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Robots as Co-workers in the Post-COVID-19 World
October 6, 2020 News


The worry that robots are going to replace us in every area of the workplace has become more prominent, especially in recent years with the accelerating development of AI. But now with cobots, or collaborative robots, there is a slightly different approach to how robots will permeate the workplace – as our new co-workers or even best companions, instead of replacements or future overlords.

This disruptive technology took centre stage at “WeAreCobots APAC”, the first collaborative robots virtual expo in the Asia Pacific, hosted by Universal Robots (UR), one of the world’s leading cobot companies.

Starting off the keynote session, James McKew, UR Regional Director for APAC, explained that ever since its inception in 2005, UR’s focus as a company has been to “empower people”. This has become even more important as many countries are facing unprecedented challenges, especially in terms of facing large-scale unemployment, layoffs and other impacts to the workforce.

“Our mission is to deploy robots where humans shouldn’t be, because the work is monotonous, repetitive and boring. Even more so when it’s dangerous and we should not be putting human life, or quality of that life, at risk. Where it is dirty, where the sheer dirtiness of the environment could actually cause it to be dangerous”, said James.

So that covers the three D’s, dull, dangerous and dirty. However, according to James, the post-COVID situation has introduced a fourth D, which is “distanced”. This refers to how employees are now compelled to practice social distancing at the workplace, but companies and factory operators may not have the physical space or footprint to accommodate for that. The next viable option would be to reduce the number of employees that are on duty at any given time.

He added that for businesses, especially those in manufacturing, the implications of the pandemic have been twofold:

  1. “If you can’t bring your factory back to full production, you cannot bring it back profitably”.
  2. “And if you can’t bring it back profitably, you can’t bring many, or any, people back for very long, or at all”.

Nevertheless, cobots, which can work with human employees on the production lines, enable companies to go back to full production while ensuring these employees are safely distanced. This will allow them to bring factories back to life “with the best chance of maintaining or improving profitability”.

At the end of the day, with the use of cobots, UR is hoping that humans will be freed up to work on more complex tasks where creativity, innovation and immediate flexibility are required.

Among the biggest advantages offered by Universal Robots is that its cobots are affordable, reliable, flexible, as well as easy to use and set up without requiring in-depth engineering/coding knowledge and with minimal training. They can also be applied in a variety of use cases, including assembly, quality inspection, palletising, and much more.

Interestingly, Darrell Adams, UR’s Head of SEA & Oceania, shared that by using collaborative robots, organisations can enjoy a boost of productivity of up to 85% compared to human-only or even robot-only operations.

Darrell said companies that leverage cobots stand to benefit from greater overall output, which leads to cost reduction, profitability increase and also a reduction in cost to the end users, “to the point where they’re buying more products, and hence, driving more potential in your business to expand”.

While concluding the session, James advised ASEAN businesses that want to stay competitive should be edging towards rapid and continuous automation and robotic automation adoption, “because frankly speaking, some countries are a long way behind.” He said that while there are substantial opportunity and potential for a lot of Southeast Asian countries, they shouldn’t be complacent, thinking that there is time on their side, adding that “there’s an urgency here that we have to respond to”.

Lastly, James spoke about the “automation curve”, where the last 20-30% of automated processes belong, really, to human ingenuity. “We believe that cobots belong in the earlier part of that curve, and we want to make sure we play our part to get as many people back to work as possible”.

The WeAreCobots APAC virtual event starts today and will continue with sessions and demos from automation industry leaders and cobot experts from different countries until the 8th of October 2020.