COVID-19 has harshly impacted many industries, and industrial manufacturing has proven to be one of them as 80% of manufacturers expect the pandemic to have a financial impact on their business and a majority of those in the sector believe the pandemic will affect operations. Due to the onset of challenges over the past six months, companies have had to pivot, refocus and adapt their production lines in order to survive and keep up with customer demands.
These demands require industrial leaders to reset their digital transformation strategies, and I believe cobots (collaborative robots) that are meant to interact closely with humans safely in a shared work space, should play a significant role in these strategies. Cobots are quite different from traditional industrial robots, which work autonomously with safety assured by isolation from human contact. Cobots currently represent a very small percentage of the overall robotics market, but an area I believe will grow rapidly for applications in manufacturing in the next five years. Below are my predictions for why cobots will rise in the industry and how I see industry standards and technology evolving to ensure cobots can stand up to their tasks.
The pandemic is accelerating the adoption of technology that prioritizes safety first and foremost, providing more urgency toward increased digital transformation and automation. A lot of people have got infected in meat packing plants and other such settings—it’s difficult to keep frontline workers six feet apart when they are working on fast-moving production lines, and, on top of that, may need to shout over loud machinery to communicate. These factors create a situation where the virus can easily spread. Cobots can ensure that separation and boundaries on manual handling are able to prevent COVID-19 spread across a number of industrial scenarios.