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Robotics and Automation Special Report

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ROBOTICS & AUTOMATION RACONTEUR.NET 10 28 / 06 / 2017 ckf.co.uk info@ckf.co.uk +44 (0)1452 728753 CKF Systems Ltd is a UK leader in automated and robotics solutions FUTURE-PROOF YOUR BUSINESS T H E A U TO M AT I C S O L U T I O N Authorised Value Provider CKF 264x60 2017_v5.indd 1 26/06/2017 12:47 Can a robot be man's best friend? W e hear little about the many cobots – robots that collaborate with humans – on our fac - tory floors and in shared workspac- es. Only when a rogue robot at a car parts factory in the United States killed a technician last year did their existence come to life. Yet there's a growing legion of them doing repetitive and routine tasks in warehouses from Japan to Germany, the US to China. More than 300,000 will be sold worldwide in the three years to 2019, according to the Inter - national Federation of Robotics. "The reality is that most of our cus- tomers struggle to find enough la- bour. This problem is becoming even more pronounced as many factory workers retire and millennials are less inclined to work in manufactur - ing jobs," explains Jim Lawton, chief product officer at Rethink Robotics. Over the last few years sever- al reports have predicted a mas- sive skills shortage in the global manufacturing sector, with many millions of positions forecast to be left unfilled up to 2025. Yet the de- mand for consumer goods is predict- ed to rise. Robots working alongside humans could be the answer. "In the last eight months I've had many production managers ask about the maturity of cobots and how they can calculate a business-case for employing them in their fac - tory," says Søren Peter Johansen, technology manager at the Danish Technological Institute. One such factory belongs to Nissan in Sunderland, which is testing the use of cobots in car manufacturing. This work is part of the ROBOTT-NET project, supported by the European Union. The idea is for cobots to re - duce costs, yet be safe by design. Standards for cobotics are very complex and getting safety right is crucial. If configured correctly co - bots are not inherently dangerous. In many cases the issue is with the unpredictable human that operates alongside them. "Repetitive handling processes are simple to automate and are often unhealthy to humans. These pro - cesses are the first to be automated," explains Mr Johansen. "Cobots share the workplace with humans; they get very close to them. There- fore, the robots, the tools, and the parts carried by robots must be harmless to humans." Demand for cobots is being driv - en by increasing expectations from consumers for customised products, whether it's tailor-made vehicles, food or pharmaceuticals. "Cobots will bring increasing quality and higher productivity. They will be one of the many tools needed for ag - ile manufacturing," says Alan Nor- bury, industrial innovation manag- er at Siemens UK. More companies are relying on short runs of low-volume, high-mix Robots working alongside humans could help solve the looming skills shortage in UK manufacturing, but the cobots must be made safe COBOTS NICK EASEN We'll see more manufacturers adopting collaborative robots – they will change the way manufacturing is done globally product creations to meet consumer need. This model used to be prohibi- tively expensive, but already collabo- rative robots are helping corporations meet this demand. "It's such a fledg- ling industry that the opportunities are vast," says Mr Lawton. "We'll see more manufacturers adopting collab- orative robots – they will change the way manufacturing is done globally." Cobots have come a long way. Earlier this year, Rethink Ro - botics launched the industry's first software platform that con- nects everything in a workplace to a single robot. The software allows manufacturers to deploy full automation using the companies' cobots, Sawyer and Baxter, in a few hours; this is something that used to take weeks or months. "They're affordable, easy to de - ploy and can be trained to do new tasks quickly and without a pro- grammer," says Mr Lawton. "With the convergence of cloud comput- ing, big data and the industrial internet of things, the opportuni- ties for robots to share knowledge and optimise production on the fly will be enormous. We're only beginning to see the potential for this technology." New jobs are also likely to be creat- ed for humans in the process of cobot deployment. These robots don't pro- gram themselves. "We need people to program and configure this technol- ogy. There's a whole industry and a lot of wealth to be created in this field. Moving people out of repetitive tasks will represent a huge step-change in the UK skill landscape," says Mr Norbury. Employers will need to manage this change since workplaces will be transformed in an increasingly au - tomated environment. "This needs a lot of thought about the prepara- tion, communication and transi- tioning from an industrial to a cog- nitive age," says Mike Hobday, IBM vice president for cognitive process transformation. ERIC PIERMONT/AFP/Getty Images 01 Cobot helping a worker to control the weight of filled shampoo bottles at L'Oréal's factory in Rambouillet, France 02 Rethink Robotics cobot Sawyer has been designed to be flexible in tight spaces with seven degrees of freedom to carry out high-volume, repetitive tasks alongside humans 01 Rethink Robotics 02

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