How robotics are taking over industry

Jon Lawson

Robots have been commonplace in many workplaces for several decades now. For example, the Robotic Industries Association (RIA) reported that last year, robot installations increased by 21% in the Asia-Australia region, 16%  in the Americas, and 8% in Europe.

Typically used on manufacturing assembly lines or for precise paint spraying, robots can increase productivity and profit margins thanks to greater efficiency, more automation and reduced overheads. 

But in recent years, robots have been transitioning from industrial applications to professional service industries, working side-by-side with human counterparts as bona fide colleagues. Here's how robotics could be taking over a workplace near you soon...

Robots vs. humans

Not only do robots bring bottom-line benefits to numerous businesses, they can also carry out tasks that would otherwise be undesirable or unsafe to human workers. 

“Robots can help prevent injuries or adverse health effects resulting from working in hazardous conditions,” said Vladimir Murashov, Senior Scientist in the Office of the Director at NIOSH (The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health). 

“Some examples are musculoskeletal disorders due to repetitive or awkward motions, or traumatic injuries (for example, in poultry processing, where cuts are common). They can also prevent multiple hazards in emergency response situations such as chemical spills.”

That's not all. Robots are on hand to mitigate the risk of human error, which often stems from tiredness or boredom. 

However, there are some jobs and situations where machines simply cannot compete with the unique attributes of humans. This is where next-generation robots are likely to make the biggest impact, as technological advances have increased interactivity and mobility to a point where collaboration with humans is a distinct possibility.

How robotic/human collaboration could work

In order for a robot to be 'collaborative', the International Organisation for Standardisation requires robots to use one of four safety measures:

●    Safety-rated monitored stop - the robot can stop when the worker wants it to.
●    Hand guiding - the robot only moves under the worker's control.
●    Speed and separation monitoring - the robot automatically slows down when the worker approaches.
●    Power and force limiting - the robot is limited in the payload it can carry and in the force it can exert.

Tick these boxes and robots could find themselves working alongside humans to insulate something like a car door...

“In that case, the robot spreads out and glues down material while the worker holds it in place with more agile human fingers,” Murashov said.

This is something Carole Franklin, the RIA’s director of standards development, is also in agreement with: “Collaborative robot systems allow for partially automated tasks where the robot and human can both use their own strengths to the best effect. You have the strength, precision, endurance and repeatability of the robot, and you also benefit from the flexibility and sensitivity of human touch, as well as human problem-solving and creativity.”

Despite the fact safety measures are built into the design of collaborative robots, this will still be a prime concern, especially when it comes to configuration and integration. However, as technology continues to advance and evolve, your next new colleague could well be a robot. 

Authored by Debbie Fletcher