don’t have the ability to fulfil the critical roles that humans play when it comes to completing the more nuanced tasks.
Collaborative robots need to be viewed by their human teammates as a tool that can help them drive efficiency – not a technology that is going to lead to job cuts.
Today, collaborative robotics is providing human workers with the opportunity to expand their job role by freeing them up to perform more skilled activities that are more interesting and challenging.
Collaborative robots in action
Volkswagen is one company which has integrated collaborative robots at its engine production plant in Salzgitter, Germany. The collaborative robots work alongside Volkswagen staff in the cylinder head assembly section, without any safety guards, to handle delicate glow plugs. With an area of 2,800,000 square metres, Volkswagen’s Salzgitter plant is one of the largest engine production plants in the world, with some 6000 employees manufacturing approximately 7000 petrol and diesel engines in over 370 variants every day.
The automotive company uses its cobots as assistants to human workers during manufacturing, often taking charge of ergonomically unfavourable work to place the glow plugs in difficult-to-reach holes in the cylinder heads. An employee then takes over from its robotic coworker, checking placement, fixing the plug and insulating the cylinder head.
The close proximity to the cobot means the employee can keep a constant watch over the assembly process and quickly intervene if necessary. Volkswagen spent more than two years working on the project to perfect the collaborative working approach.
History has shown that industrial robotics can quickly revolutionise manufacturing and production, once initial business concerns are eased. The original industrial robots helped turn Japan into an automotive and electronics superpower in the 1960s and 70s, once they were able to see past initial concerns about having robots on the factory floor.
By embracing cobots today, both large and small manufacturers could derive a similar first-mover advantage. It has already been proven that pairing man and machine will deliver significant benefits to businesses.
Importantly, now that we have addressed these initial hesitancies, we now have the freedom to pursue even greater collaborative opportunities – making the working relationship more productive and innovative.
For more information on SCOTT’s COBOT range, click here
By Shermine Gotfredsen, General Manager, APAC, Universal Robots
Like tigers at the zoo, and potentially as
unpredictable and dangerous, robots have
traditionally been kept in cages. For protection, workers were kept on the outside looking in.
In the past couple of years, a new kind of robot has done away with some of the cages. Collaborative robots, or cobots as they are known to the cognoscenti, are robots that are designed to operate collaboratively with humans. Packaging applications are limited mainly by imagination. Currently they are in use for lightweight operations (like placing products in trays or cases) to heavy duty applications (such as depalletizing and palletizing). This article will try to take some of the mystery out of them.
The first thing to know about collaborative robots is what they are not. As Pat Davison, director of standards for the Robotic Industry Assn. (RIA) told me: “Collaborative Robot is a verb, not a noun. The collaboration is dependent on what the robot is doing, not the robot itself.”
Having said that, collaborative robots and applications generally combine some or all of the following characteristics:
• They are designed to be safe around people, either by force limiting to avoid injury if they touch, by sensors that prevent touching or by a combination of both.
• They are often relatively light weight and can be moved from task to task as needed.
• They do not require skill to program. Most cobots are simple enough that anyone who can use a smartphone or tablet can teach or program them.
• Just as a power saw is intended to help, not replace, the carpenter, the cobot is generally intended to assist, not replace, the production worker.
• Collaborative robots are generally simpler than more traditional robots, which makes them cheaper to buy, operate and maintain.
Some cobots such as the UR Series robotic arms from Universal Robots are designed to work side by side with people with no guarding at all. That doesn’t always mean that they should be. It is the application, not the robot, that determines safety requirements. Even an inherently safe cobot will require caging if it is working with dangerous loads like sharp knives. Others, such as palletizing/depalletizing robots designed to carry heavier loads, will still require cages. Modern sensors can allow these cages to be smaller, freeing up valuable floor space and allowing people to work more closely with them.
There are two basic approaches to making cobots safe. One approach, taken by Universal and others, is to make the robot inherently safe. If it makes contact with a human co-worker, it immediately stops so that the worker feels no more than a gentle nudge. Rounded surfaces help make that nudge even gentler. This approach limits the maximum load that the robot can handle as well as the speed. A robot moving a 50-lb part at high speed is going to hurt no matter how quickly it can stop upon making contact.
A sensor-based approach allows collaborative use in faster and heavier applications. Traditionally, physical barriers such as cages or light curtains have been used to stop the robot when a person enters the perimeter. Modern sensors can be more discriminating, sensing not only the presence of a person but their location as well. This allows the robot to slow down, work around the person or stop as the situation demands to maintain safety. When the person moves away, the robot can automatically resume normal operation.
