Automation is permeating almost every industry, not least of which is manufacturing. Although fears about job losses are a legitimate concern, another point of view argues that automation can aim to free people from the drudgery of manual labour. This would open possibilities to reposition them in more creative and human-oriented roles.
The Canadian start-up Robotiq is on a mission to “free human hands from repetitive tasks”, and accordingly, their flagship products are state-of-the-art robotic grippers. The devices are game-changers for pick-and-place applications like assembly or pallet loading, with features including automatic part detection, position feedback, and part validation.
Deploying customized robotics solutions in manufacturing enterprises is not new and can be a highly lucrative investment, but they are often too expensive and complicated to integrate for the average manufacturer.
Robotiq has deep expertise in the industry, and they offer affordable and adaptable “cobots” (collaborative robots) that are a viable alternative for manufacturers looking for a more efficient and cost-effective solution for their automation needs. Unlike their industrial robot counterparts, cobots are safe for humans to work around because of features like force limitation and vision monitoring which allow them to stop their motion in case of an impact.
The cobots are designed to work either independently (like carrying out a repeat assembly process through the night) or in tandem with human coworkers who can direct them to assist with the more taxing or dangerous parts of a task. This includes material handling which is one of the more dangerous parts of manufacturing. Metal, plastic, and other substances may pose a risk to human workers, and handling is generally repetitive, which may lead to repetitive strain injury.
Along with the grippers, Robotiq makes accessories like force sensors, camera technology, and related software to complete the package. As a unified system, the cobots can automate manufacturing tasks that typically require the dexterity of human hands, like light assembly, finishing, and quality testing.
“Collaborative robotics is transforming industries today, offering low-cost, easy-to-deploy solutions that stand in stark contrast to the more-complicated, legacy robotics systems of the past,” said CEO Samuel Bouchard to BusinessWire.
“Plug and play” grippers and sensors
Robotiq’s main product line consists of a number of grippers and sensors that are customizable and simple to set up. Users don’t require any programming or robotics expertise to get up and running.
The lead gripper (2F-85) can lift parts weighing up to 5 kg, and place items with extreme precision. Through the accompanying software, users can adjust the gripper’s position, speed, and force to ensure a perfect grasp. The customizable ports allow users to install different shaped and sized prongs as needed.
These cobots can operate an entire assembly process from start to finish and perform it in a repeatable and consistent manner. With accessories like the Wrist Camera, they can locate parts and organize them by colour or shape, pick them up with a precise amount of force to avoid damage, and place them exactly onto other assembly components. The cobots can keep up production 24 hours a day if needed, which boosts production capacity and reduces labour costs.
The adaptable nature of the cobots translates to lower implementation costs since businesses can reduce time and labour spent on engineering customized tools and programming. There’s also a greater return on investment as the cobots can be repurposed within the same operation for an entirely new task.
In 2020, Robotiq unveiled the Robotiq Palletising Solution, which can process up to 13 boxes per minute and is reportedly 30% faster than competing robotic palletisers. It’s simple to install thanks to the integrated application software, and any new SKUs (product codes, which tell the cobot what the dimensions of the box will be) can be registered in minutes.
Automation as a growing force in manufacturing
There’s a lot of understandable fear about the rise of automation, but there’s also reason to be optimistic. A Deloitte study found that over 800,000 low-skill jobs were lost to automation in the UK over the last 15 years, but 3.5 million were created because of automation, with average salaries $16,500 higher than the low-skilled jobs.
This is in line with the mission of Robotiq, which is to remove humans from jobs that waste potential and reapply them to the creative jobs for which they’re uniquely suited, like customer relations or devising innovative new campaigns. Today, the company works with distributors in 48 markets and has customers in areas like electronics, aerospace, automotive, and more.
Robotiq received a $31 million boost in 2019 from Boston-based venture capital (VC) firm Battery Ventures with the aim of growing their business globally and developing more products.
“We have been tracking Robotiq and its experienced team for several years and are extremely impressed with the business the founders have built,” said Battery Ventures partner Jesse Feldman.
“Robotiq’s next-generation products are improving efficiencies at companies all over the globe and, more broadly, provide a glimpse of how new, interconnected technologies, including robots, sensors, and software, are driving a new kind of industrial revolution with huge ramifications for the global economy and workforce.”