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Implementing Cobots in Your Manufacturing Facility: 7 Tips for Success

Updated: Dec 9, 2021

Adding a cobot to manufacturing operations is about more than just a robotic arm. Use these tips to make sure you get the most from your investment.

OB7 cobot packaging bottles

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Would you ever buy a piece of equipment, say a new CNC machine, and leave it to collect dust in a corner of your facility instead of using it? Of course not! Equipment is a big capital investment that must be running in order to contribute to ROI.

And yet, in both large and small factories, collaborative robots (i.e., cobots) are sitting in unopened boxes instead of doing what they do best: enhancing productivity. We see this time and time again when we visit manufacturers that ask us for advice on cobot automation.

Why would a company buy a cobot but not implement it? In many cases, it comes down to a lack of time or know-how. Today’s cobots are vastly different than the industrial robots of just a couple of decades ago, but they do still require some planning and skill to get up and running.

Don’t let that deter you from adding cobots to your operations! You can set yourself up for success if you know what capabilities and features to look for in a cobot (and cobot vendor), and by anticipating the set-up tasks that go along with integrating a cobot yourself. Here are our seven tips on how to do this successfully.

1. Determine How the Cobot will Interact with its Environment

We often focus on the cobot arm, but it is really only one component of an automated workspace or cell. Before you can put it to work, answer these questions:

  • Where will it be located in the work area? Can you roll the cobot into the space where the employee formerly stood or does the work area need to be redesigned first?

  • Once the cobot is in place, does it limit employee access to the area?

  • If the cobot will be tending/operating a CNC machine, how will it interface with that machine? Must it be electronically integrated, or can the cobot operate physical controls (e.g., opening and closing machine doors, loading and unloading parts, or pushing the start button)?

It’s important to remember work areas are designed for human beings, whose inherent flexibility and dexterity allows for a variety of movements. Typical cobots (and industrial robots) have six joints, which make them substantially less maneuverable than a human arm and hand. In contrast, cobots like Productive Robotics' OB7 have seven axes (or joints), which give them a level of maneuverability similar to a human arm.

In general, more axes equal more flexibility and versatility: Cobots with seven axes can fit into tighter spaces, reach around, between, and through obstacles, or be located on the side of the work area, so you have more options for placement. Look for a model that won’t require the workspace to be redesigned to fit both the cobot and an employee.

2. Determine if You Really Need an Integrator