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February 2024 |

What is a collaborative robot in the automotive industry?

*Image of a Cobot in the production process at Antolín's facilities in Spain.

The automotive industry is recognized as one of the most dynamic and innovative sectors globally, constantly facing new challenges and opportunities. In an environment marked by digitization, electrification, sustainability, and personalization, the need for advanced and competitive technological solutions arises. In this context, collaborative robots, known as cobots, have acquired a fundamental role in improving productivity, quality, and safety in automobile factories. Keep reading to discover more about this technology and its impact on the automotive industry.

What is meant by collaborative robot?


A collaborative robot, or cobot, is a type of industrial robot that can work alongside people, sharing the same space and cooperating in tasks. Unlike traditional robots, which are usually isolated for safety measures, cobots primarily improve in terms of safety. Additionally, they can adapt to different environments and processes, and learn from experience and interaction with humans, as they integrate collaborative robotics that combines artificial intelligence and human skills.

Applications of collaborative robots in the automotive industry


The automotive industry is one of the sectors that has benefited most from collaborative robotics. Cobots can perform a variety of applications on vehicle production lines, such as welding, assembly, painting, and quality control of the manufacturing process.

Cobots can weld, screw, glue, assemble, and paint car parts and components with precision and speed. They can also perform quality controls, such as measuring, inspecting, and verifying the proper functioning of systems. These tasks are often repetitive, heavy, and dangerous for humans, so cobots alleviate and optimize them.

Additionally, they can transport, classify, and place parts and materials in machines or warehouses, facilitating workflow and logistics. They can feed machines with necessary inputs and remove finished products. These tasks require strength, endurance, and coordination, so cobots improve and streamline them.

Advantages of collaborative robots in the automotive industry


Collaborative robotics offers numerous advantages for the automotive industry, including:

  • Increased productivity and efficiency: Cobots can work faster, longer, and with fewer errors than humans, increasing performance and production quality. Leading companies in the automotive sector, such as AntolinGonvarri Industrias and Gestamp, have already implemented both robots and cobots in their production facilities, allowing them to automate tasks such as loading and transporting components from the injection area to the assembly area, thus boosting efficiency and agility in their processes.
  • Greater flexibility and adaptability: Cobots can easily switch tasks, locations, and configurations, adapting to market needs and changes. This is the case for FERSA, a company dedicated to the development and distribution of complete bearing solutions for the automotive sector for over 50 years. By integrating collaborative robots into grinding lines, they have managed to drive automation in their manufacturing processes, as well as optimize logistics with the implementation of new autonomous supply systems for production lines, providing exceptional flexibility to adjust to changing market demands.
  • Lower cost and higher profitability: Cobots are affordable, have low energy consumption, and require simple maintenance, reducing operating costs and increasing return on investment.
  • Improved safety and ergonomics: Cobots are equipped with sensors, cameras, and emergency stop systems to prevent accidents and injuries. They also alleviate the physical and mental burden on workers, improving their health and satisfaction.

Some challenges or limitations that collaborative robotics still faces


Despite the benefits and opportunities offered by collaborative robotics, there are also some challenges or limitations that need to be overcome for its full implementation and development. Some of them include:

  • The need for training: Workers need to acquire the skills and knowledge necessary to interact, program, and supervise cobots, as well as to resolve potential issues or problems. This requires an investment of time and resources by companies and employees themselves.
  • Legal regulation: Cobots raise legal and ethical questions related to responsibility, safety, privacy, and intellectual property. For example, who is responsible if a cobot causes harm to a person or property? What rights and obligations do workers who collaborate with cobots have? What measures should be taken to protect the data and information generated and processed by cobots? These and other questions require a clear legal framework adapted to the reality of collaborative robotics.
  • Social acceptance: Cobots can generate fear, distrust, or rejection among some workers or consumers, who perceive them as a threat to their jobs, safety, or autonomy. Therefore, it is important to foster a culture of collaboration and trust between humans and cobots, as well as to inform and educate about the benefits and advantages they bring to society.

As a result of this advancement, one of the most frequent questions among people arises: Will robots replace humans in their jobs? The answer is not as simple as a yes or no, as it depends on many factors, such as the type of work, the level of qualification, market demand, or technological innovation. However, most experts agree that robots will not replace humans, but rather complement and help them perform their tasks more effectively and safely. Robots cannot replace the social, creative, emotional, or ethical skills of humans, which are essential for many jobs. Nor can they adapt to unforeseen or complex situations that require judgment, intuition, or experience. Humans will continue to be responsible for designing, programming, supervising, and controlling robots, as well as interacting with customers, suppliers, and colleagues.

Furthermore, robots can help solve the problem of labor shortage affecting the automotive industry, especially in developed countries where the population is aging, and there are fewer young people willing to work in this sector. They can fill vacancies that cannot be filled with humans or are unattractive due to their difficulty, danger, or monotony. Likewise, they can increase job availability and industry competitiveness, creating more job opportunities and development for humans.

Therefore, robots are not a threat but an opportunity for humans. Collaborative robotics can improve working conditions, quality of life, and worker well-being, as well as the performance, efficiency, and profitability of companies. The key is to harness the advantages of technology without losing sight of human values.

At Autoparts From Spain, we believe in a future where humans and robots collaborate to improve efficiency and safety in the automotive sector.

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