ODENSE, Denmark — This year, for the first time ever, the International Federation of Robotics’ annual World Robotics report includes an analysis of the market for collaborative robot arms, or cobots. From 2017 to 2018, there was a 23% increase in annual installations of cobots, with almost 14,000 new arms installed in 2018 alone. This directly affects the user potential for robotic grippers.
The International Federation of Robotics (IFR) concluded that drivers for cobot adoption include more intelligent components or end-of-arm-tooling (EOAT) such as smart grippers, “plug & play” interfaces, and programming by demonstration. If this rise in cobot sales continues, the number of installed units will likely double in approximately three years, creating an unprecedented EOAT market opportunity.
Where we are – and where we’re going
Of all the areas represented in the report, it’s the top five robot markets that accounted for 74% of global installations in 2018. They include China, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the U.S., and Germany.
Note that the U.S. market is far from saturated. When looking at robot density, measured in number of robots per 10,000 people, the U.S. only ranks eighth on the world scale, slipping two places down since 2017, overtaken by countries such as Sweden and Korea.
With record-low unemployment, U.S. manufacturers face labor shortages. Many are also struggling to compete with low-wage countries. Automation is their only solution to this multi-faceted challenge, and EOAT is the key to achieving their complicated objectives.
EOATs to the rescue
Intelligent grippers can collect and communicate crucial data to robots in real time to improve their accuracy and overall performance. Capable of safely passing products to human operators, these state-of-the-art grippers can essentially function as automated co-workers. In fact, for machine tending, dual grippers can operate up to 50% faster.
Companies are also adding grippers to their cobots because of their ability to sort and handle parts of various sizes without any extra programming or machining. One such company that made this choice is Tomenson Machine Works, a manufacturer of precision hydraulic manifolds in West Chicago, Ill.
Tomenson started its venture into automation by deploying a Universal Robots UR3 cobot with an RG6 gripper from OnRobot placing parts into a pin-stamping machine. This was a very repetitive task that employees disliked doing for hours on end.
The same RG6 gripper was able to pick up the many different part numbers going into the pin stamp without having to change out any tooling between parts. The company stores about 40 different programs in the cobot’s teach pendant for the different part numbers handled, and it simply switches between them when needed.
“Integrating the RG6 was as simple as plugging it in, and it’s ready to go,” said Alex Roake, operations manager at Tomenson. “The entire cobot system took about two weeks to set everything up, but for the gripper, it was less than a day. The amount of time we saved, while gaining both efficiency and precision, was nothing like we’d seen before.”
What’s next for cobot grippers?
The World Robotics report demonstrates that more companies are experiencing the benefits of automation with collaborative robots for a variety of uses. In some cases, manufacturers have installed cobots because they are simply unable to find available workers due to the low unemployment rates or the undesirable, repetitive tasks the jobs require.
In other cases, manufacturers are simply looking for ways to be more efficient, even if that means shaving mere seconds off their run times. Those seconds add up quickly and lead to more products being produced, which means more are being sold. That revenue goes back into the company so it can hire more workers, make improvements, and buy more cobots and grippers.
Whatever the case, the latest IFR report shows that companies should pay close attention not only to how they automate, but also to what additional tools they can use to achieve their production goals in a smarter, more streamlined way. By including EOATs as part of their automation strategy, companies will be able to do more and grow faster, enabling them to maintain their competitive edge in an often overcrowded and highly competitive manufacturing market.
About the author
Enrico Krog Iversen is the CEO of gripper maker OnRobot A/S. He previously led On Robot, one of three companies that joined to create OnRobot. Krog Iversen was also CEO of collaborative robot arm maker Universal Robots A/S.
The Robot Report is launching the Healthcare Robotics Engineering Forum, which will be on Dec. 9-10 in Santa Clara, Calif. The conference and expo will focus on improving the design, development, and manufacture of next-generation healthcare robots. Learn more about the Healthcare Robotics Engineering Forum, and registration is now open.