Collaborative robots market set to grow: survey

Manufacturers are increasingly likely to use or buy collaborative robots in their factories according to the results of a new survey.

Collaborative robots like the LBR iiwa are becoming more popular. Image courtesy of KUKA.
Collaborative robots like the LBR iiwa are becoming more popular – image courtesy of KUKA.

The survey, conducted by ABI Research found that already 13% of the businesses surveyed were making use of collaborative robots in their facilities.

Such robots (also known as ‘cobots’) are those defined as systems intended to physically interact with humans in a shared workspace.

Furthermore, another 15% of businesses contacted in the survey indicated that they would add more of these collaborative robots in the coming 12 months.

These results are all the more surprising due to the fact that this kind of technology has only realistically been on the market since 2014 at the earliest.

Uptake of the robots was seen to be markedly higher in larger businesses, hiring more than 250 employees. This finding likely reflects the large upfront investment needed to install or retool factories to use these systems.

Despite the price, demand for these robots is being driven by their utility. Rather than requiring complex training prior to their operations, these robots serve to work with less skilled human operators, and often teach them as they go.

“Although industrial robots have found much success supporting manufacturing operations, the usefulness of these same systems has been limited by their high costs, complex programming, inflexibility, and inability to work in close association with humans,” says Dan Kara, research director, Robotics at ABI Research.

As a result, the market for collaborative robots, human-scale systems that are easy to set up and program, are capable of being used by workers with a wide range of qualification levels, can support multiple types of automation, and can work safely in close proximity to human workers, is very active at this time.”

As demand rises, a number of companies have been founded in the last few years to develop and market these robots. Such companies include: Universal Robots, KUKA, Rethink Robotics, ABB, Kawada Industries, Fanuc, Franka, Denso, and Comau.

The increasing proliferation of these robots will also undoubtedly continue the decline in manufacturing industry employment in the developed world, as automation progresses into further areas.