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Cobots: the intelligent robot as a colleague

The collaborative robot is transforming manufacturing plants into smart factories. KUKA already developed the world’s first collaborative robotic arm – the LBR iiwa – back in 2014 and is setting new standards with the new LBR iisy. They take on work steps that are strenuous, monotonous or dangerous for humans. In this way, the collaborative robot optimizes processes and boosts productivity.

Cobots vs. robots: What exactly are cobots?

Cobots or collaborative/collaborating robots, unlike conventional industrial robots, can work together with humans in the same workspace without safeguards or fencing. Sensors and cameras on the cobot help to ensure that the robot will not injure its human colleagues. Conventional industrial robots, on the other hand, require safety fences and other safety precautions.

Human-robot collaboration (HRC): safety guaranteed

An HRC-enabled industrial robot is now an automation machine that humans can touch and interact with. Human workers and cobots can safely share the same workspace. In this way, companies can save on costly feed systems and production space. When people and a collaborative robot work together, conventional safety precautions become less necessary. In the event of unexpected contact, for example, collaborating robots reduce their speed and thus also their kinetic energy. Additional costs which would normally be required for safety equipment and protective fences are thus avoided. Where there are no fences restricting space for working, consideration can be given to new, highly efficient and far more flexible automation tasks: from industrial work assistants to service robots in public spaces, and from nursing robots in clinical environments to domestic assistants.
Cobots in Industry
Cobot applications make it easier to carry out detailed work, also resulting in increased quality in this area.

KUKA cobots: industrial applications

Dangerous overhead applications, monotonous and repetitive processes, or meticulously detailed production tasks: cobots can perform these work steps, relieve employees and deliver consistently high quality. With their integrated sensors, the collaborative robots enable assembly tasks, featuring small parts, to be automated – they can assemble automotive transmissions, insert rubber plugs or process non-rigid parts.
Their human colleagues can thus concentrate on other areas of their work. While the cobot is processing a part, the worker can already prepare the next production step. The sensitive robots respond intelligently to their environment and move independently. This is referred to as human-robot collaboration (HRC) or collaborative robotics. Intelligent cobots are opening up new areas of automation: they can load machines or logistics systems, build industrial robots themselves and much more besides.

The KUKA LBR iiwa cobot: AI in production

As a pioneer in the field of cobots, KUKA has already laid the foundation for a new relationship between humans and industrial robots in Production 4.0 back in 2014 with the first to exist cobot, the LBR iiwa. As a component of smart factory automation, the lightweight robot iiwa is able to learn from its human colleagues thanks to its sensitive technology. When connected to the cloud and specially programmed, this cobot can also independently document, check and optimize the results of its work. An integrated vision system could also further extend its machine learning capabilities.

Collaborative robotics in action: body-in-white production at Ford with four LBR iiwa robots

At Ford, humans and machines work hand in hand. The task involved here is applying a sealant seam – a monotonous, strenuous and dirty work process. An unpleasant job for humans, it does not bother the collaborating robot: the worker programs the robot once by means of manual control. The smart machine then executes the motion sequence independently – with a high mix of speed, precision and efficiency. 
Cobots as a success factor: “Our employees can now focus on a fluid work sequence,” says Ford Production Engineer Michael Koch.

The LBR iisy cobot sets new standards in robotics

The new LBR iisy is ready for operation in just a few minutes and, thanks to the iiQKA.OS operating system, can be intuitively controlled. The cobot can also be used in a wide range of production areas and taught by means of simple manual guidance, so no prior knowledge of robotic programming or collaborative robots is required. The LBR iisy is particularly suitable for the loading and unloading of machines, as well as the handling of small parts, pick-and-place tasks, and packaging and testing applications, according to the model's maximum payload capacity. When it comes to deploying the LBR iisy, therefore, the sky’s the limit.

The LBR iisy in operation at Zollner

The new LBR iisy cobot from KUKA in operation at Zollner

KMR iiwa: autonomous platform meets collaborative robot

The KMR iiwa (KUKA Mobile Robotics) combines the advantages of the LBR iiwa with a flexible, mobile platform. The mobile robot thus enjoys great flexibility and can be easily integrated into a wide variety of manufacturing processes. The mobility of the cobot enables maximum maneuverability and can decisively optimize production processes. The HRC-capable mobile robot is equipped with Mecanum wheels and is thus extremely flexible to automate. In the cleanroom version, it guarantees the safe transfer and also the safe handling of sensitive components (wafers, masks, carriers) from one process to the next. It navigates in all directions autonomously and without safety fencing.

KMR iiwa impresses with its mobility

LBR Med: a collaborative robot for medical applications

In the field of medical technology, particularly, precision work is essential. With the KUKA LBR Med cobot, physicians and medical staff have a reliable computer-controlled colleague at hand.

The sensitive seven-axis lightweight robot can be used for everything from diagnostics and treatment to surgical procedures and even incorporate a vision system. It can be found wherever strenuous, repetitive, tiring activities or particular precision are required.

HRC in medicine: the Sculptura robot can perform pinpoint irradiation of tumors.
Nursing staff also use the cobot in rehabilitation. Rehabilitation robot ROBERT® gets patients re-accustomed to moving after operations, thereby relieving nursing staff, both physically and mentally.
HRC in rehab: the cobot moves the injured leg, thus aiding both the patient and the nursing staff.

Advantages of HRC robots in industry

  • Icon: Effiziente Arbeitsteilung

    Efficient division of labor:

    Human and robot perfectly complement one another, side-by-side. While the cobot performs strenuous and monotonous tasks, the worker prepares the next steps, checks the results and organizes the process to ensure that it runs efficiently.
  • Guaranteed safety:

    The collaborating robot safely and quickly performs the tasks that are dangerous or unpleasant for humans. The cobot also ensures error-free performance of work that requires a high level of concentration over a prolonged period of time.
  • Maximum automation:

    The intelligent robots are ideally networked with one another. They learn to perform the work steps together efficiently. This is how intelligent manufacturing with cobots works (smart production). 
  • Konstant hohe Qualität

    High manufacturing quality:

    A robot works precisely, quickly and without breaks. Furthermore, a cobot can work intelligently, learning and optimizing successive work steps. This results in higher product quality - a game changer for manufacturing.

Meet & Greet with a cobot

Experience the perfect collaboration between humans and robots for yourself – at our KUKA HRC Tech Center.

Industry of the future: How will humans and robots work together in the future?

Collaborative robots play a key role in Industrie 4.0. They are all-rounders for modern, networked production and logistics, connecting automation solutions to services and databases. However, a factory staffed by robots alone will remain an illusion, even in the era of smart factories. People will remain the central focus. Nevertheless, robots will relieve and support workers to an even greater degree.
People will be able to go about their work more efficiently, with greater concentration and, above all, more ergonomically. This aspect is becoming increasingly important, especially in a society that is aging to an ever increasing extent. An ever smaller number of people in employment will have to generate the entire productive output for the social systems. This poses a challenge that it will only be possible to meet by employing the available workforce more productively than in all previous generations.

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