Collaborative robots (cobots) are trendy and a must have for any organization claiming to go for the factory of the future. An article on Safran’s corporate website (May 2017) explains how the high-tech group is putting Cobots at the Forefront of the Factory of the Future. Of course, it caught my attention.
- Safran is a French high-tech group born in 2005 from the merger of SNECMA and SAGEM with 3 core businesses: Aerospace, Defence and Security. https://www.safran-group.com/group-0
- English version of the article (May 2017): https://www.safran-group.com/media/cobots-forefront-factory-future-20170519
But what is hype and what is real necessity? The second question reading the article is about the emphasized statement that machines will not replace people. Could it hide the fear of some new luddites smashing the new robots?
The article in a nutshell
The article is an interview of the Head of the Group’s “Ergonomics” program. The article’s highlights are:
- Safran defines 3 types of cobots:
- those controlled by an operator located within the immediate vicinity of the system (co-manipulation)
- those controlled remotely (teleoperation)
- exoskeletons; electromechanical systems providing active assistance to employees
- Safran’s guiding principle is to combine the capabilities of a robot with the skills of a human. The article highlights in bold letters that “At no point will machines replace people, they will simply assist them with their work. It is a real partnership”.
- Cobots enable the employability of aging workers or those with disabilities as well as relieving workers from low value-added tasks.
- Work organisation and content has to be reviewed, for instance how workers can be part in cobots maintenance
- Cobots bring flexibility at low cost when compared to traditional robots.
More than hype?
My first question when reading the article’s title was: is the experimentation with cobots a must have for a high-tech company or a real necessity?
Well, it seems that in France at least, the sustained growing activity in aerospace industry meets some difficulties to attract qualified workers and young people eager to work as qualified mechanics. Cobots may well be part of the solution. If work is made easier and high-tech goes to the shopfloor, younger people may consider this career path.
Extend and keep the aging but highly qualified workforce is another expected benefit from bringing in collaborative robots.
Flexibility, with regards to low volumes and high variability is another benefit that can be checked as valid.
From my understanding, cobots are more than fancy new high-tech toys for geeks in industrial engineering. There are real issues to be solved and cobots may be, at least a part of the solution. Cobots and their applications being relatively new, experimentation is still required. Over time, the reality of expected benefits will show, as well as potential new usage and applications.
What about the statement “At no point will machines replace people”?
On the one hand, given the need to replace aging and retiring workforce and to cope with increasing activity in aerospace industry, as well as the nature of the jobs, it is most probably true that machines will not drive human workers out of business soon.
Full automation is hard to imagine with the low volume high mix that characterizes building aircrafts or aircraft equipment.
On the other hand, layoffs are periodically reported in this industry. They happen when companies merge, plants are relocated or when the sales are going down. For people fearing to lose their jobs, the coming of machines purposely installed to reduce the part of human work can be seen as a threat.
Therefore, preventing any new luddites smashing the cobots is understandable.Follow @HOHMANN_Chris