Cobot also known as collaborative robots work as an assistant of a human being and in other words it can be defined as the hardware version of Augmented Intelligence. As robots replace humans and do their jobs, but it’s not in the case of cobots. Cobots can automatically learn any kinds of tasks through demonstration and reinforcement learning. According to Barclays Equity Research, the global sales of cobots have already crossed US$120 million in the year 2015 and this figure is predicted to grow to $12 billion by the year 2025. The best part of cobots is, they don’t replace humans and they do work with them and learn easily. The use of cobots is safe because they can be interactively controlled by the humans while performing a joint task.
Cobots have been trained in a different manner as comparison to traditional industrial robots. The main theory of the cobot is its cooperation and ability to work in close proximity to humans. These cobots are aimed at augmenting what humans do, to make humans more effective, efficient, and enhanced. Indeed, if the old robotics focused on the 4 D’s, then you can think that cobots focus on efficiency, effectiveness, and enhancement.
If we see the usage of cobots, so it can be easily programmable than industrial robots because they are capable of “learning” on the job. If a normal worker wants, he can re-program the cobots movements and from that moment cobot will learn and do work accordingly on its own. Industrial robots is totally opposite of cobots, it cannot be reprogrammed easily, and require an engineer to write new code for any changes in the process to be implemented.
Nitisha from BISinfotech, talks with James McKew, Regional Director – APAC, Universal Robots, Jayakrishnan Thrivikraman Nair, CEO, ASIMOV Robotics Pvt Ltd, Sameer Gandhi, Managing Director, OMRON Automation, India, Dibyananda Brahma, VP – Growth, Mukunda Foods Pvt Ltd, Dr. Sudhir P. Srivastava, MD Chairman & CEO, SS INNOVATIONS and Kaundinya Panyam, VP- Marketing, Invento Robotics about the cobots and its future potential to disrupt advance and current applications.
The Leading Players – An Overview
While sharing the USP of its company, James says, Universal Robots is the pioneer of lightweight robotics as well as human-robot collaboration. We’re a Danish company that develops and manufactures collaborative robots or cobots with the goal of making automation accessible to everybody. Our products are easy to program, flexible and cost-effective.
Asimov robotics has a specific focus on developing robots that coexists and cooperates with human beings and capable of working with dynamic and unstructured environments. Our robotic solutions are comprehensive, compact and cost-effective compared to our competitors, shared Jayakrishnan. The company also focuses on keeping the key software and hardware robots modular and reusable. It also helps them to customise its offerings for undertaking any complex tasks in a short period of time.
Sameer’s Omron Cobots come with several industry leading features like integrated vision and easy programming which help in easy setup and ease of use. Also, Omron offers a wide portfolio ranging from panel components, PLCs, safety components, vision, etc, which is extremely helpful to the customers to build complete one stop solutions.
The robotic features are not only available in automotive sector or healthcare; it has widely been used in hospitality also.
While emphasizing the Mukunda Foods’ specialities, Dibyananda explains, Mukunda Foods is not only a kitchen equipment company, we work as an extended arm of kitchen automation partner. The company helps a lot of brands even before the first rupee hits its accounts. Unlike other fancy kitchen bots, our bots are price sensitive and also guarantee ROI. Since we take care of all three aspects of the product (R&D, Manufacturing & Aftersales) it gives more confidence to the customer.
Dr. Sudhir says, we have developed a low-cost robotic surgical system that costs 1/3rd that of the market leader. This brings our system within reach of medium and small hospitals and also reduces the cost per surgery making it affordable to a large section of the population who can benefit from this technology.
Kaundinya creator of one of the popular robots ‘Mitra’ has not only achieved appreciation from India but also from all over the world. “Mitra – The Healthcare Robot” is all about taking steps towards self-reliance and innovativeness in the field of manufacturing and bringing a healthcare revolution in India.
While talking about Invento Robotics and its Mitra Robots, Kaundinya shares that its customers include Bosch, Accenture, MG Motors, Apollo Hospitals, Fortis Hospitals and Yatharth Hospital among many others. The company is scaling up fast and ready to tap into the massive healthcare industry not only in India but globally. Its products have already been shipped to five countries so far – Australia, Qatar, UAE, Singapore and The United States of America.
