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Meet your future new ‘cobot’ colleagues


via Flickr © Big Richard C (CC BY-SA 2.0)

  • Collaborative robots may soon be amongst us
  • Cobot growth spurred by SMB needs 
  • Asia-Pacific region to be the largest cobot market

You may not have heard of ‘collaborative robotics’, but according to market analyst ABI Research, it’s shaping up to be one of the fastest growing segments in the field.

The term ‘collaborative’ refers to ‘human scale systems’ that can share a workspace with and interact with us humans while also moving about on their own when required. The report maintains that advances in the technology means that this category is suddenly capable of roles (mingling with us) that their bulk would have made unwieldy and even unsafe before (imagine a malfunctioning human-scale robot going out of control in an office).

But now their advantages in terms of strength,  precision, and repeatability mean they are due to be assigned collaborative roles in the huge, but traditionally technologically underserved, small to medium sized enterprise segment.

ABI reckons SMBs are driving the increased demand for collaborative robots,  (cobots) because they “provide solutions that allow for a more flexible kind of manufacturing that makes no assumptions as to volume levels or types of products being manufactured.”

From 2016 to 2025 ABI estimates that the global revenue of collaborative robotics shipments is set to enjoy a compound average growth rate of 49.8 per cent, compared to 12.1 per cent for Industrial robots and 23.2% for commercial robotics.

ABI says the collaborative robotics market is still young, with global revenues reaching about US$292 million in 2017. However, by 2025, that figure is set to exceed US$1.23 billion in global revenue, and hundreds of thousands of shipments. This is being driven by demand for manufacturing solutions that don’t include large-scale investment in fixed automation or larger robotic arms. These include tasks like machine-tending, quality control, and light assembly.

The manufacturing sector is the current mainstay of collaborative robotics; SMBs within the manufacturing sector will be responsible for the explosive cobot growth going forward.

“Up until recently, a large percentage of SMBs, particularly manufacturers, have missed out on many of the benefits of robotic industrial automation such as increased productivity, quality, and overall competitiveness,” says Rian Whitton, Research Analyst at ABI Research.

“Rapid change is underway. Fuelled by both supplier ‘push’ and end-user ‘pull’, established industrial robotics companies and several new vendors are providing products and services specifically designed to satisfy the needs and support the culture of SMB’s - a sizable and underserved market.”

Geographically, by far the largest market for collaborative robotics will be the Asia-Pacific region, with a projected 68 per cent market share of shipments by 2025. Europe and North America will host 30 per cent of shipments in the same year. The most successful vendor has so far been collaborative robot specialist Universal, based in Denmark. Other early movers like U.S.-based Rethink Robotics have accrued some fame, but after a slow start, the large industrial familiars, including ABB, Kuka, and Yaskawa, have recently developed new co-bots.

“Industrial robotics has been a critical component of advanced manufacturing for many decades, but with collaborative robotics, automation and cooperation between man and machine will move out of production onto the factory floor and into the warehouse,” concludes Whitton.

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