No discussion of robot safety can ignore the end-of-arm tooling (EOAT). If the robot and operator are handing parts back and forth, the tooling needs to be designed so that, if the person gets their fingers caught, they can’t be hurt. There are several styles of grippers that, while capable of firmly gripping a part, are incapable of hurting flesh and bone.
Robots have come a long way in just the past 10 to 15 years. They used to be expensive, complicated machines that could be a bit scary to work with and required highly skilled technicians. Now they have become almost just another member of the team, working side by side and taking care of the ergonomically hazardous scut work nobody enjoys doing.
For more information on SCOTT’s COBOT range, click here
A collaborative robot can share a workspace with humans, meaning physical separation is not required.
This differs from current workplace practices where robots are caged to avoid harming production staff. With the introduction of sensor technology robots can detect and adapt reliably to intrusions into it’s specified zone, this ensures physical barriers are no longer essential for safe operation. Updated robot safety standards account for these advances but require the robot to possess at least one of the following characteristics to work collaboratively:
Safety-rated monitored stop
Speed and separation monitoring
Power and force limiting
The most obvious benefit from deploying a collaborative robot (besides automating a task previously done manually) is elimination of the safety cage. This frees floorspace and can lower the cost of implementing robotics. For example, a non-collaborative robot used in an automated cell must be guarded to keep operators outside. The guarding itself can be expensive, especially when gates, interlocks and interfacing to the cell controller are included. However, the cost of moving material in and out of the cell is often overlooked. While simple roller conveyors might be inexpensive, belt and pallet systems can add significantly to the cell’s cost; but with a collaborative robot, an operator can work alongside the automation, positioning the material or workpiece and removing finished pieces from the cell as needed.
Less obviously, collaborative robots also permit more flexible manufacturing practices. Even when equipped with vision systems, there are limits to a robot’s ability to handle unexpected conditions. Take a palletizing application: if one sack or bag shifted, it could destabilize the whole pallet. A collaborative robot, alerted by vision or other sensors, would summon human assistance, pausing until the problem has been fixed and then resume. Without collaborative capabilities the robot would be shut down for the operator to enter the cage. When restarting, depending on the programming, it may need to begin the cycle again with an empty pallet. Similarly, consider a material removal cell where a robot is trimming plastic moldings. Excess material builds around the tool and workpiece and pushes the plastic away from the tool. In a collaborative setup a human operator can step in to the cell and the robot will pause while the buildup is removed. Then, with the operator safely out of the way, production will resume.
Collaborative robots can save space and money and increase flexibility.
Farming is no stranger to automation, but many agriculture-related jobs demand a soft touch to handle delicate fresh foods, or require robots to work closely alongside humans and animals.
At Orkla Foods in Sweden, a UR cobot works independently to pack vanilla cream bags into cartons but is also part of a network that includes a carton erector, a carton sealer, and a filling machine. “An important requirement was that the robot had to work flawlessly so that we would not need supervision or extra support for it to work. It would also be a major advantage if it did not require safety guarding around it and could work safely alongside our employees,” says Johan Linné, site manager at Orkla Food. The payback period for the UR10 robot installed at Orkla was only six months.
Similarly, Cascina Italia processes millions of eggs per day using a UR5 robot to improve flexibility and operational efficiency. The cobot relieves employees from the strenuous process of preparing bulky packages for large-scale distribution, but its fenceless operation allows the robot to work side-by-side with employees on the production lines. The company sorts four sizes of eggs based on weight to produce more than 220 commercial options in different formats, depending on the type of packaging required.
“We are convinced that the collaborative robot solution is extremely useful for facilities like ours that have constraints on flexibility, available space and budgets for investment, which make traditional robotic solutions difficult to implement,” says Ruggero Moretti, facility manager of Cascina Italia. “The results obtained so far are excellent, so much so that we expect return on our initial investment in less than a year, with the additional advantage of having further refined and improved the quality of our packaging processes.”
Collaborative robots are ideal for hygienic food processing environments, can operate around the clock during seasonal periods of high production, and can be easily redeployed to new applications as needed.
Farming is no stranger to automation, but many agriculture-related jobs demand a soft touch to handle delicate fresh foods, or require robots to work closely alongside humans and animals.
Collaborative robots (“cobots”) are making dramatic inroads for those applications, giving agriculture and dairy operations the advantages of optimized production, increased competiveness, and the opportunity to free skilled labor for more appropriate tasks. And that all comes with the fastest payback time in the industry, making cobots ideal for agricultural operations.
GNE Farm Equipment is using collaborative UR robots to reduce the labor costs of milking cows, which is helping the company address a decade-long shortage of qualified milkers. The cobot automates the labor-intensive process of manually disinfecting cows’ udders before and after being milked, and offers dramatic improvements over traditional robotic approaches.
