Human-robot fist bump

Autonomous Mobile Robots and Cobots Improve Worker Safety and Retention

Aug. 20, 2020
When it comes to robot implementation, worker safety is crucial. Not to worry—standards are always evolving to meet the needs for collaborative automation.

In this Q&A, Machine Design asked Eric Truebenbach, director of corporate development at Teradyne, to weigh in on robotics opportunities and challenges the industry will face moving forward.   

Machine Design: How can manufacturers use autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) and other robotics technologies such as cobots to help them optimize processes while simultaneously retaining their workforce?

Eric Truebenbach: Advanced automation solutions, including AMRs and cobots, help manufacturers overcome three of the biggest and most complex challenges facing industry today: shrinking talent pools, rising labor costs and emerging competitive forces.

AMRs and cobots extend your workforce by automating the tedious and repetitive tasks—simultaneously improving performance, safety and worker retention. They are especially beneficial for the dangerous, dull and dirty tasks that few humans want to take on, such as screw driving, low-value transportation, palletizing or machine tending.

With robots on the job, efficiency, productivity and quality increase. People also gain more time for value-oriented and human-driven activities, like tackling more challenging manufacturing problems, lean improvements and creative problem-solving. The opportunity to add more value and avoid highly-repetitive and dangerous tasks contributes to employee retention and satisfaction.

MD: How can AMRs specifically be used to enhance worker safety?

ET: Warehouse environments, for example, require significant amounts of heavy lifting, over-reaching and repetitive motion—work for which the human body and mind are not designed. Ergonomic injuries, accidents and quality lapses caused by that conflict are well documented. For example, in 2018, the National Safety Council reported that forklifts were involved in nearly 8,000 non-fatal workplace injuries and 85 work-related deaths.

Autonomous mobile robots can eliminate those workplace dangers. AMRs can handle anywhere from 100 kg (200 lb) to 4,536 kg (10,000 lb), moving supplies, inventory and equipment quickly and efficiently. They are able to feed production lines, facilitate inner-factory logistics and stage finished goods for shipment.

In addition, artificial intelligence-driven navigation systems enable AMRs to determine optimal delivery paths in real-time, making it possible for these machines to respond instantly to changes or obstacles in the environment.

MD: Many contend that flexible production will drive the future of manufacturing. What roles can robots play in flexible production lines?

ET: The ability for manufacturers to scale up or down quickly as market conditions require is an imperative for survival.  

Collaborative robots and AMRs give manufacturers the flexibility they need to thrive in all economic conditions. At their core, these machines help improve productivity, throughput and efficiency. When demand is high, this leads to greater production levels. When the market is uncertain, the efficiency and performance gains enable you to do more with less.

AMRs and cobots can also be deployed and re-deployed from one task to another, repeatedly. This flexibility enables manufacturers to manage changes to capacity, demand and outside forces in real-time.  

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