Today, cobots can perform any task from farmers to factory, healthcare to hospitality everything. There is a huge market which can improve every sector and industry in today’s world. The electronics & technology, food & beverages, automotive, medical/pharma, and the plastics/polymer sectors have a great potential. These are the sectors that can highly benefit with robots.
Elaborating about Universal Robots’ extensive testing on cobots at its facilities, James stated, “Bajaj deployed the cobots as a standardized solution for all its functional requirements, primarily due to the collaborative nature of the robots, and key benefits such as their compactness, flexibility, light weight, cost-effectiveness, accuracy and safety. Several processes such as material handling and machine tending are now collaboratively handled by the cobots and Bajaj employees”.
In an effort to solve the issues created by changing production lines with manual loading systems, the ZEISS Metrology Centre, part of Carl Zeiss India (Bangalore) Pvt. Ltd., installed a UR5 cobot, which increased the company’s machining utilization by over 90% and gave it the ability to manufacture 24×7. A single cobot arm now tends three metrology machines in the same cycle, James added.
While explaining the difference between industrial robots and cobots, Sameer says, Industrial Robots do not have innate safety features and hence need to be isolated from humans by safety fences, scanners and other devices. Cobots on the other hand are equipped with power, force, speed and separation limiting functions that enable them to sense the presence of human body parts like hands, arms, etc. and slowdown and stop accordingly. Other benefits are – cobots are usually lighter, compact, can be turned mobile, easy-to-operate, and easy-to-train.
Mukunda Food is solving major pain points in the F&B sector such as People, Process and Product using automation. We make the machines which are affordable and not too fancily priced. All our products give ROI in 9 to 12 months of time. We are currently working with reputed F&B companies and large Kitchens such as Rebel Foods, Ola Foods, ITC, Chaayos, Swiggy, etc. in automating parts of their foods and beverages. Till now, we have automated 21+ processes, said Dibyananda.
Industrial automation has huge role in medical sector. Today, numbers of hospitals are trying to adapt robotic features. “The use of the surgical robotic system improves medical outcomes for the patients in terms of quicker recoveries and enabling surgeons to perform complex surgical procedures for extended periods of time with an ergonomic and intuitive user interface”, mentioned Dr. Sudhir.
There was a time when due to COVID-19 pandemic, nobody was capable to meet their loved ones. Phone and internet was the only source of communication, but for Covid patient that facility was also not allowed. During that time ‘Mitra Robot’ from Invento Robotics played a major role. “Yatharth hospital wanted to add more ways of automation to their already impressive hospital. Located in Delhi NCR, the director of the hospital, wanted a solution using which patients would be able to interact with their friends and relatives. We chose to solve this problem using Mitra robot”, shared Kaundinya.
He added, “The danger of the virus was well known and having an autonomous machine, backed by face detection and speech recognition technology, to do the dangerous job sounded like a perfect idea. The robot was able to facilitate multiple one to one conversations between the patient and their friend and relatives. The doctors also used the robot to conduct routine checkups with help of the remote consultation feature in the robot.”
Sectors Adopting Collaborative Robots (Cobots)
- Universal Robots collaborative robot arms are used to boost performance and add value in countless industries every day. Resilient businesses use collaborative robots to adapt and grow, even during difficult times. In almost every industry, cobots are taking on new tasks, helping companies stay competitive, and protecting workers.
- Bigger manufacturers in the arena of industries like automotive, secondary packaging, FMCG, consumer electronics have made considerable progress in adopting them. The SMEs who are keen to make rapid strides in achieving better levels of flexibility, quality, consistency amidst challenges like little or no scope of extension or modification of the shop floor space, shortage of skilled manpower, meagre capital infusion capabilities are also showing enhanced levels of interest in cobots especially in the new normal, shared
Dibyananda feels, from Large Cloud kitchens to Large FMCG brands for Fresh food vending or from Individual outlets to QSR chains every industry is moving towards the Cobots. In fact, post COVID we are seeing client coming from US, UK and other parts of the world to have their food automated using our technology. Recently, we have signed up with a large US brand to make Pizza line automatic.
