September 2021

T here is a key concern amongst employees that the rise of robots will ensure the human worker extinct. This concern is mostly unfounded and is a result of scaremongering. In more recent years, new ways of thinking have gained traction; rather than make their human counterparts redundant, the manufacturing robots of the future will work collaboratively alongside them. This future can be witnessed with the introduction of collaborative robots, commonly known as “cobots”, robots invented to complement human workers, operating in almost any environment. While we excel at complex thinking and problem-solving, robots are proficient at bringing accuracy to repetitive, and sometime unsafe, time-sensitive tasks. What if robots do all the heavy-lifting and monotonous error-prone tasks, and employees are able to focus on more challenging and meaningful work. What if production lines were able to flow unsupervised with minimal error? The workforce of the future sees robots working collaboratively with employees and complement their work, improve efficiency, and increase productivity. Well, that future already exists. Small, lightweight, and designed to operate safely for close human operation, cobots are an ideal entry point for many businesses looking to embrace robotics. Cobots can execute tasks with minimal programming and can be adapted to integrate into existing processes. Cobots are a world away from their industrial robot counterparts and well suited to SMEs. Around the world these collaborative robots are widely integrated and viewed simply as tools that coexist alongside human employees – allowing them to be more efficient. Cobots are increasingly attractive to manufacturers who require flexible solutions for their production lines but may not have the capital needed to justify large investments in automation systems. A recent study by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) found that cooperation reduced human idle time by 85%, making cobot- Process, Controls & Plant Focus on: Robotics & Automation 32 | Plant & Works Engineering September 2021 We’ve seen a gradual increased presence of robots on manufacturing factory floors, and industries that have embraced automation have seen an increase in efficiency and productivity. Gary Livingstone* reports. Transforming the factory floor