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THE COBOTS ARE COMING

17 July, 2019

Although collaborative robots – or cobots – have attracted considerable publicity in recent years, they still still represent a tiny part of the industrial robot market. In particular, there are very few real-world cobot applications that exploit their ability to collaborate safety with human co-workers.

But they are starting to make inroads into the robotics market and, if a new report from ABI Research (www.abiresearch.com) is correct in its analysis and predictions, cobots are poised to take a much larger slice of the market.

According to ABI, global sales of cobot arms will amount to around $711m this year – about 5% of the total revenues from industrial robotics. But by 2030, cobot sales could have soared to $11.8bn, representing almost 30% of the total market for industrial robot hardware. If revenues from related products such as end-of-arm tooling and software are included, the cobot ecosystem could mushroom from just over $1bn in 2019, to $24bn by 2030 – a CAGR of 28.6%.

This growth is not just related to the growing take-up of cobots, but also to a convergence between the cobots and traditional industrial robots, which are increasingly adopting some of the benefits of cobots as a result of advances in sensors, machine vision and motion control.

What is clear is that the growing interest in cobots is not being driven primarily by their ability to work benignly with humans. “Most of the value related to cobots does not come from collaboration,” points out senior ABI analyst, Rian Whitton. “It comes through ease-of-use, re-programmability, lower total cost compared to industrial systems, and re-deployability.

“In essence,” he adds, “the value is one of lowering barriers rather than building entirely new use-cases for robots. What is more, cobots still trail industrial systems in speed, performance, and payload, which will have to change if adoption is to continue at this feverish rate.”

Cobots fit in well with the changing face of manufacturing, which is having to become more flexible to meet increasing demands for customisation and last-minute orders. Although current cobots are not a panacea to the need for flexibility and smaller batch sizes, they are an important step towards leaner and more flexible manufacturing, says ABI.

The biggest beneficiary of this trend has been the Danish cobot pioneer, Universal Robots, which is the clear market-leader, with 59% of global cobot shipments in 2018. It has managed to attract business both from big car manufacturers and component suppliers for applications such as screw-driving, and from smaller companies which are using cobots for pick-and-place and machine-tending applications. But Universal is facing increasing competition both from traditional robot-makers and from newer entrants to the market.

According to ABI’s Rian Whitton, cobots “are not revolutionising the industry, so much as being the catalyst for a leaner and more flexible industrial robotic solution that opens the field up to small and medium manufacturers. As the demands of customisation and high-mix, low-volume manufacturing present managers with new challenges, this technological development will be crucial in transitioning to a more adaptable solution.”

So, whether collaborative robots are sharing tasks with humans or not, it seems like we are going to be seeing a lot more of them.

 

Tony Sacks, Editor

 




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