Working with Robots: A Guide to the Collaboration Levels Between Humans and Robots

Collaborative technology has been a hot topic of conversation lately and it doesn't seem like the buzz will be going away anytime soon.

It is predicted that by 2027 collaborative robots (or cobots) are expected to make up 29% of the global industrial robots market.

To understand these cobots better, we are laying out the levels of collaboration between humans and robots.

What are the levels of collaboration?

There are many advantages to integrating cobots into manufacturing systems, but did you know that human/robot collaboration is not as simply straightforward as one might think?

There are many levels of collaboration between humans and robots and varying degrees between each of these levels.

These levels include: 

  1. Fenced Robot
  2. Coexistence
  3. Sequential Collaboration
  4. Cooperation
  5. Responsive Collaboration

Highlights and Downsides of Each of the Levels of Collaboration

Fenced Robot

The robot has perimeter fencing separating workspace between the robot and worker.

Highlights: 

  • Safety: Robot and worker have a barrier between them, increasing overall safety.
  • Performance: Robot can run at full performance – faster and with a heavier load.

Downsides: 

  • Footprint: Fencing may cause this setup to take up more space.
  • Longer Process: Linking the process between human and robot work may take longer.
  • Not Mobile: The robot is fixed to a space inside of the fencing.

Coexistence

Robot has no fencing, utilizes safety rated electrical sensors and scanners, and has its own workspace.

Worker and robot have separate workspaces – robot is stopped if worker enters space.

Highlights: 

  • Access: Easier to access the robot for maintenance and quicker recovery.
  • Performance: Utilizes industrial robot for higher rates and heavier loads than cobots.
  • Load Size: Because industrial robots are used, loads can be heavier.

Downsides: 

  • Rate Issue: Interruptions when worker crosses safety barriers.
  • Limited Mobility: Larger, heavier robots are harder to mobilize.

Sequential Collaboration

Robot utilizes safety rated electrical scanners, uses safety rated robot controls, and utilizes a shared workspace with worker at separate times.

Highlights: 

  • Access: Easier to access robot for maintenance and quicker recovery.
  • Performance: Faster than full on collaboration.
  • Load Size: Because industrial robots are used, loads can be heavier.

Downsides: 

  • Complex Safety Requirements: More complex safety requirements are needed to ensure the robot knows where the human worker is at all times.
  • Limited Mobility: Larger, heavier robots are harder to mobilize.

Cooperation

Force monitoring robot shares workspace with worker while both work on their own products.

Highlights: 

  • Safety: Force monitoring allows robot to be programmed to stop when it contacts worker.
  • Mobility: Size and intrinsic safety of cobots allow for greater mobility.

Downsides: 

  • Speed: Slower than industrial robots.
  • Load Size: Lighter payloads than industrial robots.

Responsive Collaboration

Force monitoring robot shares workspace with worker and both simultaneously work on the same product.

Highlights: 

  • Safety: Force monitoring allows robot to be programmed to stop when it contacts worker.
  • Minimal Stop Time: Hand moving capabilities allows the process to be continuous with minimal stop times.
  • Mobility: Size and intrinsic safety of cobots allow for greater mobility.

Downsides: 

  • Speed: Slower than industrial robots.
  • Load Size: Lighter payloads than industrial robots.

Levels of Collaboration and Robot Integration

Each of these types of collaboration have their own level of risk.

A full and in-depth risk assessment is essential before implementing and using any of the collaborative setups listed above.

It helps to have a robotic integrator assist with implementing any of these systems.

At Zeta Group Engineering, with safety being our top priority, we will ensure your system is set up with the appropriate features to make sure workers and robots are collaborating at a level appropriate for your specific system needs.

The key takeaway is that there is no one size fits all application, and we have options and levels that we can apply to our customers' specific needs.

Ready to reimagine your manufacturing floor?

Let us know how we can help you!

  1. Impressive presentation. How are You Kevin. Miss my short stint with Zeta.

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