A typical system requires a large robot with a camera and spray system. When triggered, the robot sends a six-foot-long pipe with the sprayer under the cow to apply the disinfectant. These floor-mounted robots require expensive installation into the milking parlor floor, as well as fencing to safeguard employees. The installation process interferes with dairy production for at least a month, and even after the robot is installed, it requires professional programming and training for all employees. Modular robotic systems are an option that can reduce installation complexity, but both floor-mounted and modular approaches take up valuable floor space that reduces the number of milking stalls available—which reduces output. And if the robot loses power while the pipe and sprayer are under the cow, the spray arm could injure the cow and damage the rotary milk stall and robot, resulting in costly repairs, reprogramming, and additional production downtime.
In contrast, the UR robot is moved in place on a small pallet jack, taking up no more space than a human milker. The system includes on-board storage for the robot computer, disinfectant storage tank, pumps, valves, and controls. It needs only a 120V hookup (not 240V or 480V as required for traditional large robots), so can be plugged into any available outlet. The UR robots need no safety caging—built-in safety features stop the robot’s movement if someone enters the working area. Similarly, if the robot loses power, the lightweight, flexible spray arm bends so it won’t injure the cow and is spring-loaded to return to the working position. The UR robot is easy for the dairyman to program using the touchscreen point-and-click application and simply moving the robot arm to the desired positions.
“No other robot on the market is currently able to offer this ease-of-use system,” says owner of GNE Farm Equipment, Gerard Niessink. “Since no specialists are needed for operation, the UR robots results in a faster payback. With the available bank lease programs there is no money out of pocket for the dairy man.”
Research predicts tenfold increase, largely in manufacturing applications.
The collaborative robotics sector is expected to increase roughly tenfold between 2015 and 2020, reaching more than $1 billion from approximately $95 million in 2015, according to a new study published by ABI Research entitled Collaborative Robotics: State of the Market / State of the Art.
The growth will be fueled by three key markets: electronics manufacturers and electronics manufacturing services companies, small-to-medium manufacturers, and manufacturers seeking robotic solutions optimized to support agile production methodologies.
According to Dan Kara, practice director, robotics at ABI Research, “Collaborative robotic systems, such as ABB’s YuMi and Gomtec / Roberta platforms, Rethink Robotics’ Baxter and Sawyer, Universal Robots (Teradyne) UR family of robots,KUKA’s LBR iiwa and Kawada Industries’ Nextage, were developed in response to a number of pressing social drivers and businesses imperatives, and aided by ongoing technological innovation and dropping prices for powerful enabling technology. The sector is very dynamic and is expanding rapidly with new product offerings being released into the market from both established companies and smaller, emerging firms. Larger firms are actively acquiring smaller companies with proven technology.”
For more information on SCOTT’s COBOT range, click here
With all the news of grocery-delivering robots, wandering telepresence ‘bots andcrop-planting drone swarms, one would be forgiven for believing there is a robot takeover afoot. Well, you may be right. Some industry observers are predicting that the next big growth trend in robotics is the collaborative robot, a smaller, smarter and more lightweight version of older and more dangerous industrial-sized robots. They are designed to safely work alongside humans, rather than being sequestered in a safety cage, helping people out in various tasks while increasing productivity. But how do these machines work, and what might a collaboration between human and robot look like?
Collaborative robots — also called “co-bots” for short — come in a variety of shapes, sizes and functions. But their draw comes primarily from their ability to work in tandem with humans, in comparison to industrial robots and service robots, which often require safety cages or a wide buffer zone around them in order for them to operate. Co-bots also don’t need highly skilled technicians, and can be easily programmed via tablet or smartphone apps. Frank Tobe of The Robot Report explainswhy co-bots are the next big wave for small to medium-sized businesses:
“There are many reasons for the emergence of collaborative robots: companies are using them because they can be placed alongside humans in small-spaced electronics assembly lines, because they are affordable and easily trainable, and because they are flexible to handle short runs, repetitive and boring jobs, and ergonomically challenging tasks,” Tobe wrote.
But will its steely robot arms crush me?
Many of the built-in safety features in collaborative robots come from integrated sensors and having appendages and surfaces that are specifically rounded, padded and programmed to minimize the risk of human injury from getting pinched or worse. This is what separates lightweight co-bots from their heavy, industrial counterparts, says Tobe: “The biggest safety feature of collaborative robots is their force-limited joints, which are designed to sense forces due to impact and quickly react.”
