text says collaborative robots: what is a cobot on white box laid over top image of man controlling robotic arms from an ipad

Collaborative Robots: What is a Cobot? 

The word robot tends to inspire visions of famous science fiction characters like R2-D2, The Iron Giant, or WALL-E. But what about their less well-known counterpart, collaborative robots (frequently called cobots)? This variety of automated robot may not be as widely recognized for starring in any Hollywood films, but they lend a huge helping hand to packaging lines and operations worldwide.  

If you’ve been working in the packaging industry over the past few years, you likely understand that packaging automation is the way of the future. From case sealers and auto baggers to fully equipped automatic packaging lines, it seems as if there’s a machine available to help virtually any business or operation with a multitude of different needs. Among the diverse variety of automated packaging equipment, you’ll find collaborative robots, which are commonly referred to by their shorthand name, cobots.  

What is a Collaborative Robot? engineer controlling arm of collaborative robot as it hovers over microchips

Cobots are very similar to robots in what kind of work they do and the services they provide, but are much newer to the market and offer one very important difference. Unlike a traditional robot, a collaborative robot works in tandem with a human operator and is designed specifically to enhance the capabilities of that operator, rather than replace them completely. This could mean that a person controls the cobot as it picks items off a shelf and places them onto a packaging line or the user may "train” it to assemble certain portions of the package into one unit. Essentially, the worker provides power and direction while the cobot performs each job with a level of precision that is nearly impossible to achieve through manual labor alone. Collaborative robots are a great choice for organizations that can’t fully automate their packaging line, but want to see the outstanding ROI that comes along with packaging automation. At present, we commonly see them used in the automotive and industrial spaces, but the popularity of cobots is ever expanding.  

Why Should I Buy a Cobot? 

The advantages to utilizing collaborative robots in your facility are seemingly endless. Implementing cobots in your packaging line allows you to save money and improve your throughput, as well as reduce labor costs and labor-related injuries. Because they do not completely replace the tasks of a human employee, they are able to augment and expedite your processes. When working alongside your team members, you’ll soon see more effective and accurate work performed at a faster speed. In fact, a global leader in the cosmetics and beauty industry was actually able to save as much as $500,000 in one year and redirect as many as 13 employees to more productive tasks that could only be performed by a human after they implemented eight collaborative robots in their picking and packaging setup.  

two collaborative robot arms place hair care products into black boxes on conveyor line

Important Reminders for Collaborative Robots 

Even with the immense benefits that come along with adding cobots to your packaging line, there are a few key things that you’ll need to keep in mind. Many people who are novices at packaging automation are concerned about a malfunction or misuse of the technology that can cause it to go haywire. Fortunately, these events are usually only the stuff of Hollywood dramatics, but it’s still important to only use your collaborative robots for their intended purpose. This means you don’t allow beginners to make any attempts at reprogramming or forcing the machine to perform a task outside of what it’s meant to do. As long as the cobot is used appropriately, there should be no cause for concern. Another worry that might come up with a cobot (or even a standard robot) is that its technology could become outdated and inoperable after a few short years. Thankfully, one major advantage of cobots is their trainable nature. In essence, your team “trains” the machine on what it’s supposed to do and, within reason, those tasks can be updated as time and technology move forward.  

Collaborative Robots and Your Packaging Line

Packaging lines are an outstanding opportunity for taking advantage of the many positives that come along with collaborative robots. This is due to the fact that packaging lines require high precision to perform many of their tasks – such as picking products from shelves, placing them onto conveyors, and beyond. Utilizing a cobot or multiple cobots in conjunction with your team members can quickly improve your process, help your team work more efficiently, increase your throughput, reduce labor hours and injuries, and protect your bottom line.