The ‘cobots’ or collaborative robots seek to conquer new frontiers. Hand in hand with their human companions, they are already a fundamental part of many factories, but now they seek to move to the next level: conquer sectors in which their presence is still anecdotal and massively disembark in SMEs. Designed to perform repetitive and low-value-added jobs, is it so widely established in the automotive industry, but they are increasingly present in other manufacturing activities, such as food or pharmaceuticals. And it begins to be an increasingly less anecdotal presence in small workshops, something that according to Jordi Pelegrí, country manager of Universal Robots in Spain and Portugal – manufacturer of industrial collaborative robotic arms – evidence «The exponential growth» of a technology in which Spain does not come out badly among the countries around us. Specifically, and according to data from the consulting firm Altran, Spain is in fourth place in Europe in terms of industrial robotics, after Germany, Italy and France.
One of the advantages of having this type of robot is that companies can be more cost competitive by automating repetitive processes in which the human being does not provide “much added value”. It is in these jobs where the robot acts, so the operator will focus on performing more creative tasks. This causes gains in productivity and more resources are dedicated to R&D and to look for other trends in the market.
Impact on employment
Do these fellow mechanics destroy jobs? Pelegrí denies it, and just one piece of information is enough to explain it: «The countries with the lowest unemployment rates are those with the highest number of robots per inhabitant, as is the case of South Korea and Germany ”. There, as should happen in Spain, he explains, you do not choose between operator or robot but rather a collaboration between the two, “which helps to be more competitive in this increasingly global world.” And it is that, according to the director of R&D of Altran Spain (Capgemini), Miguel Arjona, a cobot “always has to have the component of collaboration with the person, especially in the final phase of the production line.”
The truth is that this solution that helps SMEs to have cheap technology and that allows them to make their production processes more flexible, is becoming more and more democratized. They are not only used in the industrial environment but there are more and more, or so Pelegrí believes, the type of applications assigned to these cobots, which are also increasingly easier to handle. “There is an explosion of very different applications, ranging from home delivery of orders to robots for physical therapy.”
This is the field where Adamo works, the world’s first physiotherapist robot, Spanish, which emulates manual therapies using compressed air. It helps the physiotherapist to reduce waiting lists, since while the professional performs another therapy, the robot can attend to the patients it already knows, explains the Managing Director at Future Sense, Carlos Jimenez, company responsible for Adamo Robot. The first session is carried out with the physiotherapist, who is in charge of virtually marking the points on the back that the robot has to treat and the treatment it has to give. In this way, “Adamo memorizes the data of each patient in the cloud and in the following sessions the robot already knows what it has to do, without the need for the physio to be in front”, explains Jiménez. Also, it is not necessary to always go to the same query since Adamo creates a virtual medical record that allows the patient to receive treatment from any clinic equipped with this robot.
It is this emergence of applications that will allow the creation of a new industry around collaborative robots in which Spain can play a fundamental role since, for Pelegrí, “we have the technology and the people trained for it.”
The Corporate Innovation & Technology Director of the DGH Group expresses this same idea, Guillermo Martin, which agrees that cobots generate “opportunities for SMEs by being able to automate processes and thus be able to allocate more staff to carry out high added value jobs. He also sees companies to be created to supply collaborative robotics services and accessories for the robots. Something in which Arjona agrees, who underlines that a report by Eu Robotics collects that, of the ten most prominent European robotic initiatives against the pandemic, six are Spanish. “We have a lot of small and medium-sized companies that are doing a fantastic job on cobots, so there is an opportunity to create a Spanish cobot industry, not only to use them but to create components for them ”.
This is where Martín sees an opportunity to access the job market for young people. “It can be an alternative to solve the problem of youth unemployment since it will allow young people to introduce innovative ideas because it is not only the creation of the collaborative robot but it needs accessories and different applications.”
Cobots are common in large companies (Repsol on the left), but they can also be waiters and cooks (a Dax Robotics robot in the center) or physiotherapists, like Adamo (along these lines)