Broadly speaking, companies are taking two different tacks when it comes to safety. One is a sensor-based approach that’s more suited to quicker and heavier applications in manufacturing, where sensor-equipped co-bots can determine the presence and location of a human nearby, and immediately respond by taking measures like slowing down, stopping or going around a person. On the other hand, safety can be built into robots themselves, meaning that any contact with a human arm or hand will stop the robot in its tracks. While certainly safer and more suited for close-range interaction, this latter approach means that these co-bots are limited in their maximum loads and speeds.
Regardless of approach, co-bots have to be designed with versatility and safety from the get-go. “No discussion of robot safety can ignore the end-of-arm tooling (EOAT),”said John Henry, an engineering and manufacturing machinery consultant. “If the robot and operator are handing parts back and forth, the tooling needs to be designed so that, if the person gets their fingers caught, they can’t be hurt.”
Robots that do delicate tasks
Companies are now differentiating themselves by offering innovative end-of-arm tooling designs can add extra value to co-bots, ranging from servo grippers to hybrid tooling that combines multiple grippers in one, to advanced tool changers and even intelligent control modules that facilitate quicker feedback between the robot and the end actuator. The result: a robot who is able to perform delicate and relatively complex tasks like folding a paper airplane, as this video of ABB Robotic’s YuMi demonstrates.
It looks like it’s only going to go up from here: according to market research firm ABI, the co-bot industry is projected to grow from $95 million in 2015 to $1 billion by 2020. The next-generation designs of these collaborative robots means they are poised to bust out of the confines of manufacturing to assist humans in places like hospitals, research laboratories, offices, homes and warehouses, and for tasks like automated assembly of electronics, packaging, handling materials, organisation, inspection and more — all in close proximity to people.
While there is understandable concern that this may mean a loss of jobs for humans, the positive aspect is that these robots will no doubt end up undertaking dirty, dumb or dangerous jobs that aren’t the best use of human potential anyway. New roles for humans will be created, like robot inspection and supervision.
“We’re starting to see robot supervisors, where their job is to orchestrate and oversee robots’ tasks on a daily basis,” says Jim Lawton, chief product and marketing officer at Rethink Robotics.
Either way, collaborative robots will redefine what we think of work, and how it gets done in the next few years.
For some companies, making the commitment to robotics can be a little scary. Dedicated industrial robots are big, expensive, difficult to program, and require safety fencing and dedicated floor space that your operation may not be able to support. But new collaborative robots are lightweight, space-saving, and easy to redeploy and reprogram. All that comes with a return on investment so fast your commitment fears will be a thing of the past.
Lightweight and easy to move for a mobile robotic workforce Collaborative robots (“cobots”) are lightweight—the largest Universal Robot, the UR10, weighs less than 30 pounds (just over 60 kg)—making them easy to move from one location to another on your production floor. The robot can be mounted in minutes, with no complex installation or set-up. And because collaborative robots are designed to work side by side with human operators (after risk assessment), there’s no need for expensive, bulky, and limiting safety guarding.
Matt Bush, then director of operations of electronics manufacturer Scott Fetzer Electrical Group in Tennessee,mounted collaborative Universal Robots on wheels to create a mobile robotic workforce that doesn’t need traditional safety enclosures. “When our workers come in in the morning, their task is no longer to do some monotonous task,” he explained. “It’s to go take the robot and deploy it to whatever job it needs to do that day.”
Injection molder Dynamic Group in Minnesota, used a similar strategy. Co-owner Joe McGillivray says, “We’re able to quickly redeploy these robots to completely new tasks in very short order. We have most of them—all of them actually—on bases that we can transport around on wheels and slide them from press to press and application to application. That’s been hugely beneficial to us.”
Optimize floor space with no safety guarding required The ability to use collaborative robots without safety fencing and dedicated cells means you can optimise even small production floors. This was a challenge Norwegian meat producer Nortura faced. The company needed to optimise its palletising application, but typical palletising robots require a large fixed cell with safety caging that takes up extensive floor space. Nortura wanted to be able to palletise continuously without stopping the production line, but needed the flexibility of using the space for other processes if there were no pallets in place.
Robotics integrator Rocketfarm AS customized a vision system to complement the Universal Robots UR10 collaborative robot for an innovative, small-footprint approach. The robot is mounted on a narrow stand (only .5m2 in standby mode) with the camera mounted in the ceiling above. The robot’s working area is simply a painted space on the floor, which marks where operators place an empty pallet. “We used maybe 10 to 20 percent of the space that a traditional robot would have used,” Lars Bårdgard Åstveit, developer at Rocketfarm AS explains. “When there’s no pallet there, the space is free—it’s as if the palletizing system doesn’t exist.”
