The trend in the industry for intelligent and flexible production systems also referred to as “Industry 4.0”, requires robots to have capabilities such as increased perception of their environment, rapid adaptation to change, and short reprogramming time.
The majority of industrial robots on production lines perform repetitive movements, such as the sorting and deposition process, where one arm constantly moves objects from one point to another.
The time required to plan such a – relatively simple – move with the conventional methods currently applied in the industry, can be much longer than the duration of the move itself. In particular, programming a robot to perform a movement that takes a few seconds can take several hours. If trajectories with complex geometries and synchronization with other peripherals are added at this time, scheduling can take days.
This implies increased automation cost which is justified only in large industries with a stable production cycle. However, there are several item handling tasks even in large industries that are performed manually either because they are complex to automate or because frequent changes to the production line do not justify automation.
Focusing on SMEs in the food production sector, these changes can occur on an hourly basis due to the different batches of products resulting from the same production line. For example, in one of the cooperating bodies – which specializes in the production of healthy snacks and crackers – in one line the production of different types of products is alternated according to the type of packaging and, therefore, the packaging is done mainly manually due to the high cost of automation. Therefore there is a need for an advanced production model with robots that are easy to use, flexible, economical, and efficient.
The continuous development of robotic arms that are friendly to humans and can work with them, both in programming and execution, gradually leads to mixed production systems where humans and robots interact and work together. Safe and efficient cooperation is achieved using new types of arms, light construction, and innovative interaction control systems.
Its main goal is to reduce the cost and programming time of the robot to create flexible and competitive production systems. The need for such production systems in Europe is demonstrated by the funding received by Horizon 2020 research joint ventures such as CoLLaboratE, which aims to reduce the time and cost of integrating robots into the production process by leveraging human collaboration.
However, despite the rapid growth of such robots, their adoption rate in the industry is relatively low, leaving significant research efforts unexploited. The reason lies in the gap between research and industrial application, which, however, can be covered by appropriate synergies that will lead to industrial research for real human-robot collaboration.