In­ter­act­ing with hu­mans, cobots will save time and money.

Business Today - - THE BREAKOUT ZONE - BY Manu Kaushik

THE RISE IN deaths on shop floors caused by rogue ro­bots in re­cent years has prompted the man­u­fac­tur­ing sec­tor to look for al­ter­na­tives. En­gi­neers have found a so­lu­tion in cobots – col­lab­o­ra­tive ro­bots – that work along­side hu­mans like help­ing hands, which tra­di­tional in­dus­trial ro­bots can­not be used for.

While in­dus­trial ro­bots have been around for decades – the first one worked on a Gen­eral Mo­tors assem­bly line in 1961 – the first com­mer­cial cobot was de­vel­oped by Den­mark-based Uni­ver­sal Ro­bots (UR) in 2008. Full-scale adop­tion started only in 2016. Glob­ally, cobots are used in neu­ro­surgery, bar­tend­ing, phys­io­ther­apy, film­mak­ing and in­dus­tries.

To­day, there are about 400 UR cobots in In­dia, across sec­tors, es­pe­cially auto and auto com­po­nents, FMCG and elec­tron­ics. “We are grow­ing at 100 per cent plus. Large com­pa­nies are go­ing to buy ro­bots be­cause they have no choice. The fu­ture growth will come from small and medium en­ter­prises (SMEs) be­cause they have got no au­to­ma­tion. A com­pany buys one, and two months later, they buy an­other just as they see bot­tle­necks mov­ing down the pro­duc­tion line,” says Pradeep David, GM (South Asia) at UR.

Ro­bots and cobots have dif­fer­ent tech­nolo­gies. A fac­tory with 100 per cent au­to­ma­tion needs ro­bots with so­phis­ti­cated sen­sors, cam­eras and se­cu­rity sys­tems, which is an ex­pen­sive propo­si­tion. Cobots, on the other hand, em­pha­sise on par­tial au­to­ma­tion where there’s no need for sen­sors to do the job. The cost dif­fer­ence be­tween ro­bots and cobots is huge, and that’s why the lat­ter is more suit­able for SMEs. “The need for prod­uct cus­tomi­sa­tion, cost and flex­i­bil­ity are driv­ing the growth of cobots,” says David.

Cobots can­not do any­thing on their own; they have to be en­gi­neered into a par­tic­u­lar ap­pli­ca­tion. UR has part­nered with spe­cialised firms to de­velop solutions for end users. For in­stance, it has tied up with Ger­many-based G+D to sort and process notes in cur­rency chests. In In­dia, cobots are cur­rently used by four banks.

David does not think cobots pose a threat to jobs, but says com­pa­nies might ra­tio­nalise low-level jobs. “Com­pa­nies have also been able to re­de­ploy their ex­pen­sive man­power to other func­tions.”

Ro­bots are a $40-bil­lion mar­ket glob­ally, whereas the cobot mar­ket will reach $1 bil­lion next year. Al­though the mar­ket for cobots is grow­ing fast – at 65 per cent CAGR – there is still a long way for them to be­come main­stream. Their fast adop­tion de­pends on the range of prob­lems they can solve for a va­ri­ety of users.

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