Industry 4.0 continues at full throttle, gaining new territory in coveted manufacturing spaces such as electronics. The pattern is distinctively perceptible in areas where enhanced automation is visibly present. The rise of collaborative robots, or “cobots” as they are called in the industry, at the front of assembly lines is a striking example of this story.

What are these collaborative robots? 

Why are they so in demand? 

How much more can they progress over the upcoming years? 

These are all intriguing questions for our niche. So, it’s an excellent opportunity to expand on what we know about them.

Collaborative robots are becoming a central fixture for manufacturers. Given the benefits they provide, it is easy to see why. 

Cobots have become a predominant branch of the robotics family. As the name suggests, they are automated assets specifically crafted with the sole purpose of assisting humans in their work fields. They do it by learning and excelling at laborious tasks with high accuracy and productivity. This strong and identifiable characteristic cannot help but be directly attributed to:

  • an easy-to-program design, 
  • robust exterior, and 
  • accessible human-machine interface (HMI).
Over the past few years, industries of all sizes added cobots to their processes.

The ever-expanding list of companies with cobots extends across these segments:

  • retail, 
  • life & sciences, 
  • automotive,
  • metal,
  • plastics,
  • food & beverage, 
  • packaging, 
  • and, most recently, electronics. 

Electronics, in particular, was a tough-to-get field because of the high technicality level and small/micro-scale required to handle the pieces. 

The overall results in every sector have been encouraging thus far, leading to meaningful optimizations beyond assembly lines, which more than justify the escalating market growth predicted to surpass the one billion frontiers by 2024.

Cobots are not multipurpose. To work side-to-side with humans in different tasks, they have to come in custom shapes and sizes. 

Through their design, cobots aim to achieve specific targets that are measurable in terms of power, speed, and precision. Through a fixed configuration, they carry out tedious and repetitive tasks in a process, leaving humans to focus on the core chores that ask for deep thinking instead of physicality. In consequence, the operator or engineer gains much-needed time to enhance operations. 

Speaking of operations, cobots are friendly in deployment, safe to use, and easy to work with. Teams become literate on their technology within the first three months of work or less, in most cases. 

The fields of application vary. Still, some of the frequent tasks they perform are:

  • welding, 
  • packaging and palletizing,
  • assembling and handling materials,
  • quality inspections, and
  • dispensing.
The companies deploying cobots see encouraging technical and financial benefits in just months.

In an exciting success story, a company that makes touch panels for cars, KOYO ELECTRONICS INDUSTRIES, overcame bottlenecks in production and post-production processes after being plagued by labor shortages. They did it by investing in the Universal Robots UR3 cobot, a decision that led them to raise productivity by 31%.

The manufacturer, ABB, is a renowned robotics expert and user of the technology itself. In their plant in New Berlin, WI, the company uses a YuMi cobot to test and assemble variable frequency drives (VFDs). The addition of a cobot allowed ABB to speed up quality checks, which helps them meet the growing demand for their drives. How so? During testing, the cobot unfastens 27 screws to release a test plate. Before that, this hard and time-consuming job was done by the same operator, who had to record the model of the drive and write down all the data during the post-processing testing stage. Since bringing the cobot in, the task takes just 2.5 minutes. That’s roughly 5.6 seconds per screw—a performance increase when compared to the former manual process. Learn more details about this success story here

The embracement of cobot technology by the electronics segment is good for business.

The industry alone occupied 35% of the market in 2018. Simply put, the electronics sector is taking advantage of what cobots have to offer to polish its processes in times of high demand. And why wouldn’t it when collaborative robots have proven to be beneficial devices for their operations and come at an affordable price that ranks lower than other products in their line? 

At assembly, cobots can perform many functions, from picking and handling components to securing them onto the corresponding printed circuit boards, just to give an example. 

Built into the efficient design are high-performance sensors that can reject bad parts with high accuracy, speed up production, and cut down on mistakes. By the way, all that is done at an incredibly fast speed that humans cannot match. 

The demand for cobots is not slowing down anytime soon.

Industries are just starting to get a taste of what cobots can do for them. The good return on investment (ROI) and easy integration into existing processes will only increase the demand for them across all industrial segments. 

Over the next decade, I foresee a boost in usage within small- to mid-scale industries. It’s there where cobots can make a great difference, elevating efficiency, productivity, and profitability at times of labor shortages.

At the same time, there are challenges to be met by the automation industry and the next generation of collaborative robots. They come at the hand of improving sustainability and the need to encompass competitiveness among peers. Both are necessary to drive the stakes even further.  

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