Designed to work safely and collaboratively alongside their human counterparts, interest in collaborative robots (cobots) has been on the rise. While part of that uptick can be attributed to the coronavirus pandemic, which will likely accelerate the adoption of cobots throughout manufacturing and distribution centers, it’s not the only contributor.
Indeed, the overall robotics market has been steadily on the rise for some time, with the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) noting a record 2.7 million industrial robots working in factories worldwide, an increase of 85% from 2014-2019, with cobot installations growing by 11% in that same time period. Further, a recent report from Roots Analysis projects the cobot market to be worth $18 billion by 2030, growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 34.4%.
The Roots Analysis report attributes part of that projection to the expected conversion of up to 30% of current manufacturing jobs to automation in the next decade. That trend is due both to the declining numbers of workers in manufacturing and distribution — as 10,000 Baby Boomers reach retirement age daily while the younger generations shun such work — and to the ongoing recruitment and retention challenges companies were having prior to the pandemic. By taking on the dangerous, repetitive, or monotonous work previously performed by humans, cobots allow operations to reassign their workers to more value-added (and profitable) tasks. They also fill the roles that can be the most difficult to hire.
Yet cobot adoptions are growing for several other reasons beyond their alleviation of workforce issues. One is their inherent versatility and flexibility that enables differently equipped cobots to be deployed across a broad variety of applications, including:
- Packaging and palletizing
- Gluing, dispensing and welding
- Injection molding
- Screw driving
- Lab analysis
- Machine tending
- Pick and place
- Quality inspection
Additionally, cobots themselves are becoming increasingly easier to deploy. Unlike conventional robotic automation — which requires skilled, dedicated labor to program and special guarding to keep employees working in the area safe — today’s cobot manufacturers have evolved their products to be both simple and fast to implement, as well as to train without any specialized robotic or computer expertise. Because they are loaded with sensors to detect the presence of their human colleagues and are engineered with speed and force limits that minimize any impacts, they operate safely and without any protective barriers required.
Finally, the cost of cobots continues to come down, while acquisition options — from full purchase to rental by the month, week, day or hour — are making it easier for even the smallest operation to cost justify their expense. That return on investment (ROI) is further bolstered by research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which found that human-robot collaborations are 85% more productive than humans or robots working alone.