The Robotics Group: Fostering Human/Robot Interaction

By Jean Feingold

Want to improve the working relationship between robots and humans? Ask The Robotics Group (TRG). This MHI industry group provides leadership in robotics by inspiring user confidence and fostering adoption of robotic solutions to drive efficiency in supply chain applications. Its members are leading manufacturers, integrators, consultants and component suppliers of robotic solutions designed specifically for warehousing and distribution applications.

Both ISO Technical Specification 15066 and the RIA Technical Report R15.606 specify conditions under which industrial robots can be deployed without the need of perimeter guarding or other means to mitigate contact between the robot and human operators. Known as collaborative robots or cobots, they can be useful in manual material handling tasks.

Deciding on cobots

“Historically, automating a task or application with robotics required safety guarding to separate humans from the automated solution,” Nathan Koontz of MHI member Universal Robots pointed out. “This required a significant amount of space, as it closed off a portion of the factory floor beyond the robot’s reach. The solution was very complex to program, difficult to modify and required additional equipment to keep operators safe.”

The advent of power and force-limiting robots and improved sensor technology enabled new robotic applications. This has allowed robotic manufacturers to offer collaborative robots for use in small spaces where it was impossible before, noted Brent Barcey of MHI member FANUC Robotics America. “Cobots can now perform tasks previously deemed unworthy of automating,” said Koontz.

“Most applications for material handling of light and/or smaller items can be easily adapted to cobot automation,” said Mark Nehrkorn of MHI member SICK Inc. “Cobots are well suited for material handling tasks where speed and accuracy may be less sensitive to the application.” This includes moving material or parts in and out of machines, loading finished products into totes or onto trays for movement from production to packaging, pick and place operations, order fulfillment, bin picking, directly loading product into bags or boxes and even palletizing finished goods.

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