We’re used of watching sci-fi movies in which futuristic robots live their lives together with humans working side by side with them. In those films robots would perform tasks in which higher strength, computational power and speed were required in order to allow their human counterparts to focus on activities in which creativity, intuition and lateral thinking were key.
Well, even if we’re not quite ready to build a C3PO or an R2D2, that future might not be so far away since a number of collaborative robots are already available to be used within industrial operations across a number of industries, including pharma. They have been designed to perform highly repetitive and low value added activities on behalf of humans and, based on the kind of robot, they are able of executing a variety of tasks including lifting, moving, sorting, quality checking, and many more.
There are many type of robots, but here we would like to focus on 4 of them:
- SCARA robots: the Selective Compliance Assembly Robot Arm (SCARA) robots are used mainly for parts’ movement. They can move on two axis (length and depth), are able to rotate objects they move and have a joint that works much as the articulation of the human harm. SCARA robots are particularly suited for the execution of high precision, high speed activities and they work at their best when those operations are performed between surfaces at the same height. They are able to perform sorting, ordering and moving activities and they are often used in production lines (video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ox5bhKqKbTk)
- Parallel Robots: parallel robots are made of six to three arms connected to an effector that performs the various operations it is tasked with. It can move on the 3 axis (height, depth and length) and is able to get a hold of objects, mainly through suction, and to move them in the desired position. One simple example of the activities performed by this kind of robots is moving cookies from a conveyor belt to the final package. One or more cookies are lifted and positioned in several layers within the final package in a much quicker and effective way than one or more operators would do. (video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vEkE8RPOrEs)
- Articulated Robots: articulated robots are used in assembly operations as well but are capable of more complex movements on the 3 axis. They are usually seen on automobiles production lines where they perform activities such as screwing and welding. They are able to lift higher weights and can vary greatly in dimensions, depending on their intended use. (video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bhItGlqMHck)
- Autonomous Intelligent Vehicles: AIVs are robots that are able to move within a certain designated space. They usually perform repetitive transport operations and are able to move in an environment where humans are present. They are not bound by magnetic strips or by predefined routs, they are able to dynamically work in fleets and can detect a change in the surrounding environment and adapt their route in order to circumvent it. These robots can execute pre-programmed missions or can go from one pre-defined working station to another and wait for a command by one of the operators on what will be the next task to perform. Their use in fleets can allow a significant reduction of the time spent by the operator in low value added and repetitive transport operations. They are flexible and can be adapted in order to meet a number of needs. (video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y9-Rg4uEY6c)
These are only some examples of what technological innovation is providing us with and, even if some of these robots have been present on the market for quite some time, the use of AI and other technologies such as voice and gesture command recognition, augmented reality and virtual reality is opening a number of new possibilities for their applications that will significantly improve the level of collaboration with their human counterparts.