Also commonly referred to as cobots, collaborative robots are a new-age approach to robotic automation in industries. Over the last few years, a lot of industries have automated their warehouses with collaborative robots, mainly because of the ability of these robots to work alongside humans.

A collaborative robot is a small industrial robot that is more affordable, and easier to control thanks to the intuitive software they are built with. They also come with in-built features to make them completely safe to work alongside humans without the need to be caged. These features also expand the array of jobs these collaborative robots can do in a warehouse. You can rely on collaborative robots to undertake complex operations alongside human workers.

Collaborative robots can be programmed to easily switch from one task to another within the same work environment. This makes them flexible and highly cost-effective in the long run. These are some of the reasons more and more industries continue to apply the use of collaborative robots in their industries.

Safety and risk factors for collaborative robots 

According to collaborative robot manufacturers, these human-friendly robots are inherently safe. This is because of the inbuilt safety features cobots come with that makes them safer than traditional industries robot. This ensures that it is possible to use collaborative robots without the need for fencing and caging.

ISO 10218 offers information and guidelines about robotic designs and manufacturing. For a robot to be termed ad collaborative, it should have the ability to perform its functions safely in the presence of human workers. There are further details on the manufacture of collaborative robots under ISO 15066 in line with current robotic technology.

There are four major capabilities needed before a robot can be declared as collaborative. These include:

Safety monitoring stop – collaborative robots should have the ability to automatically stop when human workers invade their safety parameters. Collaborative robot safety software enables the cobot to halt or slow down operations until the working parameters are safe again. This is an important aspect of any collaborative robot as it makes it possible for this robot to be used on the same floor as human workers.

Hand guiding capabilities – this is needed for programming and also teaching the cobot a sequence of steps. Collaborative robots should have safeguards to enable hand guiding. Hand guiding can be done when a robot is stopped and after activating the speed and force limits. It is essential for an operator to select hand guide mode for the process to be a success.

Speed and separation monitoring – collaborative robots come with motion sensors that make it possible for them to track human workers’ proximity to the robotic hand. Collaborative robots can be programmed to work in safety zones where they reduce the speed to accommodate the presence of human workers in specific work areas.

Power and force limiting in cobots – collaborative robots should include power and force limiting sensors that can be applied to prevent possible collisions or force overload. They are also designed with round edges and sensors in the robotic arm joints to dissipate force.

The reason the ISO/TS 15066 was put in place is to ensure that whenever there is contact between human workers and collaborative robots, it will not result in injury or pain to the human worker, as is the case with traditional industrial robots.

Motion and proximity sensors are some of the ways cobots manage to ensure safety for human workers. Common collaborative robot sensors include:

  • Grippers with tactile sensitivity make it possible for the robotic arm to ‘feel’ what they are touching and thus adjust the grip when needed.
  • Accelerometers are used to detect bumps and any movements near the robotic arm
  • Cobots are fitted with 3D vision cameras that help to detect the presence of objects
  • Force torque sensors
  • Laser sensors that trigger an action whenever they are breached
  • Current feedback sensors

In many ways, the safety ISO guidelines and the inbuilt safety capabilities of collaborative robots make them completely safe to work alongside human workers.