Cobots and Your Packaging Process

You’ve probably read at least one science fiction book or watched a movie about robots. Robots are an exciting subject that have become incredibly commonplace in our world of entertainment, as well as in manufacturing and production facilities across the globe. But have you ever come across the lesser known counterpart to robots called cobots? A cobot, which is the more commonly used shorthand term for the phrase collaborative robot, is a type of automated machine designed to work alongside humans to complete tasks or functions.  

What is a Cobot? 

While average robots have been used in manufacturing and packaging lines for many years, cobots are relatively new. They are specifically designed to augment a person’s ability to work, unlike robots. 

Robots are instead intended to completely replace the work performed by a human being and must be specially programmed to do so. Conversely, an employee is able to “train” a cobot rather than program it for one specialized task. The person working alongside a collaborative robot might control it as it picks items off shelves or positions them on a packaging line. This means that cobots are an excellent option for facilities that are unable to fully automate their processes but still want the cost savings and labor reductions that come along with automation. Today, we see collaborative robots commonly used in industrial and automotive applications, as well as on semi-automated packaging lines, but as they grow in popularity, so too will their usage in more and more industries. 

The Cobot Advantage 

It’s great to understand the functionality of a cobot, but how can they actually help us or benefit our businesses? Primarily, collaborative robots can save you both time and money. Instead of completely replacing an employee or group of employees like you would with a traditional robot, these machines will augment the behavior of your team. In this way, they help to enhance the efficiency and throughput of your operation by allowing your staff to work faster and more effectively. Additionally, cobots are much more precise than manual work, which means they use less material than an unassisted person would to perform the same tasks. One major cosmetics company was actually able to save an incredible $500,000 annually and redirect 13 employees to focus on value-added, more important tasks simply by adding eight cobots to their picking and packaging process. 

The Potential Downsides of a Cobot 

Maybe we’ve all seen a few too many sci-fi movies where robots take over the Earth, but whether we’re talking robots or cobots, some of us are going to have a few reservations – especially if we don’t know all the details about what these machines can do. Many people get a little nervous and assume that all robots and cobots are unsafe or that they might malfunction and harm the people around them. However, as long as companies properly maintain the cobots and use them only for the appropriate tasks (as in, the functions they are specifically designed and intended to perform), there should be no cause for concern. 

Another uncertainty that some have with automation is that it might eventually become outdated and, therefore, inoperable. Thankfully, cobots offer the unique advantage of being trainable and controllable. Unlike robots, they are not programmed to do one task and one task alone – human employees control them in order to perform work together in a more efficient manner.  

Cobots and the Future of Packaging 

Many industries are already taking advantage of the immense benefits offered by cobots, including consumer goods, food and beverage, and beyond. Cobots are so beneficial that some studies predict that at least 34% of all industrial robots purchased by the year 2025 will be collaborative, especially as they often come with a lower price tag than a traditional robot. With the combination of manual labor from human employees and efficient work from collaborative robots, packaging lines and packaging functions can operate more effectively than you ever thought possible.