Friedrichshafen, Germany — Collaborative robots have a presence at Fakuma 2018, as Sepro Robotique, debuted its Seprobot, Fanuc Corp., showed its CR Series, and a new player, Hahn RobShare, rents them out like temporary workers. Company officials say cobots have a bright future.
A strict definition of collaborative robots is a robot that can work side by side with human workers and needs no special safety guarding. The six-axis robots offered by Sepro and Fanuc don't fall into that exact terminology: The Seprobot has a separate vision sensor that can slow the robot down as a worker gets close by or shut it down as he or she gets even closer; the CR robot will stop if you touch it.
Both articulating-arm robots are full-sized industrial robots that can work with speed and precision, and they can handle much heavier payloads than other types of cobots — namely, Baxter and Sawyer cobots from the now-defunct Rethink Robotics Inc.
Boston-based Rethink Robotics abruptly closed on Oct. 3, ending production of robots with arms and an expressive face that changed expressions and turned toward human workers as they approached. Baxter and Sawyer were easy to program but moved slowly by traditional robot standards and handled limited payloads.
Robot experts at Sepro and Fanuc — both major makers of heavy-duty industrial robots — said there are plenty of better cobot alternatives, and the market is changing. While both companies' collaborative robots need some limited guarding, the cobots can be easily moved around to other molding cells in a factory.
Traditional fixed-type of automation is harder to move.
Speed, accuracy and heavy-duty robustness are important advantages of both cobots. They both have cameras to see molded parts, adapt to changes or do quality checks.
The Seprobot is two or three times faster than a typical cobot, the French company said. The Seprobot is made by Yaskawa Electric Corp., known as Yaskawa Motoman in North America. At Fakuma, a Seprobot is quickly moving parts from one storage pallet to another and back.
The Seprobot has see-through guarding panels on each side. One end of the workspace is open, marked with two lines to demonstrate how the robot adapts to a person getting nearby.
"The principle is you have normal industrial robots working at full speed," said Xavier Lucas, Sepro's global service and automation director.
Sepro said its type of injection molding cobot will grow quickly in the market. By 2025, Sepro officials predict, faster industrial cobots will account for 40 percent of all industrial robots, compared with just 10 percent for the slower, 100 percent collaborative robots like Baxter.
"So we think the majority of the needs from the market will be the solution where robots will work closely to the operators but will not interact directly with the operator. You will not have a direct connection between both," Lucas said.
Traditional robots performing with full guarding, doing defined, isolated tasks, will account for 50 percent of robots by 2025, Sepro predicted.
German automation supplier Hahn Group still believes the Baxter-style robots have a place in plastics factories.
About six months ago, the company started Hahn RobShare, which rents cobots to factories in plastics processing, metal fabrication, logistics and even, according to RobShare CEO Silvester Keijzer, for service positions like receptionists to buzz people into the plant.
Keijzer has a background in temporary staffing agencies, working at Kelly Services Inc. and Addeco Group. Hahn RobShare has specialists in robot engineering, software and temporary help firms.