The mobility of the UR robots is in stark contrast to traditional industrial robots that usually stay bolted down in a safety cage, according to Dynamic Group CEO McGillivray. He is able to quickly redeploy the company’s UR robots to completely new tasks in short order. “Our employees are working directly with the robot; there is no fence in between. That’s a huge savings to us on time, needing to manufacture, and costs to manufacture those enclosures and of course floor space. We’re able to fit a lot more automation in a much smaller footprint.”
“A major impediment in the past to using robots was the security fencing required around the machine,” adds Stewart McMillan, CEO of Task Force Tips, an Indiana-based manufacturer of firefighting equipment. “The beautiful thing about the UR Robots is you don’t need all that guarding. We can roll the table with the robot right up to the machine and in a few minutes teach the robot to load parts.”
Easy to program and reprogram—even for recurring tasks Collaborative robots are ideal for manufacturers with small production batches, multiple production lines, and fast change-overs. The robots’ easy programming supports agile manufacturing processes and lets manufacturers reuse programs for recurring tasks.
Dynamic Group CEO McGillivray says, “All the robots are on bases that we can transport around on wheels and slide from press to press and application to application. The fact that we can quickly reprogram and redeploy these robots enables us to effectively address our high mix/low volume challenge.”
And Task Force Tips production supervisor Cory Mack recalls how within literally minutes of the Universal Robots’ arrival, his colleagues were already figuring out how to program it and make it work. “The Universal Robot is so simple and non-intimidating that our programmers were already in the mindset of ‘I don’t need any guidance, I can do this on my own.’ It was almost like a PlayStation video game where they could pick up the controller and figure it out without reading the rules to the game.”
Cost-effective, with the fastest payback in the robotics industry The flexibility of collaborative robots—with none of the traditional added costs for programming, set-up, and dedicated, shielded work cells—means that robotic automation is finally affordable even for small and mid-sized companies. Universal Robots have an average payback period of just 195 days. That’s in stark contrast to dedicated industrial robots.
Task Force Tips CEO McMillan recalls buying the company’s first CNC machine forty years ago. Those robots were dedicated to working only on the machine they were installed with and could not be redeployed to other tasks. “So what happens is the machine wears out first and now you have a $100,000 robot that you can’t do anything with. We had heard of collaborative robots that could be used in a much more flexible manner, so we decided to explore this new technology.” Task Force Tips has now installed four collaborative Universal Robots—and the savings resulted in a return on their investment in only 34 days.
And Dynamic Group’s fast-paced and high-volume kit assembly application required six to seven employees at once. CEO McGillivray explains, “It wasn’t sustainable. Now we’re able to run it with as little as two people. Having this type of success out of the gate as first time rookies at this stuff has been phenomenal and totally unexpected. Our return on investment was less than two months, and we can even go further because we’re able to adapt the robots to other products so quickly.”
The moral of the story? Don’t be limited by dedicated robotics. Collaborative robots will help you put your automation commitment fears aside.
When you think about robots being used in business does your mind immediately jump to the manufacturing industry?
According to the International Federation of Robotics, by 2018, ‘around 1.3 million industrial robots will be entering service in factories around the world’.
But the manufacturing however is not the only sector benefitting from robot automation, there are so many opportunities to reduce costs, improve business performance, optimize production, increase quality and drive revenue in other – and often surprising applications.
Due to their flexible nature and ability to work with people, collaborative robots (cobots) are innovating all types of tasks and industries. From the environment and the medical industry to food, fashion and television, cobots are shaking things up and turning heads everywhere.
In a collaborative project with Glassworks Barcelona and Greenpeace Spain, Universal Robots technology was used to paint the digital signatures of bees as part of a project to get 250,000 people and 250,000 bees to sign a petition against the use of pesticides which are incredibly dangerous to bees.
Supporting medicine and saving lives
Collaborative robot arms are designed to mimic the range of motion of a human arm. At the Clinical Biochemical Department at the Copenhagen University Hospital in Gentofte, our cobots worked along side health care professionals to handle blood samples, enabling the lab to uphold a target of delivering more than 90% of results within an hour despite a 20% increase in samples arriving for analysis.
Cobots don’t only have a serious side they have fun and entertain as well. In France, our Universal Robots have worked side-by-side with television crews to provide the best in entertainment.
Taking centre stage on the catwalk
Our UR5 was in the front row at this L’Oreal Paris fashion event, taking photos and bringing the beautiful high-end fashion to life. A creative and innovative customer experience that saw precious moments being captured forever.
