Over the past couple of years, the first generation of collaborative robots or ‘cobots’ has been revolutionising the way in which robots and humans work together. In contrast to traditional robots, which cannot operate in an operator-occupied workspace without safety fencing, these cage-free robots can work side by side with humans on shared or separate tasks.
To date, this nascent technology has been concentrated on the 5-15kg light duty ‘universal robot’ realm. Now FANUC has taken the collaborative approach into the previously unchartered heavy payload territory. The TÜV certified CR-35iA can assist with high payload handling, assembly, component feeding and workpiece loading and unloading tasks that have historically had to be carried out manually. Key target areas include - but are by no means limited to - automation assembly lines, metalworking and packaging.
“The idea is that companies will effectively be able to create partnerships that capitalise on the strengths of robots, which, coincidentally, tend to be the weaknesses of humans, and vice versa. So, for example, the CR-35iA may assume the heavy aspects of handling, alongside humans carrying out quality checks, adjustments or difficult tasks that require an element of problem-solving and flexibility,” explains John Rainer, regional sales manager at FANUC UK.
He continues: “The development of the CR-35iA has been all about anticipating our customers’ future production needs. We know, from talking to them, that the next generation of robotic automation needs to lie in smart and safe solutions that promote the interaction of human operators and industrial robots. We are extremely excited about the potential applications that this breakthrough collaborative robot will unlock.”
With health and safety regulations stipulating 25kg as the maximum load an operator may handle, there is a real requirement for a robotic solution to handle loads that exceed this limit. The CR-35iA comes into its own here, particularly in difficult-to-access areas where conventional assist machinery cannot fit or where a six-axis robot adds dexterity.
Another feature of the CR-35iA is the way in which it detects human presence. Whilst most other collaborative robots are encased in a sensing cover that stops the robot when a human gets too close, FANUC’s collaborative robot ensures safety through the use of intelligent sensors, which automatically stop the robot if it touches a human operator. This means the CR-35iA can go closer to the jig and other peripherals when required.
The CR-35iA is built on the same design principles that have earned FANUC’s industrial robots a reputation for 99.99% reliability. The collaborative robot is also based on the same servo drive and control platform and incorporates the same programming and operating interface as the company’s conventional robots. This makes for a smooth and easy transition to the CR-35iA for operators of existing FANUC robots.
The first CR-35iA is currently undergoing pre-production tests with one of the world’s largest automotive companies. Whilst it is still very early days for collaborative robots, FANUC expects to be building more than 100 units per year in Europe very soon.