The growth of “cobots” — or collaborative robots that work side by side with human workers — in the material handling industry will be phenomenal in the next six years, according to a new report.
The report, titled “Global Material Handling Cobots Market by End-User, Application, and Region: Analysis and Outlook 2016 to 2022″, found that industrial manufacturers are set to used cobots for many of the material handling tasks currently performed by humans.
Cobots are small, more affordable, user-friendly, and provide more flexibility than traditional industrial robots, making them particularly appealing to small and medium-sized industrial manufacturers.
Amazon’s DC Robots
These type of collaborative robots already are widely used in many of Amazon’s distribution centers. The world’s largest retailer purchased the robotics firm Kiva in 2012 and since then has slowly been integrating 30,000 of the machines into 13 of its fulfillment centers.
Thanks largely to the use of cobots, Amazon has been able to reduce the average time between when a consumer orders products online to the time those products are picked, packed and shipped from 60 to 75 minutes down to just 15 minutes, according to a Deutsche Bank study.
The Amazon cobots are not only more efficient than human workers, but they take up less space, which can allow new distribution centers to be designed with more shelf space and less wide aisles. All new Amazon distribution centers will be built using the robotic technology.
Material Handling Applications
According to the report, cobots designed for material handling applications are expected to be the most widely used in industry.
Right now, the auto industry is the largest buyer of new material handling cobots, with most of the machines performing pick and place tasks formerly done by human workers.
Other industries expected to follow suit include electrical and electronics; machinery and metal; chemical rubber, and plastics; food and beverage, and others.
Most Popular Jobs for Cobots
Pick and place tasks are the most popular for cobots, according to the report. But other tasks include palletizing, packaging, and others.
Geographically, most cobots today are sold to businesses in the Asia-Pacific region, followed by Europe and North America. The strongest growth potential is in China and Southeast Asian countries, the report stated.
While cobots are expected to become more common in most industries for material handling tasks, there are some drawbacks, according to the report. Major challenges include safety concerns, the technological difficulty of improving payload capacity and speed of the cobots, and low penetration rates of industrial robots.