We could all do with a helping hand in the kitchen. Right? At Hannover Messe 2015, UK-based Morley Robotics unveiled an autonomous kitchen machine that used two UR5 robot arms to reproduce the movements of a chef. In 25 minutes the robotic chef prepared a bowl of crab bisque from a recipe developed by Tim Anderson, a previous winner of BBC’s Masterchef.
Cobots work with people to provide the best solutions. The opportunities for developing creative solutions with this revolutionary technology are endless.
The field of collaborative robots is currently the hottest area of interest within the robotics industry, and with good reason. The notion that humans can now work safely, side by side with a robot employee is both intriguing and groundbreaking. The recent interest in this field has paved the way for many informational articles examining collaborative robot technologies that exist in the market today. From a business perspective, however, there is still much to be discovered.
The purpose of this paper is to provide insight into some lingering questions surrounding the business case for collaborative robots and their functionality:
Which industries are most conducive for collaborative robot operation?
What features are most important to end users of collaborative robots?
Will collaborative robots replace traditional industrial robots?
What are the motivations behind design decisions of collaborative robot manufacturers?
Are collaborative robots the right choice for my business?
To answer these questions, RIA interviewed decision makers at end user companies in a variety of industries including aerospace, automotive, electronics, life sciences, and plastics. Due to the sensitive nature of their collaborative robot projects, however, these companies have requested to remain anonymous. In order to understand both sides of this industry, RIA also interviewed technical experts from leading robot manufacturers. This two-pronged research approach has generated insights of interest to both end users and robot manufacturers alike.
Automation is growing very rapidly in the aerospace industry, which is leading to many opportunities for robot manufacturers. This industry is also one of the most demanding in terms of robotic payloads. End users in aerospace often find themselves working with large, heavy parts. Because of this, safety-rated monitored stop applications have emerged as one of the most common types of collaborative robot operations. For these types of applications, many end users are making use of traditional, high-payload robots (ABB, KUKA, FANUC, etc.) complete with sensors and safety equipment. In a recent interview with RIA, an aerospace executive described an example of a safety-rated monitored stop collaborative robot application:
“During a robotic process, a worker can step into the workspace and clean or wipe off a part. Then, leave the space and press a button, for the process to resume. The entire system doesn’t have to be shut down completely for the interim cleaning task.”
Some aerospace users are also employing safety-rated soft axis and space limiting operations. This optional feature, available on newer robots, may have different names depending on the robot manufacturer, but the functionality remains the same. Safety-rated software is used to control the robot motion so that restricted space can be more flexibly designed. Case studies have shown that that this saves both floor space and cost in the system design.
Despite the high payload demands, power and force limiting robots (PFLRs) are also finding their niche in this industry. A number of users have already deployed Baxter (Rethink Robotics) and UR (Universal Robots), just not for the heavy-duty industrial applications. The main reason users haven’t adopted as many PFLRs is the lack of available applications, not price:
“Those (PFLRs) are suited for the small pick-and-place type of applications and we just haven’t had that many applications to apply them,” an end user told RIA. “Price is not a primary factor.”
Instead, these robots are deployed for development work and other new areas. For example, Baxter robots are currently being deployed in this industry to test applications to reduce ergonomic issues associated with workers performing repetitive motions. In the past, end users in aerospace were unable to apply as much automation as they wanted because the technology wasn’t advanced enough and systems were too difficult to develop. Now, with offline programming capability and increased machine accuracy, as well as the need to remain competitive in the current economic environment, everything is coming together.
Collaborative robots are certainly finding their place in the aerospace industry, but the need for humans isn’t going away. All of our interview participants were quick to dispel the misconception that collaborative robots are coming to take human jobs. Instead, they suggest, we need to view them for what they are, productivity enhancing tools for humans to use. A leading aerospace company elaborated on this need for collaborative human-robot interaction (HRI):
“We have been very successful in applying robots to small subassembly kinds of operations. But when you start getting into much larger parts, you have a stronger requirement for human and robot interaction, more-so than you might have in an automotive plant. You can’t fully automate all the processes. There are a lot of manual technical operations that still have to be done. So you would like to do those with people nearby and have the capability to know where somebody is and safely operate in that environment. It’s not practical to have all the fencing around.”
The automotive industry has been the single largest driver of the robotics industry worldwide for decades. Today, automotive OEMs, as well as tier suppliers are making use of new collaborative robot technologies. Below we will examine some applications in which automotive users are deploying collaborative robots, as well as their desires for the technology in the future. Similar to the aerospace industry, many current applications of collaborative robots in automotive applications are for ergonomic issues, meaning the robots are often taking over dull, dirty and dangerous jobs. Quality, however, is also of great importance. In a majority of cases, a collaborative robot can control its forces better than a human, and therefore be more consistent.
