Collaborative robots, or “cobots” as they are more commonly known, were designed to physically interact with humans in a shared workspace. This is in contrast to industrial robots which are more often used to replace human labour and work in isolation to not cause harm to humans in the workplace.

The market for robots and in particular, cobots, is on the rise across various industries. In 2016, the collaborative robot market was valued at an estimated US$176m and is expected to grow by almost 57% by the year 2023.

How does this affect the plastics and packaging industry?

Rethink Robotics, which is based in Boston, USA, is a pioneering manufacturer of collaborative robots. In 2013, it released its first cobot Baxter and again in 2015, it released a more user-friendly cobot called Sawyer.

In an article for PlasticsToday, Rethink Robotics’ product manager Mike Fair said cobots could be implemented across a wide range of industries such as automotive, electronics, plastics and packaging.

They would be able to play diverse roles in manufacturing and would be useful in the automation of tasks which could previously only be performed by humans. Their main function would be to take over the repetitive tasks which often strain human workers or the dangerous tasks involved when humans are forced to interact with other industrial machinery and robotics.

In this way, time-consuming tasks can be automated, freeing up workers for more valuable work.

Fair told PlasticsToday that the lightweight nature of plastic parts makes it a great fit for cobots.

He said cobots could be deployed on a variety of tasks that are integral to plastics manufacturing, including machine tending of injection or blow moulding machines, packaging finished parts, packing containers for shipping and kitting plastic components.

Cobots offers a solution to an ageing workforce and a new generation that doesn’t want to work in manufacturing. It will also be able to provide an effective and dependable way to automate tasks and increase productivity without sacrificing quality.


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