The rise of ‘Cobots’ in wood man­u­fac­tur­ing

New Zealand Logger - - Woodtech 2018 -

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.

NZL

A Cobot could han­dle repet­i­tive or bor­ing tasks around the mill.

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