According to Dr. Sudhir, sectors such as Automotive and Aerospace have been the traditional users of robotics for material handling and automated assembly. The advantage that cobots offer in terms of close collaboration with humans has opened up avenues in varied sectors such as healthcare, services, food industry, etc.
Kaundinya says, manufacturing sector has adopted cobots long ago and has seen great improvements in productivity. Healthcare sector will see the next big wave of adoption. Surgical robots are advancing rapidly while the demand for companion robots has been realised in recent years and industry leaders are opening up to its use in hospitals and senior care.
The benefits of Cobots (Collaborative Robots)
Today’s modern world has definitely required such facilities, which can make our lifestyle much easier and simpler. Collaborative robots or Cobots have numerous benefits, James says, Resilient businesses use collaborative robots to adapt and grow, even during difficult times. In almost every industry, cobots are taking on new tasks, helping companies stay competitive, and protecting workers. When business conditions call for agility, flexible cobots fit the bill. Optimize them for output or precision as needed. Move them from one task to another. Redeploy them for new product lines. With easy setup, they get to work fast so you can start reaping the benefits right away. Cobots let you automate more processes with greater consistency and higher quality. Precise, flexible, and easily redeployed cobots support your agile production requirements. Safely distance workers on repetitive tasks while increasing output.
Cobots help you reduce the risk of human contamination in sensitive processes and clean environments. UR collaborative robot arms can be used for sterile, precise handling and assembly of medical devices or implants. Robots can also relieve workers from material handling jobs in dusty, loud, and high-vibration operations, allowing them to move to higher-value tasks. And with UR+ certified vision systems, cobots can perform detailed quality inspections, he added.
Jayakrishnan emphasized the valued of cobots and says, Covid has worked as a catalyst to the adoption of Industry 4.0. Perhaps, Covid is the biggest and latest socio-economic black swan event that has redefined almost everything including our lifestyle and social behaviour. Since pandemic has affected the physical closeness and cooperation of the human work force, Collaborative robots gained a lot of importance. These cobots not only work safely alongside human workers but also interact with other robotic systems to form a comprehensive human-robot collaborative workforce.
Sameer shared the benefits of Cobots and said it will help to maintain social distancing on the floor. He says, cobots are of great utility here in not only reducing the manpower density on the floor but also in bringing higher levels of efficiency. Manufactures of HMLV products have to grapple with constantly changing routings, quick and frequent changeovers as well as a lack of consistency. However, with cobots as companions, the calibration becomes instant and easy owing to their precision guidance and built-in vision. Moreover, same cobot can be used for different cells, on-the-fly, which adds on to the convenience.
Dibyananda emphasized the value of kitchen automation, he says it was a trend even before the coronavirus pandemic, as hospitals, campus cafeterias and others tried to meet demand for fresh, customised options 24 hours a day while keeping labour costs in check. Now, some say, robots may shift from being a novelty to a necessity. What used to be forward-thinking – last year, pre-COVID – has become current thinking.
The interest shown by organizations in knowing more about them and studying the massive potential for automation, but this is not necessarily translating into a significant increase in sales or investment in automation by businesses. Without a doubt, the Kitchen Automation will reach exponential growth in the coming years, he added.
Kaundinya explaining the healthcare sector says, T Kallupatti is a village near Madurai which doesn’t have proper access to healthcare. The residents of the village have to go to Madurai (1.5 hours away) or Chennai (8 hours away) to access quality healthcare. But, Mitra Robot is now trying to bridge that gap and enable remote consultation by bringing top doctors from reputed hospitals and institutes. The process is simple. The patients will be needed to get to their panchayat, talk to the robot in Tamil (it can both understand and speak), get the power of AI decision trees and robotic vitals collection. The robots connect them to specialists across India through “immersive telemedicine” who collaborate with the robot for diagnosis and help patients walk out with a prescription. No cost!
Challenges and Future Scopes
Since the future of the work is going to be in sync with the robots, there is a huge learning curve for the mankind to make it a seamless process to work with the robots. Cobots are also one of the biggest vehicles of AI into the real world, says Kaundinya.
