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

Collaborative technology has been a hot topic of conversation lately and it does not seem like the collaborative 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. 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 initially think? There are many levels of collaboration between humans and robots and varying degrees within and between each of these levels. 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.

Fenced Robot

Robot has perimeter fencing separating workspaces between 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 robot for maintenance and quicker recovery
  • Performance: Utilizes industrial robot for higher rate 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 in contact with 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 stop when in contact with 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

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.

At Zeta Group we work with our customers to determine the best level of collaboration to meet our customers’ requirements and budget with safety at the forefront. 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.

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