Traditional robot installations with safety fences are fixed points of production and require significant rescheduling for different automotive models. The relative inflexibility of these traditional cells often leads to increased costs (both in time and money) when users need to move or repurpose them. Power and force limiting robots allow them to move the robot to new positions in 1-2 hours and continue production. Saving on cost of production downtime and reducing the needed floor space are valuable benefits of collaborative robots to some automotive users. Another popular form of HRI is intelligent lift assist robots. Complete with servomotors, they are used for hand guiding large or difficult to handle parts.
The deterrent for some automotive users with regard to newer, highly publicized, PFLR type collaborative robots (Baxter, UR, etc.) has been the cost and availability relative to the overall capability of the machines:
“Light-duty payloads, fairly slow, and pretty expensive,” remarked an automotive OEM. Since the price point and overall capability of these machines are still limited, many end users are waiting to see what each robot manufacturer’s response is to these newer models. “It (collaborative robotics) is a very fascinating, exciting emerging field, but somebody will have to take a larger step for it to be practical for people like us (automotive OEMs) to embrace and start running with it.”
In applications where collaborative robots are already in use, however, human workers have reacted to them positively:
“It’s a boring and dull job that the robot is doing and they (human employees) are happy to look forward to doing other jobs. We’re not destroying jobs. We’re shifting them to more interesting applications.” Currently many of the collaborative PFLRs being installed by automotive users have a limited 10 kg payload. This is a problem for many users, who would like to see that payload ceiling increase to 30 kg at a minimum. Some automotive OEMs are actively supporting research in that direction.
A number of automotive users are also interested in more user-friendly interfaces for controlling and programming collaborative robots. For instance, with Baxter’s LCD face, they would like to see the ability to communicate across assembly lines or with other robots. Coupled with the features above, lightweight, easily portable, and modular collaborative robots that can be assembled in 1-3 hours would be ideal for some automotive users. Additionally, this industry is hungry for open source software, such as the Robot Operating System (ROS).
In many cases, mainstream automotive OEMs are looking for “full-proof” tried and true solutions. The uncertainty surrounding safety standards for collaborative robots is something automotive users are keeping their eye on:
“The industry needs something very prescriptive in terms of what is really allowed, and in the meantime it’s going to be on a slow, case-by-case basis,” according to a leading automotive OEM. “Having real definitive, prescriptive specifications that say this is what the machine does and can do, and you can validate that, I think that’s pretty important.”
When asked about the PFLRs like Rethink’s Baxter and Universal’s UR, they went on to express both the advantages and disadvantages they see with the technology:
“That’s the beauty of a limited-capability machine, because it moves so slow and produces so little force; you don’t have to worry about somebody getting hurt. So that’s one approach. The other approach is that you still have to be efficient in your operations. You have to be able to pick stuff up and be able to move it at a reasonable speed, in a reasonable distance, to actually fit into your overall manufacturing process.”
Scott Automation + Robotics envision a workplace where humans and robots are able to work together in close quarters both safely and efficiently.
Since adopting the collaborative robots (cobots) from Universal Robots (UR) SCOTT are now able to provide robotic technology solutions into high mix low volume manufacturing environments.
Universal robots collaborative robot range are user friendly, cost effective and extremely flexible. The ability for them to be used in various environments and for multiple applications makes them an ideal solution for small to medium size manufacturers looking to increase production and reduce safety risks.As the leading manufacturer of collaborative robots, Universal Robot’s range complies to the latest guidelines presented in ISO/TS 15066 and has a patented safety system featuring eight adjustable safety functions; joint positions and speeds, TCP positions, orientation, speed and force as well as the momentum and power from the collaborative robot.
A patented safety system allows the collaborative robot to operate free of safety guarding in 80% of the thousands of applications now installed worldwide. Setting up the adjustable safety features of the cobot and deciding if guarding is required for the application should only be determined after a full risk assessment is completed by a trained engineer. At Scott Automation & Robotics we are fully equipped to provide this assessment with an engineer fully accredited by TUV-Nord and our team undergoing specialised training from Universal Robots. In addition to providing a full risk assessment our teamcan train operators with no previous programming experience to set up and operate the robot in minimal time thanks to the intuitive 3d visualisation patented technology. Simply move the robot arms to the desired way points or touch the arrow keys on the easy-to-use touch screen tablet.
Aeroworks in the USA have implemented Universal’s Collaborative Robots:
“We require our robot to communicate with three CNC-machines concurrently and that can be a challenging task. Thankfully, the programming features of the robot have enabled us to execute all complex tasks efficiently.”
