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The Rise of Cobots in Collaboration with Human Workers in the Unpredictable World
November 16, 2020 Blog


Authored by: Darrell Adams, Head of Southeast Asia & Oceania, Universal Robots

The emergence of collaborative robots (cobots) has revolutionised the factory floor, raising ground realities from the new normal facing manufacturers in the unpredictable world. For many companies, assembly lines are staffed with workers performing repetitive actions which need to be completed quickly and accurately. Doing the same actions relentlessly for hours every day is not just tiring and boring, but may potentially lead to injuries such as joint damage. Exhaustion due to repetitive tasks may lead to human errors, causing production failures, delays, and even accidents.

While achieving consistent, high-quality results through repetitive and somewhat unergonomic actions may be challenging for humans. They are relatively easy for collaborative robots (cobots). Cobots are suitable for repetitive actions such as screw driving, nut running, and insertion tasks, as these cobots can follow a sequence of actions quickly and accurately, without suffering from an injury caused by repetitive strain or lapses in mental focus. Automating mundane assembly jobs through cobots ensure a better environment for existing workers who are freed from unergonomic, injury-causing jobs, and can be reassigned to more value-added tasks.

Frequently, tasks such as screw driving involve multiple positions, directions, and heights, and require variation in the torques delivered to the screws or nuts. Advances in force-sensing allow cobots to ‘feel’ when tightening is complete, eliminating the problem of over-application of torque, which happens all too often when screw driving tasks are manually performed.


GKN Driveline Japan assemble gears and handle inspection with cobots

GKN Driveline Japan Ltd is one of UK-based GKN Automotive’s companies, a global company that develops and manufactures powertrain and driveline solutions for automobiles. The company needs to maintain a stable supply of high-quality products; there were concerns about the difficulty of automating the experience and sense of the operators.

GKN deployed a UR5 cobot to the gear assembling process, replicating the sense of human touch provided by the operators. Next, two UR5s were introduced to the front and back inspection process of a thin iron plate installed in the viscous coupling. The adoption of the cobots lessened the burden on workers to perform menial and repetitive tasks. As a result, GKN succeeded in manufacturing under a full 24-hour operation. Unlike traditional robots, UR cobots do not require safety fencing (upon risk assessment) and allow humans to work in the same space.

UR cobots have proven to be a game-changer in GKN. Following the successful adoption of UR cobots, GKN aims to share this success story with the GKN departments in other countries and strive to make proactive efforts so that humans and robots can coexist.


Surmounting the challenges of an ageing workforce at Nissan Motor Company

Renowned Nissan Motor Company was facing the reality of an ageing workforce and the loss of vital skills as workers retired. The company needed to streamline production processes, reduce “takt” time (cycle time of a specific process), and redeploy human workers to learn vital skills to remain competitive.

Two lines of UR10 cobots were deployed in the Yokohama plant to assist human workers with assembly tasks, freeing up more time for human workers to obtain valuable line experience elsewhere, as well as eliminating “takt” time.

The cobots were first assigned to loosen bolts on cylinder head cam brackets. Leveraging the versatility of UR cobots, the UR10s were then redeployed to assist with the process of installing engine block intake manifolds, which meant working in close collaboration with human workers.

“By being able to move the UR robot to any place we see ‘takt’ time overruns, we are thinking about creating production equipment capable of flexibly responding to the situation,” said Mr Onishi, Subsection Chief of Engine Section, Nissan.

Manufacturers can take advantage of the versatility of UR cobots and a cobot ecosystem of assembly automation solutions, as these can be easily and quickly deployed or redeployed to adapt to different circumstances, production requirements, and needs.

Unpredictable times call for predictable and manageable solutions. In a greying world, every human worker is extremely valuable and needs to be nurtured to have increasingly vital skills. Manufacturers can maximise productivity overall and on a “per staff” basis, with the use of cobots to keep up consistent production.