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Achieving Higher Productivity and Effective Utilisation with Collaborative Robots
May 11, 2021 Blog


Authored By: James McKew, Regional Director Asia-Pacific Universal Robots

Manufacturing has become a strategic initiative for many nations worldwide, in the light of a pan- and post-COVID-19 world. Manufacturing sustains a broad spectrum of industries and livelihoods and can provide a lifeline in times of crisis for essentials and strategic products. Singapore’s manufacturing sector reported a 16.4 per cent increase in output in February 2021, which is good news when some critical sectors such as aviation have hit rock bottom for 2020 and are still on a nascent return. With such encouraging news in the manufacturing sector, Singapore is pushing to grow the sector by 50 per cent over the next 10 years.

Other than expanding the manufacturing sector to harness greater economic returns, the “Smart Nation” drive also nudges local manufacturers to adopt advanced manufacturing and collaborative automation. Most local manufacturers have set goals to improve productivity, efficiency, customer satisfaction, and industrial safety with the ongoing labour shortage in sight.

“Hand-and-arm” in tandem for local manufacturers

Robots are increasingly the mainstay of many manufacturers large and small, and robots do also come in various sizes and applications. In some manufacturers, large industrial robots work in enclosures on larger and more commanding tasks, while collaborative robots (cobots) with their built-in safety systems work more closely with human operators on more finely tuned tasks.

Cobots are increasingly more sophisticated beyond just their safety features. For example, Universal Robots’ (UR) cobots are affordable, user-friendly with simple set-up, with easy-to-learn programming, and can easily be re-deployed to other tasks through the same simple programming. Human operators can now move from repetitive, low-value tasks to higher-value activities that increase productivity and work quality.

Ever since the phrase “Collaborative Robotics” was coined, Universal Robots has been the frontrunners in the robotics industry and have marked an entire decade since the very first cobot was deployed alongside human operators in South Asia.

Industrial safety is imperative, with such legislation enshrined in the Workplace Safety and Health Act in Singapore. The UR cobots not only offer great return of investment (ROI) for manufacturers but also have baked-in safety features that empower human operators to work with no stress alongside these cobots.

Lowering automation barriers with free training and extensive ecosystem

Gone are the days where robot programming and re-programming require advanced human operators with seasoned coding skills. The UR cobots can be easily learned in a matter of hours and anyone who used a smartphone can easily programme a cobot.

With 50,000 cobots sold worldwide and around 50 per cent of the global market share, UR is well-positioned to help manufacturers get started and succeed with cobots. The free online Universal Robots Academy (UR Academy) training has helped more than 100,000 users from more than 130 countries to learn how to implement, “teach,” and redeploy cobots for almost any task. Additionally, the UR+ ecosystem provides over 300 certified products and more than 400 approved commercial developers that provide guaranteed plug-and-play compatibility with UR cobots for fast and easy implementation.

Yokota shaves costs for stable production with UR5 cobot

One such manufacturer that achieved goals with UR cobots was Yokota Corporation, a Japan-based company that designs and manufactures bearing races, factory automation (FA) equipment, machines for assembly, packing and inspections, and machine tools.

Yokota Corporation faced challenges related to labour shortages. The company addressed such challenges with temporary measures such as adding part-time employees and relocating workers from other departments. However, these measures were not productive. The traditional industrial robots were originally considered as a solution but found to be unsuitable due to additional space requirements and the need for safety fencing.

Yokota Corporation researched further and found the UR cobot suitable, with safety and versatility as key benefits. The UR5 is extremely compact and equipped with safety functions that eliminate the need for extra space required to install a safety fence. To increase safety, even more, a fence on wheels along the narrow passage where the UR5 was implemented was set up.

The UR5 cobot was also deemed very versatile, with the capability to be used for more than one task, switching quite readily and easily through user programming.

“The cobot is also easily ‘taught’ with a ‘direct teaching’ mode to position it for other new tasks, without the need for esoteric programming,” says Hideyuki Kawamura, chief examiner, Yokota’s production division. “With the online training programme called UR Academy, I was able to move forward while learning and did not feel that it was particularly difficult”.

The deployment of the UR5 robot led to the establishment of a stable production system in Yokota Corporation, delivering a 20 per cent production increase without the need for additional human resources.

Closer to home, Singapore has the highest density of industrial robots with 918 industrial robots used per 10,000 employees in 2020. As Asia remains the strongest market for industrial robots, Universal Robots encourages local manufacturers to deploy cobots on manufacturing floors, leveraging on free online learning modules on the UR Academy. Optimistically, UR believes an average payback period as short as twelve months due to increased productivity, quality, and consistency is possible.