Collaborating with robotic arms


You may have heard of ‘cobots’, collaborative robots that can be reprogrammed by their users to perform a range of tasks, and which are deployed alongside human workers who interact with them to share tasks and complete precise work in a controlled manner. Many of these cobots use robotic arm technology to maximise efficiency and usability, with a powered mobile arm that carries out a range of physical tasks. Cobots, like most robots, are most favoured in situations where human workers may struggle to operate, either because they are dealing with extreme weight, hardness, require precise and repetitive work requiring great strength, or simply work that is impossible unless you use machines. Cobots are differentiated from traditional robots in that they perform multiple functions, are designed to work alongside rather than separately from humans, and can be interacted with. Many but not all cobots use a robotic arm setup. 

Robotic arms are widely used in various industries to perform repetitive tasks with speed and precision. They can be programmed to perform specific tasks, such as assembly, material handling, welding, painting, palletizing and depalletizing, and inspection and quality control. In assembly, robotic arms are used to assemble products in industries such as automotive, electronics, and consumer goods. They can perform precise screwing and bolting operations, reducing the risk of human error. In material handling, robotic arms are used to move materials from one location to another in warehouses, manufacturing facilities, and distribution centres. They can handle heavy loads and perform repetitive movements with ease, increasing efficiency and reducing the risk of injury to workers. In welding, a robot arm is commonly used due to their ability to perform precise and repetitive welding tasks. 

Welding was one of the earliest industries to start using robot arms, and is uniquely suited to their application. They can perform various welding techniques, including MIG, TIG, and spot welding. In painting, robotic arms can ensure consistent quality and reduce waste by following specific paint patterns and applying paint with precision. In palletizing and depalletizing, robotic arms are used to move products onto and off of pallets in warehouses and distribution centres. Finally, in inspection and quality control, robotic arms can be used to perform precise inspections and measurements, ensuring the quality of products. The use of robotic arms in industry has many benefits, including increased efficiency, reduced waste, and improved product quality.

Robotic arms have been increasingly integrated as part of collaborative robotics solutions in the healthcare industry to improve efficiency and patient outcomes. Collaborative robotics involves the integration of robotic systems with human workers to perform tasks that would otherwise be too dangerous, repetitive or complex for humans to handle alone.

One of the major uses of robotic arms in the healthcare industry is in surgical procedures. Robotic arms can be equipped with cameras and instruments to assist surgeons in performing complex procedures with greater precision and accuracy. For example, robotic arms can be used to make incisions, remove tissues and perform suturing. The use of robotic arms in surgery leads to reduced incision size, decreased blood loss and a faster recovery time for patients.

Another area in which robotic arms are used in healthcare is in rehabilitation. Robotic arms can be used to help patients recover from physical injuries or disabilities. For example, they can be used to help patients with limited mobility regain the use of their limbs through repetitive movements and physical therapy. Robotic arms are also used in the healthcare industry for sample handling and testing. They can be programmed to handle samples, such as blood, urine and other biological specimens, with precision and speed. This eliminates the risk of contamination and reduces the chances of human error. Robotic arms can also be programmed to perform various tests on samples, including diagnostic and clinical tests.

In addition to their use in surgical procedures, rehabilitation, and sample handling, robotic arms are also used in the healthcare industry for handling medical equipment and supplies. They can be programmed to move and position medical equipment, such as imaging machines, with precision and speed. This reduces the risk of injury to healthcare workers and improves the efficiency of medical procedures.

Another area in which robotic arms are used in healthcare is in the manufacturing of medical devices and prosthetics. Robotic arms can be programmed to assemble and manufacture medical devices with precision and speed, reducing the risk of human error and improving the quality of medical devices. Finally, robotic arms can be used in the healthcare industry for telemedicine. They can be equipped with cameras and other medical equipment to allow physicians to diagnose and treat patients from a remote location. This can be particularly useful in rural areas or in situations where a patient is unable to travel to a medical facility.

The integration of robotic arms as part of collaborative robotics solutions in the healthcare industry has led to significant improvements in patient outcomes and healthcare worker efficiency. The use of robotic arms in surgical procedures, rehabilitation, sample handling, medical equipment handling, medical device manufacturing, and telemedicine has improved the quality and speed of medical procedures, while reducing the risk of human error and injury to healthcare workers. Like in the manufacturing industry, robotic arm cobots have improved outcomes while significantly decreasing costs for their users.

Not all workers may be happy to see a robotic arm in the workplace; perhaps they fear job losses from automation, do not enjoy the loss of social interaction, or simply find the technology annoying to deal with. In these cases, employees may benefit from additional training to find out methods to maximise their skills for working alongside robotic arm cobots. Depending on the industry and existing level of technical knowledge amongst your workforce, this may be more or less simple. 

One of the frequent objections to installing robotic arms is cost. Some businesses do not see the benefits of paying for the installation and upkeep of a new tool when their existing model may already be profitable. Cobots benefit from cost savings on a few levels:

  • They are typically cheaper to install than traditional robots
  • They are easy to reprogram and can carry out multiple tasks
  • They are designed to be simple to use.

All of these points minimise the costs of training staff, installation and maintenance, and the critical feature that they can be reprogrammed means their lifetime value to businesses is much higher than for a single purpose robot. That said, very small businesses may still struggle with the upfront cost of a robotic arm, so it is important to plan carefully if you think one may be necessary or beneficial to your production process.

Many different industries are seeing the benefits of collaborative robots, and their use, especially in the form of robotic arms, is becoming more and more widespread. By understanding what tasks they can and can’t perform, you can help improve your cost base as well as the productivity in industries far beyond the traditional manufacturing applications of robotics. The cost of robotic arms is consistently falling, and more and more SME enterprises are beginning to see them as a potential transformative tool for their business model, including many that were previously priced out of the market.