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Better Together: Human-Robot Collaboration (HRC)

As warehouse operations increasingly embrace automation, the significance of human employment persists. Tasks like order picking are evolving through collaboration between humans and robots, exemplifying the shift towards Industry 5.0.


This blog explores the evolving dynamics between humans and robots in the context of Industry 5.0.

 

Robot with its team
This Bottobo is one of the best teammates!


The advantages of HRC

With a projected compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.85% between 2023-2027, the market is expected to attain a volume of US$32.75 billion by the end of 2027. This remarkable expansion can be attributed to the increasing adoption of robotics technologies across various industries, including automotive, healthcare, logistics, and manufacturing.[1]

 

Due to the ongoing significance of human labor in increasingly automated warehouses, specially designed robots, known as "cobots," seek to blend the repetitive capabilities of robots with the unique skills of humans. Consequently, collaborative human-robot systems are emerging in numerous warehouses.

 

This trend is accompanied by a rise in job opportunities for human workers in warehouses, fueled in part by the surge in e-commerce during the Covid-19 pandemic. The demand for warehouse workers, particularly those on the front lines of e-commerce, experienced substantial growth in 2020, as indicated by a LinkedIn report on salary data and career trends across 15,000 job titles.

 

To address the challenge of meeting heightened online demand amidst a competitive labor market, many warehouses are turning to robots that can work alongside and enhance human labor, tackling time-consuming and repetitive tasks like transporting completed orders within the warehouse.

 

Furthermore, the advantages of this collaboration extend beyond that point. Recent researches into HRC, reveal a tremendously powerful yet unexplored potential for robots to not only serve as substitutes for people in repetitive, hazardous, or demanding tasks but to augment and complement human cognitive and physical capabilities, thereby enabling people to engage in work activities that were previously unsafe, unhealthy, mentally challenging, or unfeasible.[2]

 

A better understanding of how robots can augment, as opposed to artificially replicate, human cognitive and physical work capabilities, can open new frontiers: for example, performing manual handling tasks while avoiding physical injuries, multitasking in cognitively demanding jobs, or expanding employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities and the elderly.


The Fifth Industrial Revolution (Industry 5.0)

While Industry 4.0 is mainly concerned with the inter-connection of devices together, some futurists argue that Industry 5.0 foresee collaboration between human beings and machines or robots in manufacturing locations.[3] Instead than employing programming languages and compilers, this may entail programming robots to perform a certain activity using direct speech, similar to providing instructions to a worker.

 

Collaboration can be likened to having a dedicated lab assistant, efficiently handling labor-intensive tasks with precision and accuracy. Achieving this synergy often involves incorporating automation and robotic technologies for effective HRC.

 

The concept of a fully automated "lights-out factory" solely managed by machine programming and maintenance has proven impractical. Running a factory requires human creativity, learning, and adaptation, especially considering the diverse and customized nature of products tailored to local markets, consumer demands, and specifications. The economics of complete automation are no longer considered sustainable in this context.

 

The massive technical investments and duration of time needed to erect a fully automated line for a product of complex nature, will never be recouped before product replacement. The optimum option is combining the strength of industrial robots, their precision, as well as speed with human workers' intelligence, their judgement, and their dexterity. This permits the human workers to concentrate on activities which demand flexibility, while robots perform tasks, requiring the most strength and speed.[4] When robots and humans collaborate in performing work as well as duties together, manufacturing processes become more efficient and cost effective.

 

According to a research done by MIT's Julie Shah, working cooperatively with a human-aware robot reduces idle time by 85% in comparison to working in different allhuman teams. In a case study carried out using Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing (ARM), it was discovered, a collaborative path reduces cycle time by nearly two-thirds in comparison with a totally manual approach.

 

Moreover, while the current retooling process is intricate and time-consuming due to compelling automation, the adaptability of human-robot collaboration enables businesses to swiftly address evolving demands for new products and procedures.


It’s all about collaboration

The 5th Industrial Revolution focuses on the collaboration between humans and robots, ushering in significant changes. This entails technology mirroring human capabilities to a greater extent than usual. The possibility that these robots will bring about significant change to the human race in its entirety is extremely high. There are a lot of mixed opinions about this as of now and there will be more in the future as many will find this appealing and others will find it threatening to their livelihood. This negative approach toward robots, although mostly unfounded is boosted by the presentation of the robots by the media.




 

Generational disparities will undoubtedly shape how the next cohort views robots, as they grow up integrating them into daily life and work. This immersive experience is likely to have a positive impact, emphasizing the need to construct an ethical framework for diverse interactions between humans and robots. That's why we need to establish an ethically sound system now, facilitating diverse interactions between humans and robots.


[1] Market Overview Report, August 2023, reportlinker.com

[2] Michalos G., Makris S., Tsarouchi P., Guasch T., Kontovrakis D., Chryssolouris G. (2015). Design considerations for safe human-robot collaborative workplaces. Procedia CIrP, 37, 248–253. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.procir.2015.08.014

[3] Kadir, Gözde, Bülent (2019) “Industry 5.0 and Human-Robot Co-working” In: 3rd World Conference on Technology, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (WOCTINE)

[4] Bekey, George A. (2005) “Autonomous robots: From Biological Inspiration to Implementation and Control” Cambridge, USA, MIT Press.

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