Human and robot collaboration epitomises the workplace of the future

Daniel Bakovic, from Pilz, said until recently, service and industrial robotics were incompatible.

Information computer technology (ICT) and robotics are set to grow Australia’s workforce by hundreds-of-thousands. The ICT workforce alone, grew by 3.5 per cent, from 2016 to 2017, to 663,100 workers. According to a Deloitte Access Economics and the Australian Computer Society report, Australia’s Digital Pulse 2018, the demand for ICT workers is set to grow by almost 100,000 to 758,700 workers by 2023. By that time, almost 3 million Australian workers will be employed in occupations that use ICT regularly as part of their jobs.

While some employees fear robots will take away their jobs, there is plenty of evidence against this notion. A 2018 Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) report, The Impact of Technological and Other Change on the Future of Work and Workers in Australia, found that most jobs will change as a result of technology, not disappear. Machines are expected to automate an additional two hours of routine and manual work in an average Australian work week by 2030. As has been the case between 2000 and 2015, most workers between 2015 and 2030 will be spending more time on different tasks within their existing jobs rather than changing jobs.

With more businesses adopting the latest technology, including robotics and automation, software solutions and cobots, the desire to push the boundaries of what technology can offer is in overdrive. Just as printers revolutionised the office decades ago, and the invention of search engines, such as Google in the late 1990s, gave people information at the tip of their fingers, cobots are giving manufacturing facilities the best of human and robot interaction to optimise and maximise production facilities.

Companies such as Pilz are introducing the latest in robotics, such as the new 6-axis Manipulator PRBT. The robotic arm is flexible and compact, weighing 19kg. It allows the user to mount it in any direction and has a load capacity of 6kg. The Manipulator features an operating range of up to 741mm and high repetition accuracy (0.2mm).

Pilz head of control technology and mechatronic systems in advanced development, Daniel Bakovic, said until recently, service and industrial robotics were incompatible as far as standardisation was concerned. “These boundaries are increasingly disappearing and both sectors are showing rising growth. The use of cobots is increasing, and the trend towards safe human-robot collaboration is continuing.

“Compatible interfaces and an open concept are very important, giving users the flexibility to adapt their robotics application,” said Bakovic.

The Pilz robot is a service robot designed to meet the requirements of the application, which in most cases is improved efficiency and accurate repeatability. The robot is designed to not only be mounted in a stationary environment for simple pick and place applications due to its low operating voltage 24V DC, it can also be mounted on mobile equipment such as an automated guided vehicle.

The robot can be integrated into an existing application, or combined with a Robot Operating System (ROS). The ROS is modular in design, so components from any manufacturer, such as manipulators, grippers or sensors, can be swapped quickly depending in the company’s needs.

The ROS can also be used across a range of manufacturers, offering a networked, interoperable system in the spirit of Industry 4.0. It also offers flexibility through compatible programming languages such as C++, and Python, as well as interfaces to Java and Javascript.

Bakovic said the issue of mobility is becoming increasingly important and many mobile platforms are using the ROS. “We have kept the operating concept simple, the aim being that anyone, including users without any knowledge of robots, are able to implement simple pick-and-place applications quickly, in a straightforward manner.

Unlike other robot manufacturers, who have their ROS packages developed by research institutions, the Pilz packages come directly from the manufacturer. ROS assumes control – and not just in terms of issuing commands to the manufacturer-specific robot control system,” he said.

Taking advantage of robotics

A 2018 Deloitte report, The Robots Are Waiting: Are You Ready to Reap the Benefits? stated that the biggest barriers to scaling robotics are indicated as being process fragmentation (32 per cent), a lack of a clear robotics vision (17 per cent), a lack of IT readiness (17 per cent) and a lack of skills to implement robotics (7 per cent).

The report indicated that many IT teams are only just beginning to fully appreciate how different the deployment of automation technologies is to traditional IT systems, how profound the changes they will introduce are, and the potential impact on the role of IT teams. Deloitte has experienced medium complexity robot implementation schedules ranging from 4 weeks up to 24 weeks. As IT teams learn and adapt to the changes required to implement automation technologies successfully, the pace of robot deployment accelerates rapidly.

To help companies adapt robotic applications quickly and easily, Pilz offers training courses for companies wanting to maximise their employees’ abilities to work with new technology. These training courses offer management of risk in machinery procurement, robot safety and human robot collaboration (HRC) training.

In order to offer training on the latest technology, such as the company’s ROS, Pilz Australia’s technical support manager, Adam Hallinan, received training at the company’s headquarters in Germany in February.

Pilz Australia’s national sales and marketing manager, Rob Stevenson, said that when people are properly trained to use Pilz products they can maximise the product benefits through learning all the capabilities and efficiencies. “It is also just as critical that people have a sound understanding of not just the products and their technical capabilities, but the standards and installation requirements that apply to safety-rated equipment. This is to ensure that the most appropriate products are selected for the application and installed in a matter that will meet the requirements of the appropriate standards and therefore maintain the correct level of safety for the given machine or equipment.

“Undergoing machine safety training is the first step towards building competency in the area of safe automation and can lead to even more specialised training opportunities in the future,” said Stevenson.

Improving workplaces

The 2018 Deloitte Robotics Are Waiting report stated that more than 80 per cent of organisations implementing robotics indicated a happier workforce.

The top priorities for organisations adopting robotics are increased productivity at 38 per cent, improved customer experience at 18 per cent and scale automation at 16 per cent.

The report stated that by having a better sense for the broader benefits of an automation, organisations can better prioritise automation investments and better plan how humans should interact with each of their digital colleagues.

Pilz, which specialises in automation solutions with a focus on safety, has been fitting safety sensor and control technology solutions to robotics applications for decades. Throughout this time, the company has acquired expertise in robotics, particularly in the area of human-robot collaboration. It’s this knowledge that Pilz is able to pass on to its customers, which includes a growing pool of companies wanting to keep up with technological trends.