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Next-gen cobots ‘will unlock automation for new sectors’

24 February, 2021

ABB has extended its portfolio of collaborative robots (cobots) with two new easy-to-program six-axis models which, it claims, set new benchmarks and are up to five times faster than others in their class. They are:

• The GoFa, a 27kg cobot with a 5kg payload capacity and a “class-leading” reach of 950mm, which can move at speeds of up to 2.2m/s. The IP54-protected machine is aimed at applications such as assembly, packaging, machine-tending, material-handling, inspection and laboratory automation, and incorporates intelligent torque and position sensors in each joint to stop the arm in “milliseconds” if they detect any contact with humans or other objects. The GoFa’s reach is 70% further than ABB’s existing single-arm YuMi cobot, and is claimed to be 12% better than other 5kg-capacity cobots, allowing loads to be picked up and carried over greater distances.

• The Swifti, based on ABB’s IRB 1100 industrial robot, offers a payload capacity of 4kg, a reach of up to 580mm, an operating speed of up to 5m/s, and an accuracy/repeatability of 10µm. Designed for intermittent collaboration with humans, it is aimed at tasks such as assembly and polishing where operators need to be present for duties such as repositioning parts. When used with a safety laser scanner, the IP40-protected robot can slow down or stop automatically as a person approaches. It weighs 21kg.

Both cobots are safety certified to PL d Cat 3.

To back up its new launches, ABB has carried out a global survey of 1,650 large and small businesses in Europe, the US and China, which reveals that 85% believe that the Covid pandemic has been “game-changing” for their businesses and industries, with 84% planning to introduce or increase the use of robotics and automation in the next decade, citing Covid as a catalyst for accelerating their investment in automation.

More than half (51%) say that robots could enhance social distancing and 36% are considering using robotic automation to improve the quality of work for their employees. The vast majority (78%) of the CEOs and managing directors quizzed for the survey report that they are finding it difficult to recruit and retain staff for repetitive and ergonomically challenging jobs.

ABB predicts that its more powerful, faster and more capable cobots will accelerate its expansion in high-growth segments such as electronics, healthcare, consumer goods, logistics, and food and beverage.

Users will not need in-house programming specialists, it says, unlocking industries with low levels of automation. They will be able to use their cobots within minutes of installation, with no specialised training.

“With this expansion, we are making cobots easier to use and deploy, with real-time support to help speed their adoption in businesses that may not have considered their use previously,” says Sami Atiya, president of ABB’s Robotics & Discrete Automation business. “Our new cobot portfolio is the most diverse on the market, offering the potential to transform workplaces and help our customers achieve new levels of operational performance and growth.”

ABB’s GoFa cobot can be programmed by users with no training or in-depth programming skills

Andie Zhang, ABB Robotics’ global product manager for collaborative robotics, believes that that the GoFa cobot will be “a game-changer”. Building on the YuMi family that ABB launched in 2015, she predicts that the GoFa “will significantly expand the potential for cobots globally, by safely and accurately supporting a new range of tasks and applications”.

Turning to the Swifti, which is designed to close the gap between collaborative and industrial robots, she says it will allow companies “to transform their productivity by automating repetitive, mundane and dangerous processes, while leaving employees free to perform more rewarding activities.

“Combining the capabilities of a collaborative robot with the higher speed, accuracy and robustness of an industrial robot helps to address many of the barriers that have prevented companies from fully realising the potential benefits of robotic automation,” Zhang adds. “By coupling the safety features and ease-of-use and installation of a collaborative robot with the high speed, precision, performance and compact design of the IRB 1100 industrial robot, Swifti provides the best of both worlds.

“With collaborative safety and high speed and accuracy on a par with an industrial robot,” she predicts, “it will help companies transform their productivity by enabling greater co-operation between their robotic and human workers across a wide range of applications.”

In 2019, more than 22,000 new collaborative robots were deployed globally – an increase of 19% on the previous year. According to a recent report by Interact Analysis, the demand for cobots will grow at an estimated CAGR of 17% between 2020 and 2025, with the value of global cobot sales expected to double from around $0.7bn in 2019 to $1.4bn by 2025. By comparison, the global market for all types of industrial robot is expected to grow from $45bn in 2020 to around $58bn by 2023 – a CAGR of 9%.

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The Swifti cobot is designed to bridge the gap between collaborative and industrial robots

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