What Are Collaborative Robots?
A Fast-Growing Robotics Technology with Major Market Potential
Collaborative robots are a form of robotic automation built to work safely alongside human workers in a shared, collaborative workspace. In most applications, a collaborative robot is responsible for repetitive, menial tasks while a human worker completes more complex and thought-intensive tasks. The accuracy, uptime and repeatability of collaborative robots is designed to complement the intelligence and problem-solving skills of a human worker.
Collaborative robot designs differ greatly from their industrial robot counterparts. Featuring rounded edges, force limitations, and light weights, collaborative robots are first and foremost designed for safety. Most collaborative robots are equipped with a series of sensors to avoid collisions with human workers, as well as safety protocols to shut down if any form of unplanned contact occurs.
The ability to work collaboratively with humans greatly expands the potential applications of robotic automation. The market for collaborative robots is expected to experience exponential growth as more and more industries realize the profits to be gained from this technology.
With major market potential in a number of industries inside and outside of the factory setting, collaborative robots will be an exciting technology to keep an eye on as it becomes a prominent form of robotic automation.
The Market for Collaborative Robots
Collaborative robots are positioned for explosive growth. The industry was worth approximately $400 million in 2017, but by the end of 2018 will have grown 60% to $600 million, according to Interact Analysis. This rapid growth is only just the beginning, as the market is expected to reach $7.5 billion in value by 2027, accounting for 29% of the entire industrial robot market.
Year after year, the collaborative robot market is expected to experience significant growth, with no slowing down in sight, quickly grabbing a bigger share of the robotics market as a whole. There are several different drivers of this growth, including:
- Shortage of qualified workers
- Increasing labor costs
- Higher product mixes with shorter cycle times
- Greater need for flexibility in automation
- Stricter demands for faster ROI and profitability
Over the past several years, collaborative robots have been most popular among small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). Typically, SMBs favored collaborative robots for their lower initial costs, significantly smaller size, and ability to produce ROI in small batch environments. However, this is about to change as major OEMs are expected to begin adopting collaborative robots in large numbers, fueling short- and long-term market growth.
Among these major OEMs, the automotive and electronics industries are expected to be the largest users of collaborative robots. Each are well-known innovators in automated production and will likely lead the way once again when it comes to collaborative robots. The electronics industry in particular has a high degree of part variation and short cycle times – collaborative robots lend themselves well to these applications because of their superior flexibility over industrial robots.
Currently, the collaborative robots market is dominated by a few major manufacturers. In the coming years, a number of smaller robot manufacturers, typically from Asia, are expected to enter the marketplace as a disruptive force. Additionally, major manufacturers of industrial robots are beginning to launch collaborative robot solutions, which also promises to disrupt the status quo. As the market potential of collaborative robots becomes clear, more players will be entering the industry, increasing competition and driving down prices.
The Benefits of Collaborative Robots
Collaborative robots can be deployed in a wide range of environments and bring many different benefits when compared to traditional industrial robots. Typically, a robot user chooses a collaborative robot when they need to prioritize safety, flexibility, low cost deployment, and fast ROI.
Collaborative robots are designed to minimize the risk of accidents and injuries in the workplace. For applications that require robot and human input, a collaborative robot is equipped with sensors to avoid collisions, force limitations, smooth designs, overcurrent protections, and passive compliance in the event of unplanned contact. Improved safety boosts productivity and reduces operating costs for robot users – two almost immediate benefits collaborative robots deliver.
Collaborative robots can be easily programmed, even by workers with no knowledge of robot programming. In some instances, the robot can be shown how to complete a task by physically moving the robot arm to the correct places. This allows for collaborative robots to automate several different tasks with quick changeover times. This flexibility lowers the initial cost of automation and directly contributes to ROI and productivity.
Low Cost Deployment
The ease of programming a collaborative robot reduces the time and resources required for integration, which lowers the automation investment. Collaborative robots come equipped with safety features and don’t require fences or other industrial safety equipment, which further lowers costs while reducing integration time. The low cost of deploying a collaborative robot, at least in comparison to industrial robots, makes them far more accessible to a wider customer base.
Collaborative robots have proven their ability to deliver faster ROI than their industrial counterparts. This is primarily due to the fact that upfront costs are significantly lower, more tasks can be automated per robot, and collaborative robots contribute to strong productivity. For those who can’t risk too much on an automation investment, collaborative robots provide reliable ROI, usually within just a few months.
There are many benefits associated with using collaborative robots. When compared to industrial robots, collaborative robots are often a more profitable and productive solution when used in the right applications.
Collaborative Robots Will Gain Market Share in a Diverse Range of Industries
The flexibility of collaborative robots, as well as their financial accessibility, make them an ideal solution in a wide range of industries and applications. Some of the most common industries that use collaborative robots today include:
- General manufacturing
- Metal fabrication
- Packaging and co-packing
- Food and agriculture
- Furniture and equipment
- Pharmaceutical and chemical
- Scientific research
Collaborative robots can be deployed in many different ways. As collaborative robot technology advances, and more industries realize the productivity benefits of these types of robots, sales volumes will accelerate.
Collaborative robots work in environments where industrial robots would be unsafe or unproductive. The market potential for collaborative robots, inside and outside of the factory setting, is enormous. Stay on top of the latest trends in collaborative robot technology and capitalize on this explosive growth in the near future.
Be sure to explore the future of collaborative robots to learn about market trends and exciting technological innovations.