By Darrell Adams, Head of Southeast Asia & Oceania, Universal Robots
With the advent of automation, safety has become one of the top considerations in a manufacturing facility. Common safety options put in place are cages and fences to separate the work spaces of robots and human operators. However, this places limitation on the use of robots in manufacturing processes especially when the process requires input from human workers.
With the emergence of collaborative robots (cobots) in recent years, cobots no longer need to be separated from human workers. Developed specifically to work alongside humans in a shared space, cobots are designed with in-built safety features. Coupled with lower cost and space-friendly, it has resulted in automation becoming a viable option for more companies.
This is the case for the Danish division of Carlsberg. Carlsberg, one of the leading brewery groups in the world, has significantly improved staff safety and taken steps towards achieving zero accidents since integrating cobots into its Fredericia-based factory.
The challenge faced by Carlsberg
According to Thomas Kern Ruby, Senior Project Manager at Carlsberg Fredericia, previous to installing the cobots, incidents were a common occurrence on the factory floor. He explains: “Although our production line was highly automated, it still required some degree of human input. This was mainly during the packaging process which saw our workforce manually carrying packaging cartons from the pallet to the magazine. This was a monotonous and strenuous task and often staff endured repetitive strain or sustained severe cuts while removing the packaging cable.”
Overcoming safety concerns with cobots
To combat work safety concerns, the company invested in two cobots, the space-friendly UR3 and the powerful UR10. With a high payload of up to 10kg, the company uses the UR10 to pick up a stack of 10 cartons which are tied together with packaging cable. The UR3 is used to cut and dispose of the cable and the UR10 then places the stack in the magazine. Working in tandem, the cobots can handle up to 500 packaging cartons per hour, allowing Carlsberg to alleviate and upskill its human workforce to focus on high priority tasks, such as quality control and line maintenance.
Ruby explains: “This process previously accounted for 60 percent of one employee’s workload. Today, this stage only requires one operator to drive a pallet of cardboard boxes onto the line and oversee the process. The UR10 and UR3 quite literally do all the rest. This frees up our team to focus on more demanding tasks that improve their job satisfaction and crucially, keep them safe. This has helped us realise our goal and achieve a zero accidents culture, a key part of our sustainability programme, Together Towards Zero.”
Deploying more cobots to increase productivity
Following the success of the UR10 and UR3, the company purchased four additional cobots to further automate its production lines, including handling lids during the bottling process. According to Ruby, this has already delivered substantial production efficiencies.
Darrell Adams, Head of Southeast Asia & Oceania, Universal Robots, mentioned that productivity is just one element of business, ensuring staff safety and comfort is equally important. As Carlsberg demonstrates, cobots are designed to work alongside their human counterparts, alleviating them of the dirtiest, dangerous and dull jobs to reduce accidental injuries. From a business perspective, their ease-of-use ensures simple integration into existing production cycles, allowing customers to reap the rewards in no time.
Many businesses like Carlsberg have witnessed increased productivity and efficiency after deploying cobots on their factory floor. Just as with humans working together, safety concerns include moving parts with sharp edges, using a cutting tool or welding torch. An ideal collaborative environment is where human workers do what they are good at such as overseeing operations, while the cobot does the repetitive, manual, and possibly dangerous work of handling parts and machines. Businesses that have their first cobot application up and running often find that what seemed ambitious previously is now completely reasonable and beneficial.