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Safety for robots in collaborative applications

Author : Stewart Robinson, Principal Engineer & Functional Safety Expert

01 September 2020

In industrial production, smart machines have been integral to many plants for a long time. Today, original equipment manufacturers, as well as other tier suppliers, are making use of new technologies for collaborative robot applications. The challenge is to guarantee safety and minimise the chance of injury when people and machines work together.

Robots designed for use in collaborative applications, sometimes referred to as cobots, are expanding the possibilities of automation, as they are often easier to deploy and use. As obstacles like system interoperability are overcome, manufacturers will integrate increasing numbers of robots. Consequently, flexible production automation will become more accessible to a larger number of businesses.

ISO 8373 defines an industrial robot as: “An automatically controlled, reprogrammable, multipurpose manipulator programmable in three or more axes, which may be either fixed in place or mobile for use in industrial automation applications.”

Cobots are designed to work alongside humans in a ‘collaborative workspace’, an area where the robot and the human can perform tasks simultaneously. This means that, unlike more traditional machines which are ‘caged’ by a guarding mechanism, robots used in collaborative applications often operate in the human-occupied workspace without safety fencing. However, not all ‘collaborative robots’ are guard-free, depending on their function and safety requirements. Besides the robot itself, the collaborative robot might include an ‘end effector’, that is the tool adapted on the robot arm with which the robot performs tasks. In tandem with this new way of working, there comes new safety concerns...

Read the full article in the September issue of DPA.

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