by Ben Mintz, Sales Engineer, Intek Systems

UR programming
Programming the UR10 robot through an intuitive touch screen.

When asked how they envision robots, most people think of huge, unwieldy robots working in fenced off areas in large factories. Or, they think of futuristic cyberbots mimicking human behavior. Somewhere between these two scenarios a new reality is emerging: a new class of robots, dubbed collaborative robots or – simply cobots – poised to bridge the gap between fully-manual assembly and fully-automated manufacturing lines. Unlike their big brothers working inside safety fencing at automobile plants and other large assembly lines, collaborative robots are lightweight, flexible and can easily be moved and reprogrammed to solve new tasks. This makes them perfect for companies which require more advanced processing capabilities in smaller batch sizes. Innovative force-sensing enables the Universal Robot (UR) to automatically stop operating f it encounters obstacles in its path. This means the robot can work alongside employees with no safety guarding after performed risk assessment.

Lowering the entry barrier

The rule of thumb has always been that a robot costs about the same as two year’s salary of a human worker. Collaborative robots are closer to one fourth of that price. Capital costs of traditional robots account for only 25 to 30 percent of the total system costs. The remaining costs are associated with robot programming, setup, and dedicated, shielded work cells. The “out of box experience” with a collaborative robot is typically less than an hour. That’s the time it takes to unpack the robot, mount it, and program the first simple task through an intuitive touchscreen user interface. Or, by simply grabbing the robot arm and showing it the desired path of movement.

These were some of the benefits experienced by injection molder Dynamic Group, a contract manufacturer that wanted to maximize their existing labor force. Three collaborative robot arms from Universal Robots have now taken over several repetitive tasks resulting in improved product consistency and a 400% increase in production capacity.

UR Pic #1
A vision sensor detects if the table is empty before placing the finished part on the table in front of the operator. If an object is detected, the robot automatically stops.

Dynamic Group uses UR robots working collaboratively in three different applications: the first two robots tend complete machine cycles – picking and placing “book frames” into an injection molding machine, and transporting molded parts to trimming and degating fixtures, where the parts are then placed in front of employees for further handling. The third robot is deployed in a kitting application, placing sterile wipes and saline solution in a clam shell that is placed on a conveyor.

Companies, like Intek Systems who is a distributor of Universal Robots, can provide technical design and support for clients seeking robotic solutions in a wide range of industrial and manufacturing applications. They can discuss how collaborative robots can successfully enhance a manufacturer’s capacity and bottom line, Co-Owner of Dynamic Group, Joe McGillivray, stresses the UR robots’ ease of use and fast ROI. “Having this type of success out of the gate with little prior experience with robots has been phenomenal and totally unexpected. The return on investment was less than two months.”

Ben Mintz is a Sales Engineer at Intek Systems, part of Neff Group Distributors.