“Programming and handling the robot is a breeze. It is reliable and in some cases, we have programmed the robot to run for 24 hours. Our favourite feature is the “teach function” which allows us to “teach” the robot on specific waypoints with minimal fuss by hand. Being lightweight is another added benefit that we find very useful.”
Scott Automation + Robotics understands one of the most important elements of growing a business and remaining competitive is productivity. If a business is inefficient then a loss in production can occur which can result in a lower quality of work, discrepancies in output, unhappy employees and a loss in profitability. The results can be devastating.
Built for growth
Today, small and medium businesses (SMEs) must look at innovative new technologies that will create efficiencies and streamline production so they can remain agile in the market place.
Automation allows businesses to scale for faster growth and collaborative robots (cobots) are the ideal solution because of their adaptability to various industries and tasks, their fast and efficient programming and rapid return on investment.
Innovative by design
Universal Robots technology is making automation accessible to all types and sizes of business. The opportunities are endless.
A low cost robotic arm from Universal Robots can be programmed in minutes thanks to the intuitive touch screen user interface and innovative programming methods.
Experience and age is no barrier. At Robot World 2015, we looked on as these children programed the UR3 to dance simply by moving the robotic arm.
With its patented technology, employees can easily program and set up these low cost robotic arms with intuitive, 3D visualisation. The actions of the robot are controlled and programed by a touch pad or by simply moving the robot arm to show the desired path of movement. The cobots are precise and can handle the smallest of parts with complete accuracy, which is of tremendous value to SMEs
Putting manufacturers first
The Universal Robots design and technology allows manufacturers to automate their existing production lines without the need to overhaul their production layout.
The small footprint, easy programming, short commissioning time allows SMEs to have the flexibility of automating different production lines at different times/seasons for small batch/seasonal productions.
Deployment times have been reduced from weeks to a matter of hours. For example it can take an untrained employee less than one hour to unpack a cobot, mount it and program its first simple task.
This is of great value to SMEs.
Automation is now being put back in the hands of manufacturers, which means businesses don’t need to pay for expensive integration and maintenance.
It’s all about making things as easy as possible for SMEs so they can focus on their business.
PLC Industries in Singapore installed two UR10 robots that proved incredibly valuable because they were easy to program. A single worker can now look after four CNC machines, which has increased output by 40 percent.
Today SMEs are looking for easy, cost effective solutions that create maximum impact not just for themselves but for their customers as well.
Scott Automation & Robotics we are excited to be able to offer the next generation of collaborative robots to Australian manufacturers. These robots will not only provide cost efficiencies, but provide the flexibility to easily move and reprogram the one robot for different production lines as required, making them ideal for small batch manufacturers.
Universal Robots Collaborate robots (co-bots) range are perfect for dirty, dangerous, and dull jobs to reduce repetitive strain and accidental injuries. Eighty percent of the thousands of UR robots worldwide operate with no safety guarding (subject to a risk assessment), right beside human operators. The safety system of the Universal Robtos is approved and certified by TÜV (The German Technical Inspection Association).
About Universal Robots
Universal Robots makes robot technology accessible to all levels of industry. The Danish company has taken the world by storm with unique industrial robots that optimise production in ever expanding markets. By offering a user-friendly, affordable robot, Universal Robots lowers the automation barrier enabling automation in areas previously considered too complex or costly.
Universal Robots (UR) is at the forefront of a new emerging reality, launching a new class of robots, dubbed “collaborative robots” due to their ability to work directly alongside employees with no safety caging. These kinds of co-bots are poised to bridge the gap between fully-manual assembly and fully-automated manufacturing lines. Nowhere is that more obvious than in the SME sector, that up until now viewed robot automation as too costly and complex to even consider.
Three Types of Robots Available
UR3: Can handle payloads of up to 3 kilos (6.6 lbs). Working radius: 500 mm (19.7 in)
UR5: Can handle payloads of up to 5 kilos (11 lbs). Working radius: 850 mm (33.5 in)
UR10: Can handle payloads of up to 10 kilos (22 lbs). Working radius: 1300 mm (51.2)
Benefits of Collaborative Robot Arms from Universal Robots
Simple to program
Easy to install
Adjustable safety functions
Collaborative robots – can run without safety guarding, based on the results of a risk assessment
Fast payback period (quick ROI)
Works independently without any need for human monitoring and control
Extremely quiet – no irritating robot noise
True Absolute Encoders – no need for encoder battery backup
Multiple I/O’s – seamless integration with external machinery
Universal Robots give you all the advantages of advanced robotic automation, with none of the traditional added costs associated with robot programming, set-up, and dedicated, shielded work cells. Finally, robotic automation is affordable for small and medium sized enterprises.