What is a cobot?
A cobot, also called co-robot or collaborative robot, is a robot designed to work together with people. The difference with a robot is that robots are usually designed to work independently. The purpose of a cobot is to provide support for the work of machine operators. This can be, for example, the passing or clamping of a product. Human action remains an essential part of this process, in contrast to the process that robots go through. Originally, cobots were developed for direct physical interaction between man and machine.
Cobots versus loading robots
There are some fundamental differences between cobots and robots. The biggest difference is in the operating software. A loading robot is a universal system. The software is therefore designed to automate any machining process. In general, the idea exists that cobots are easier to operate. However, the software of cobots has a disadvantage compared to that of robot systems. The system is not or hardly self-learning. This means that many repetitive tasks that the cobot has to carry out have to be entered again and again. The system is simple, but not ‘smart’. and therefore has limited integration possibilities. It is also not possible to combine product handling with pallet handling. Loading robots, on the other hand, are universal, have all the necessary functionalities and are characterised by their flexibility and user-friendly software. Loading robots also have a simple inlay configuration and a gripper system that enables the robot grippers to be adjusted to the product to be machined. Recently, however, the development of cobots – and particularly in this area – has been relatively rapid. This obviously makes the consideration of the application of both possibilities different. However, the fundamental differences remain.
Storage and product handling
Another difference is the storage capacity. Loading robots have sufficient smart and spacious storage, while with cobots this is often limited to just a single table or layer. Automating several series unmanned is therefore not possible due to lack of space. The greatest difference in terms of product handling is speed. Loading robots work much faster. This is due to safety reasons: a cobot has to work slower to prevent hazardous situations for the people working with the cobot. A loading robot such as Xcelerate works with a safety zone to ensure a safe distance between man and machine. This allows the robot to work at a higher speed. Another problem that metal machining experts may encounter when using cobots is the limited handling weight. Standard cobots that are currently available on the market have a maximum handling weight of fifteen kilos. This limits the range of products that can be processed with a cobot.
Efficiency and continuity
Loading robots can be equipped with a double gripper, either immediately or at a later date, Features such as Fixture Exchange and Collet Exchange, Job Manager and a centring and take-over unit, ensuring an efficient process are available. Furthermore, a loading robot forms a whole with a net cable package incorporated into the robot. Cobot cables run along the outside. Loading robots are constructed from high quality components and are therefore better suited for 24-hour production. A loading robot is also more resistant to dirt. This means that a loading robot can also function for a long time in dirty environments.
Completeness and functionality
A robot cell is more than just a cobot or a robot. A cobot in itself is a stand-alone machine and not yet a complete system. This means that components such as a loading unit, cobot grippers, etc. do not come as standard. To make the cobot a fully functioning system, it is therefore necessary to add extra components. In the case of loading robots, on the other hand, you can speak of a fully functioning cell. It is a question of plug and play.
The purchase price of a cobot is lower than the purchase price of a robot cell. However, the difference in the total price is less. Additional components are needed to make a complete system out of a cobot. Moreover, the machine efficiency of a loading robot is much higher. This has to do with the completeness of the functionalities, which means that more unmanned production is possible.
In brief, the following factors play a key role in the comparison between cobots and loading robots:
- Robustness: loading robots have a longer lifespan than cobots
- Speed: as of now, a cobot should not accelerate faster than 250 mm per second, while a loading robot’s maximum speed is four times that.
- Safety: when working with sharp products, hazardous situations may arise when a cobot is deployed; a loading robot works with a safety zone as standard
- Flexibility and storage capacity: a loading robot is a universal and complete system; a cobot is a complete robot but is not expandable and has a limited storage capacity
- Price-functionality ratio: a limited difference in price, but a significant difference in functionalities
- Weight: a standard cobot may not lift more than fifteen kilos, while loading robots can lift several hundred kilos
- Efficiency: a gripper switch and Fixture Exchange are not possible with a cobot, which severely restricts its flexibility and usability.
In short, a cobot is especially suitable as an automation entry-level model for companies that have little experience with technology and robots and/or do not have much to spend. In some cases, it is possible to be satisfied with the cobot’s lower machine efficiency and lack of functionalities – functionalities that a loading robot could indeed offer. It all depends on how the company does business. However, companies in the machining industry often switch to a loading robot sooner or later.
So when should you opt for a cobot?
The appeal of a cobot cell is the relatively low entry threshold. The investment is lower than in a robot cell. A cobot is ideal for gaining experience in automation. Programming experience is not required. This makes a cobot extremely suitable for companies with in-house knowledge of automation. Besides automating machining processes, cobots can also be more cost-effective. In the assembly and packaging industry, for example, many products are relatively light and involve large series or identical operations. A cobot is often sufficient in such a situation. Even in a clean working environment, where the actions to be carried out consist only of picking and placing, a cobot can do the job very well. However, the lack of flexibility remains a problem.
Would you like to know more about the differences between cobots and loading robots? Cellro’s specialists are always there for you with tailored advice.