Industrial robots have historically been separated from humans by cages and other types of guarding systems, protecting people from interacting with the machines. Collaborative robots, or cobots, are designed to have the ability to share the same space as human workers, taking over dangerous and repetitive tasks and learning from their interactions with humans.
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Industrial robots are transforming factories, production facilities and manufacturing plants around the world. Incorporating new collaborative robots (cobots) has allowed companies to boost productivity, improve quality and reduce costs. In fact, it is expected that the robotics industry will reach 2.6M units deployed worldwide by 2019 (World Robotics Report 2016, IFR). Some of the examples of robot applications include pick and place, harsh environments and assembly line.
Whenever it is feasible to utilize robots in the factory, manufacturers will often find that option irresistible. It is universally agreed that robotics technology has enabled significant productivity boost in manufacturing, especially in a large, monotonous, and autonomous assembly line (e.g. automotive plant).
What is interesting: if you ask the same manufacturers to use the same robots side-by-side with their personnel, suddenly everybody turns skeptical and asking if they are exposing their personnel to hazards. That is normal, because while everybody wants spend less effort at work, which robots could easily provide, nobody wants to get hurt.
The Robotics industry is growing at a rapid rate, especially as industry demand continues to increase. There are rapid technological advancements leading to faster and less expensive production, new and more precise applications, and job creation. This raises some unique challenges. For example, companies must now consider how to best implement automation for their industrial applications.
Industrial robots are generally used at some distance from people, to ensure human safety. Along with advancement in sensors and control technology, the latest version of the International Standard covering robots (ISO 10218) permits people to collaborate with robots. In Japan, as well, a partial revision of the Occupational Safety and Health Regulations of 2013 makes the regulation of safety fences and other protections less strict, which makes collaborative work between workers and robots possible.