Collaborative robots, more commonly known as cobots, represent the fastest-growing segment of industrial robots. Cobots can be used to address specific problems, such as lack of labor, or to automate mundane, repetitive tasks that require zero thinking to maintain quality. From intelligent lift-assist devices in warehouses to assembly lines, the emergence of cobots with vision-integrated systems for obstacle avoidance is offering new opportunities to integrate automation in the smart factory.
As Industry 4.0 continues to transform industrial operations, companies aim to increase productivity and improve utilization by integrating robotics and automation to assist humans. New-generation cobots have combined the need for safety with maximum productivity. Now that this breakthrough has finally been reached, there’s nothing holding collaborative robotics back.
Cobots are effectively cheaper than the robots because they are available in various forms and have multiple payload options, and because they have a more flexible envelope of reach due to their flexible structures. Moreover, installation and maintenance are much cheaper due to built-in safety features that add to ROI in the long run. Even small-scale industries can afford these – by introducing them in small phases and scaling up as budgets allow.
The human factor in testing: a strong or weak link?
As the number of test cases or use-case combinations increases, the tester may find it difficult to cope with the complexity while maintaining the pace and accuracy of the testing process. There is a need to automate as much as possible in order to leave more time for the human to interpret and analyze the results. Cobots are being developed and designed to assist humans. They are safe, flexible, and easily programmed. Reallocating tasks to cobots gives human industrial employees the opportunity to retrain and upskill. Targeted use of collaborative robots can free up employees for higher-value, better-paid tasks, without the need to completely reconstruct the whole engagement process.
Testbeds involving cobot movements can sometimes pose very interesting challenges – for example testing a guitar would involve holding and striking the strings in unique patterns and delicate strokes with repeated accuracy. Cobots are fully capable of fulfilling such tasks and they are also designed to meet the flexibility challenges.
Safety aspects of cobots deployment in testbeds
Cobots are inherently safe and comply with contemporary industry safety standards. There are clear guidelines for deployment of cobots and their safety aspects. These guidelines advocate task-based risk assessment of the deployment to ensure safety. Testbeds are equally challenging as a manufacturing line when it comes to handling the nature of the task. Cobots may have to handle heavy payloads (e.g., drop weight), sharp objects (e.g., knife or marker), hazardous tools (e.g., lasers, grippers) that may pose a risk to human co-operators or threaten the safety of the device under test.
ISO 10218‑1 and ISO 10218‑2 specify requirements and guidelines for the inherent safe design, protective measures, and information for the use of industrial robots. ISO/TS 15066-2016 builds upon the two previous standards and provides safety requirements for collaborative industrial robots. The Robotics Industries Association (RIA) put together a technical report in 2016, the RIA TR R15.606-2016, which enhances the safety of personnel with collaborative industrial robot systems.
Although cobots are developing quickly and finding wide-ranging acceptance, challenges remain that prevent them from being applied to the vast majority of end-to-end automation tasks. To address these challenges, industry leaders are developing cobots with faster processors and integrated vision systems. These innovations allow cobots to be more productive, adapt to environmental changes, and feature the possibility to operate at full speed.
As technological advancements facilitate cobot and human co-working, the testing arena is changing rapidly and cobots are proving crucial to speed up the testing channel to cope with overall product lifecycle challenges. Introducing cobots into the testing space is a specialized task, which requires domain understanding of robots as well as verification and validation. In addition, a methodical approach is needed to achieve maximum automation and sustainability while maintaining a safe collaborative environment.
New-generation robots can sense, plan, and act to perform tasks. The adoption of next-generation technologies such as robotics to improve the efficiency and reliability of products and system testing is enabling the Intelligent Industry.
Read our point of view to learn more about the role of robots in device testing applications, the evolution of collaborative robots in testing, their ability to achieve the desired role in testing, and the parameters to define types of cobots and their specifications.
Nakul Mudgal is a hardware and robotics enthusiast working with Capgemini’s Digital Engineering and Manufacturing Services. Expert in solving day-to-day test automation challenges with the latest technologies such as collaborative robots, IoT, and leading-edge automation technologies.