Continental India
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Continental India

Cobots in Manufacturing

by Phanindra Karody, Plant Head, Bangalore, Continental Automotive India

As we stand amid the first pandemic of the technology age, it makes me wonder how we could perhaps use technology and automation to ensure that some of our processes continue with minimal human interference.

At Continental, we strongly believe in using technology to make our lives simpler and safer. All the R&D done is focusing on this singular goal. We are enabling Smart Factories, which are efficient, optimized, accountable, sustainable, and yes, automated. But when faced with a situation like COVID-19, we need to leverage the potential of a smart factory to our advantage. For instance, effective utilization of cobots in manufacturing and beyond.

What is a Cobot?

Cobot, or Collaborative Robots, are complex machines that conduct complicated mechanical operations and are designed to work alongside and together with humans. Unlike traditional robots, which are autonomous in their operations, cobots are designed to share the workspace with humans and are generally employed to perform tasks that can result in being repetitive, burdening, hazardous, or unergonomic, such as assembly, carrying heavy components, and quality inspection.

The International Federation of Robotics (IRF) classified four different types of cobots’ applications based on the level of interaction with their human counterpart.
In the first case, co-existence, humans, and cobots work alongside each other but do not share the same workplace. Secondly, when human workers and cobots work alongside each other but on different machinery or products, this is generally referred as sequential collaboration. In the third case, co-operation occurs when both humans and cobots work on the same product or apparatus simultaneously. Lastly, when the interaction human-cobot is consequential, it is named as responsive collaboration.

Cobot Vs. Humans

A cobot is not a replacement for humans; instead, they complement the humans in their day-to-day tasks. They help improve productivity, quality, and efficiency on the shop floor. Also, it keeps the downtime in check. And the additional benefit is, it helps in curbing fatigue among the workers.

These are critical uses when there is a shortage of a labour force, or time is the challenge to meet deadlines.

As manufacturing slowly resumes in India and across the world, the primary challenge will continue to be the labor force, which is a critical factor in ensuring that a company can meet its deadlines and honor its production commitments. Cobots can be very useful in these situations, collaborating with humans and assisting them with critical tasks. In a situation like social distancing, cobots can help in areas where the density of workers in the manual lines is high to maintain line efficiency. In such cases, enough cobots can be deployed to maintain productivity and social distancing between workers.

At Continental, Cobots have helped us halve transition time and helped the workers focus on skilled tasks that increased productivity. Cobots have also been used to test controls of some components and validate them as needed. The efficiency in cobots translates into saving the operational cost of up to 15 percent.

This compels the question — should we look at a more collaborative future with cobots, improving productivity, and ensuring operations are not disrupted? This benefits the company, production chain, and making sure the flow of goods remains constant, Thus, enabling the manufacturing sector to bounce back to normalcy quicker.

About the author

Phanindra Karody is the head of Bangalore Plant, Continental Automotive India.

Karody holds a Master’s degree in Science in Industrial Engineering, Clemson University, Clemson, South Carolina, USA, and Bachelor of Engineering in Production Engineering, Osmania University, Hyderabad. He holds expertise in quality assurance, strategic planning, planning & controlling, process management and team management.

He has over 20 years of experience in manufacturing industry. His past experiences include — Quality Manager of Dawson Manufacturing Company, Inc., Benton Harbor, MI and Quality Head of Continental Rico Hydraulic Brake Systems, Gurgaon. Karody joined Continental Teves, Inc., Auburn Hills, MI in 1998 as a Plant Manager, since then he has been an integral part of Continental.

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A curated set of technology articles for all automotive enthusiasts. Written by topic experts in Continental India.