With the increasing popularity of collaborative robots (cobots), Airline and Omron noticed a gap between people’s assumptions about cobot safety, and the realities of cobot safety - so, I want to set the record straight. In today's blog, I'll review some of the live training I held with Adrian Choy, Product Manager of Collaborative Robots at Omron, where he showed us how to take full advantage of cobot safety features and maximize the productivity of your cobots. For a complete guide, watch that full recorded training here.
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Cobots 101 | Key Features of Cobots | Cobot Safety Myth-Busting | Cobot Safety Features | Cobot Safeguarding | Risk Assessments | Summary
Cobots are a form of industrial robots specifically designed to share workspaces and interact with human operators, avoid accidental contact, and stop safely upon any human contact. To enable these flexible working conditions, cobots are designed with special sensors, actuators, and software features. While not all cobots are built the same, our blog and virtual training have umbrella principles, applicable to any cobot, no matter the manufacturer.
Key Features of Cobots
- Fast integration
- Simple programming
- “Plug & Play” accessory ecosystems
- Speed / Power / Force limiting
- CAPABLE of being installed with reduced safeguarding required
Keep reading to learn about the common misconceptions about cobot safety and why cobots are an effective way to enhance your manufacturing operations and watch our virtual training to take a deeper dive into the topic with diagrams and expert knowledge.
Cobot Safety Myth-Busting
“Cobots are inherently safe out of the box, no matter what.”
The truth is, this is a very common assumption about cobot safety, but it's incorrect. Cobots are not inherently safe for every application. Because each cobot application will vary due to function and floor layout, risk assessments are required to assess potential causes of injury and mitigate those risks, and require adherence to ISO standards and regulations. To comply, you’ll often need to supplement your cobot with safety products to ensure your application is fully collaborative.
A key determining factor in any application is how collaborative the cobot will be. How much and how close will it be interacting with humans? This often determines the level of machine safeguarding needed. Cobots are designed with native safety features such as force, speed limiting, and hardware designs to avoid pinch points, but the application must also be collaborative. Examples of common, collaborative applications for which cobots are used are material handling, assembly, and quality assurance.
You might be asking then, “Why should I buy a cobot if I still need to worry about safeguarding?” This brings us to our next misconception…
“If cobots still require safeguarding, aren’t I better off with industrial robots?”
Your application and workspace environment will determine which type of robot you are better off pursuing. The best thing to do is review your workspace and application first - but, I will say, that even though cobots most likely require safeguarding, they can be significantly reduced compared to a traditional industrial robot.
Additionally, reduced safeguarding can minimize the impact on your existing production environment by reducing the need for physical barriers and other safety products. This is great if you have a limited footprint in your facility or have applications where you need to have humans interact with a robot, or otherwise adjust items in the area.
“If we’re adhering to all these standards and regulations, aren’t I going to end up with an extremely slow cobot system?”
A safe operation does not necessarily mean a slow operating system. When in collaborative mode, traditional automation robots operate at limited power, speed, or force settings. Conversely, cobots are programmed to enter collaborative mode when a safety sensor detects people within a workspace shared with a cobot, enabling a safe co-working space.
Additionally, when people are no longer detected in that space, the cobot can be allowed to enter automatic mode at higher or even full-speed modes. When you’ve ensured you’ve adhered to proper safety standards and regulations, you can maximize the time your cobot is spent in high-speed operation without sacrificing safety. Pro-tip for when you are programming, you have to consider and obey the laws of physics when considering the reaction time of the cobot between when a safety sensor is tripped, and when the cobot can physically switch modes or stop.
Cobot Safety Features
Safety features ingrained among collaborative robots include:
- Visual mode indicators
- Safety Configuration Tools
- Safety Setup Wizards
- Joint Torque / Speed Limits
- Safety I/O
Commonly used safeguarding products include:
- Light Curtains
- Two-hand Control Switches
- Safety Laser Scanners
- Movable Guards
- Physical Barriers
- Safety Monitoring Relay
- Safety Logic Devices
The necessary Risk Assessments are based on standards and regulations, including ISO 13849-1, (which provides safety requirements and guidance on the design principles and integration of safety-related parts of a control system and covers risk assessments) & ANSI-ISO 12100 (safety of machinery). According to the above standards and regulations, all cobot applications must have a risk assessment, and the process is required for every task and location of a cobot.
Need a risk assessment provider?
Airline's safety division, MPSA, is dedicated to turnkey machine safety solutions. Visit the MPSA website to request a risk assessment.
Cobots offer an effective way to enhance your manufacturing operations, and contrary to popular belief, cobot safety features actually maximize efficiency and simplify machine safety. Take full advantage of cobot safety features and how to maximize the productivity of your cobots with Airline and Omron.
For more in-depth information on the topic, watch Adrian's full presentation, including useful charts and diagrams, more specific situational advice, and helpful Q&A.
We're Here for Cobot Support
Airline and our automation experts can help with all your cobot application needs and wants. We also have a cobot leasing program. If you're interested in trying out cobots for various applications - don't hesitate to use us as a resource!