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Should You Employ a Cobot?

Should You Employ a Cobot?
Image courtesy of Tegra Medical
There are a number of money-saving and money-making uses for collaborative robots, shares a speaker at the upcoming MD&M Minneapolis conference.

Collaborative robots can often take on repetitive tasks, freeing up skilled operators to focus on more-complex tasks. “A robot never gets sick, never gets tired, yet is flexible enough to be moved around a manufacturing plant based on plant demand,” Daniel Atherton-Moore, technical supporter, Universal Robots, told MD+DI. At MD&M Minneapolis on October 31, Atherton-Moore will share how medical device companies can transform their manufacturing with such cobots in “Working Together with Humans: Deploying Collaborative Robots to Improve Manufacturing Operations.”

Cobots are already being put to use in medical device manufacturing. “As cleanroom-rated devices (ISO 5 for the robot arm) with 50 micron repeatability, our arms are suitable for use in RABS units, on aseptic device production lines, and for manipulating quality inspection cameras,” he said. “Many also get used on medical production lines that have more in common with traditional manufacturing, like Swiss Lathes and other kinds of machine tending operations.”

Atherton-Moore believes that there is always a place for collaborative robotics, even in traditionally manual processes. “They can delicately sense the meshing of intricate parts and apply a bit of basic machine logic to ensure parts fit together properly,” he said. “Sometimes customers may need some help with fixturing and part presentation, but we have hundreds of Certified System Integrators who can help build some or all of cell for a customer.”

They are also suitable for low-volume production. “Because our robot can be programmed and reprogrammed in minutes or hours instead of days and weeks, it’s not much of a problem to run small batches of parts,” he said. “Program it and let it run--now your operator can work a different line instead. High-mix low-volume is a huge part of UR’s customer base.”

The standards and safety requirements around robots and collaborative robots can first seem a little intimidating, said Atherton-Moore. “All the technical language can be a little impenetrable until you realize that the risk assessment for a collaborative robot is the same as for any other piece of equipment in your plant,” he said. “And since UR robots contain 17 Cat3 PL.D adjustable safety functions, you have a host of tools for ensuring safe operation even around small and delicate parts and working right alongside operators.”

Atherton-Moore will touch upon the following topics during his talk:

  • Impacts for current manufacturing practices, including sterilization and cleaning. “With autoclaved 316 stainless end-effectors, many manual tasks can be automated cheaply and effectively,” he said.
  • Standards, including risk assessments, to learn before implementing a collaborative robot installation. “RIA TR R15.306-2016 is a great guide to risk assessments. ISO TS 15066 is focused on collaborative robotics. RIA TR R15.706/806/906 will soon be published and will also contain useful information, but all of these are just tools for the most important part of robotics: proper risk assessments,” he said. He will also cover “preliminary risk assessment during the design, final risk assessment after completed installation, sign-off with the end-user management, maintenance, and operator team."
  • Best practices for working closely with collaborative robots. “A collaborative robot does not, by itself, make for a safe robotic system. Once you mount the tooling, incorporate the product, and put the robot into an environment, you need to think about how the robot interacts with all those things,” he advised.

Atherton-Moore hopes that attendees of his talk will “realize that there are a host of money-saving and money-making uses for robots that they had previously written off as untenable for their company.” He added that “we’ve worked as hard as we can to make integration a snap. We have an ever-growing repository of How-To articles on our website, including code snippets, programming examples, and walk-throughs for some non-UR products. Additionally, our whole UR+ ecosystem is a clearinghouse of tools, end-effectors, covers, and programming environments all certified for easy hardware and software integration into our robot.”

Don't miss “Working Together with Humans: Deploying Collaborative Robots to Improve Manufacturing Operations" at MD&M Minneapolis on October 31.

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