The rise of ‘Cobots’ in wood manufacturing
ECONOMIES OF SCALE CAN MAKE IT HARD FOR SMALL AND medium sized sawmills and wood processors in New Zealand to introduce technology, but not impossible.
Delegates attending the WoodTECH 2018 conference in Rotorua last month heard that robotics can be introduced to wood plants effectively and economically thanks to new advancements.
As we move towards more automation we’ll see the rise of a new generation, called ‘Cobots’ or Collaborative Robots. These latest generation robotic systems are designed to work alongside humans and thanks to the latest sensor and vision technology, Cobots are able to handle a multitude of tasks that are very repetitive and very boring to humans.
Mike Shatford, Managing Director of Christchurch-based automation specialists, Design Energy, says robotics can be introduced affordably and he pointed to Wood Engineering Technology (WET) in Gisborne that is using small-scale industrial automation to produce unique engineered wood products.
“At this scale, industrial robots have become more affordable and they’re very flexible, which makes them ideal for SME’s in New Zealand,” says Mr Shatford.
Cobots can be used in a variety of tasks around a small manufacturing process because they are easy to programme, fast to set up, flexible and safe – they don’t need safety cages to protect human workers around them as they can sense obstacles and adjust their speed or reverse to avoid crashing into people.
Mr Shatford says it is possible to automate existing processes but adds that business owners should also look to develop products with automation in mind and make the most of the flexibility it provides.
A Cobot could handle repetitive or boring tasks around the mill.