Rethink Robotics Inc., a company known for making collaborative robots Sawyer and Baxter abruptly shut down Oct. 3, leaving the injection molders who bought the expressive-faced "cobots" looking for alternatives.
Rethink Robotics introduced the two-armed Baxter in 2012 and began shipping them the following year. The single-arm Sawyer came out in 2015.
Collaborative robots can work side-by-side with human workers and need no special safety guarding. Baxter and Sawyer can sense when a worker is in the way and stop running. The screen faces of Baxter and Sawyer turn toward the person and change their expressions, raising their eyebrows or giving a quizzical look.
The face made the Rethink cobots immediately recognizable, even to people who know nothing about robots or manufacturing.
Prices were low, at around $20,000, encouraging molders to try them out. The camera-equipped robot arms can adjust how they grab objects in random patterns. They have a payload of only 5 pounds — making Baxter and Sawyer well-suited for taking plastic parts off a conveyor and putting them in a box. They are easy to program on the shop floor.
Some injection molders considered using the cameras in the arms for quality control inspection.
At Vanguard Plastics Corp., a custom molder in Southington, Conn., Baxters plays a key role in a quality check of an automotive part.
"We're using it for an integrated quality system," President Chris Budnick said. "Baxter takes the part from a person and puts it into a fixture, and based on the test, Baxter puts it in the good box or the bad box."