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Working hand-in-hand with collaborative robots

People often think of robots as job killers. However, the future of work will be a collaboration between human and machine. Collaborative robotics is an emerging field that allows workers and robots to work side by side to improve efficiency and quality of the production process and output. These robots will have an influential effect on how Industry 4.0 affects the “smart” factory of the future.

These robots reconfigure the machine/human relationship and allow workers to have more hands-on management of manufacturing processes. For instance, Australian wine maker Accolade Park uses collaborative robots to shape cardboard to put into a machine to make boxes for its wine. The robots create boxes for different-sized wine – from 180ml bottles to 10L casks. Workers can program the robots to create the boxes to certain specifications. The robots do not need to be placed behind a fence to prevent damage to glass bottles on the production line. Collaborative robots improve the connectivity of factories and other workplace environments. In 2016, Microsoft joined forces with a robot manufacturer to develop a collaborative robot. It uses the Microsoft Azure IoT, which works with the robotic system to send data to the Microsoft Azure cloud software.

The manufacturer used the data from the cloud to ensure production schedules and other KPIs were being met. This information sharing between the robot and the cloud ensured that the company could overcome any bottlenecks in the shop floor and thereby increase efficiency, productivity and quality assurance.

Bosch APAS Assistant is the company’s collaborative robot solution. The APAS robot is an intelligent and flexible robot system for direct, safe and collaboration between human and machine.

Its sensor skin is the first assistance system created for interaction with human operators without the need for a safety fence. Its 3D camera allows the APAS to identify objects and identify their spatial position, while the gripper automatically retracts in case it jams. With the APAS assistant sensor-based, platform-independent distance monitoring system, the robot can detect what is happening around its immediate vicinity. Within 50mm the robot will stop. With its speed switch function, it monitors an area around the robot so if someone enters the surrounding area, it automatically slows to a safer speed to avoid any injury risk to the employee.

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