In the industrial world, despite major progresses in recent years, many production tasks are still repetitive, painful, dangerous and without added value. These working conditions very often cause musculoskeletal disorders, high turnover and absenteeism, which greatly increases the expenses of industrial companies for these operations. For instance, simple tasks such as co-packing (when a manufacturer mixes product from two different types in a same pallet), machine loading (employees putting products of any kind in a machine) or conditioning (putting products in box) are regularly made by operators in a production line. These jobs are very likely to be automatized in the coming years, but for now, solutions for such demands are still costly and hard to access for many companies.
Indeed, the current robotic supply is not well suited for the needs of many industrial companies – or at least not for all tasks. Robots were initially made for large industrial companies with large production lines that required complex automation and heavy investments. The current offer is expensive, very complex to integrate and to program. Over engineering (offering oversized solutions to simple problems) is often a case in point. These high-standards robots are also quite dangerous for human beings if put directly in contact with them: they run at very high speed and require the installation of protective grids.
In that context, collaborative solutions appeared in the early 2010’s with 4 to 6 axes depending on makers. What do we call collaborative robot, or Cobot?
A Cobot is a robot that can work alongside humans -in collaboration with humans, or next to them- without any protection/shields. A risk analysis is still mandatory, as the Cobot is categorized as “similar to an industrial machine”. This analysis will include the study of its environment. The robot itself is not the only source of risk: for example, a robot carrying a heavy weight (according to Cobotic norms, which are evolving rapidly) will be considered less safe, and might need to be surrounded by shields. Though, low power from the engine and various security systems made by Cobot makers make these solutions, in most cases, not dangerous to humans. In most cases, captors will stop the robot in case of contact with an operator. Cobots low speed make them secured for these kinds of situations. Security is then what defines Cobots in the first place.
But would Cobot allow access to robotics to everybody with this single security pattern?
As one can well imagine, the costs of Cobots are often reduced to a minimum. They often cost less than a car, and very often much less. Manufacturers, like the French MIP Robotics (contributor to this article) aimed to make industrial and collaborative robotics accessible to all. MIP Robotics first range of “Cobots” called Junior made it possible to automate simple, repetitive and painful tasks at a very low-cost (lower than 10 K€ for one robot). This low-cost (and therefore fast return on investment) was due to, mostly, a patented reducer made by the technical co-founder of the company Franck Loriot. While most robots are using now the same reducer, this out-of-the box solution allowed MIP Robotics to greatly reduce its production costs, not only compared with other robots makers but also compared with global Cobots makers. The solution, with 4 axes, is quite simple and aims to take a high market share for companies which weren’t considering integrating robots in the first place. To do so, Cobots makers in general, and MIP Robotics in particular, had to gain on flexibility.
Flexibility was indeed the third way for Cobot maker to allow small or medium companies to access their products. People who have no knowledge of computer science or programming were given tools to help them doing so. In the MIP case, the human/machine interface looks like a game. Some clients said: “the interface was like going for a very simple game, and operators with no skills were able to program it. MIP made things really easy for us”. Integration costs for robots and in some, Cobots, are a very large part of the total cost size. Bypassing operators in this field, MIP Robotics allows industrial companies to directly work on the integration. A two hours training made for operators help them to feel confident. But Gonzague Gridel, CEO of the company told us: “honestly, there is no pain in programming our robot. It was made for a child to be able to develop. And mine did so really easily”.
These three characteristics (security, flexibility and low price) are then the main aspects of Cobotics solutions. From 2015, industrial companies started to know more and more what Cobot are, after years of development. Cobots are now likely to start a starring trend which will help industries to be more and more productive and competitive.
About the Author
Gonzague Gridel, CEO of MIP Robotics is a passionate technologist who worked in popular companies like CIC, Crédit Mutuel Group CIC, and UniCredit Markets & Investment Banking, before founding MIP. He observed that there were still many repetitive tasks done manually. He recognized the essentiality of simplified robotic products. Hence, Gonzague envisioned creating his own company, and true to his passion individual founded MIP Robotics in 2015. MIP Robotics designs and manufactures fleet of industrial robots which are very easy to use. The company is renowned for its enterprise level products in reasonable prices.