Challenges in terms of integration of cobots into existing industrial automation systems come due to compatibility with legacy systems and extensive work needed to include cobots into current setups of large manufacturing organizations, noted Dr. Sudhir.
The interest shown by organizations in knowing more about them is at all time high and trying automation, but how much is translating into investment in automation by businesses is something we would like to see. These are two very different aspects. The actual challenge here is the speed of adaptation which is slow because of the fear to let go the past. Or in other words to translate the interest in to investment, says Dibyananda.
The dilemma of choosing the right robot-based solution – between a cobot and a traditional industrial robot is the biggest challenge. Another hurdle for adoption of robots, especially in India is the availability of a partner eco system. Most robot/cobot requirements are unique and need to be run like a small project. Another deterrent is the cost. Most of the times, a cobot is more expensive than an industrial robot. And while it is true that Industrial Robots require more paraphernalia (like fencing, safety scanners, etc.) which adds to the overall cost, most cobot applications also require interfacing of some safety devices to be able to perform optimally. Hence, one needs to look at the total cost of implementation and not just the cost of devices, mentioned Sameer.
Having said that cobots are extremely capable of undertaking precise operations and allow human colleagues to work safely side by side with them, they are currently unable to respond meaningfully to unusual situations and also require a minimal configuration to get ready for a fresh task. At the same time, human workers can compensate for these limitations just by providing a high level of supervision while focusing on more complex tasks, says Jayakrishnan.
According to James, India lags in robot adoption, with just three robots per 10,000 employees compared to a global average of 74. The India has been slow in this sphere, but adopting a human-robot approach can be particularly helpful for the manufacturing sector. Denmark is and always will be our robot-stronghold. Although we do not plan to have any production facility outside of the country, we are constantly expanding our operations to develop an entirely new market segment with a mission to enable even the small and medium sized companies to automate tasks they thought were too costly or complex.
Future of Cobots (Collaborative Robots)
Universal Robots has put a lot of work into creating awareness, influencing standards, and changing customers’ perceptions influenced by their experience of traditional robots. Cobots are tools of the future. They do much more than just repetitive tasks; they are like the Acrobats or contortionists of robots—they can do anything, anywhere, in utmost safety to their environment and the humans that work alongside it. We are constantly innovating and updating our technology to ensure that we produce the best in class machines that reduce burden on humans and empower businesses to thrive, mentioned James.
Sameer says, Human-machine harmony is the bedrock of an ideal industrial automation system on a manufacturing shop floor. When we visualise of a robotics enabled shop floor, we should not imagine caged or fenced machines. We should visualise machine working in sync with other machines and human beings sans cages! This is the set-up that will lead to optimal utilisation of the factory space with no compromise on safety delivering higher levels of harmony and productivity in true sense. And Cobots are very well equipped to contribute towards this scenario and this future.
Dibyananda explains, it will not be arriving until, sometime in the next five years. Humans to human interactions while have currently reduced due to Covid, this is something that will come back on track, because humans love to speak to someone when transacting. Also humans are good at doing complex, artful & skillful tasks and get bored when doing repetitive tasks. It’s best to use the human quotient here than using it in working at a kitchen flipping burgers all day, where cobots can help. A human can create new varieties of biryanis or breads, while machine/cobot can replicate what has been designed at scale.
Dr. Sudhir says Cobots can truly democratize robotics and make it accessible for small and medium enterprises that had been traditionally priced out of the robotics technology within the industrial automation domain. Improved efficiencies and quality at small and medium enterprises can shift the traditional method of setting up huge factories and create local jobs.
Cobot will become a commonplace in our lives. They will be helping us in every sector in some form or the other. It has already begun. Smart AI programs are rehashing news for us, massive robotics arsm assemble cars and humanoid robots are taking care of seniors. The adoption rate is only going to multiple massively from here, concluded Kaundinya.
The upcoming time will get lots of advancement in our surroundings. Collaborative robots are going to play huge role in the next industrial revolution. Many unskilled labours will learn numerous tasks from cobots. This advancement will also provide opportunity for job seekers and it will prove beneficial for industrial jobs. Numbers of hospitals, collages and hospitality industry will definitely try to adopt cobots. Developments will be seen in upcoming times and cobots will make everything easier than before.