How Are Companies Employing Cobots in Their Workspace?


When the Robotic Industries Association (RIA) had estimated more than 250,000 robots being installed in the United States in 2017, robots were massive, cumbersome and did tedious tasks like welding, painting, or assembly from cages or isolated enclosures. But things are different now. Smaller, safer, and cheaper versions of robots have replaced the previous versions and can also work in collaboration with humans. These robots are typically referred to as cobots, automate tasks and thereby, eliminate the instances of human error and protect humans from injuries by working in dangerous environments. Generally, cobots can swap places with human workers in dry, dirty, and dangerous jobs.

Collaborative robots typically replace humans with accomplishing the three Ds: dull, dirty, and dangerous jobs. At FedEx repair facility in Collierville, Tennessee, relay robots, stock office shelves, move items around the warehouse floors, and process items back to their bot colleagues in New York. While at Procter & Gamble, they are employed at the manufacturing and product life cycles. Cobots are also used for carrying activities like unscrambling and loading parts into machines, case packing of finished products into cartons, stacking cartons on pallets used for shipping, doing repetitive tasks in R&D labs like pouring samples or loading test samples into testing equipment. Cobots also helped revive a furniture company, Moduform, when the business was dropping, and workers fled the company.

In 2017, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the US National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), and the RIA had an agreement to develop research for identifying and reducing workplace hazards related to the human-robot alliance. Later that year, NIOSH launched the Center for Occupational Robotics Research to “provide scientific leadership to guide the development and use of occupational robots that enhance worker safety, health, and well-being.” RIA urges companies that conduct robot risk assessments and execute programs on cobot safety. Therefore at Procter & Gamble, concerned authorities make sure they adhere to specified standards to ensure the safety of workers and robot interaction.

Companies like FedEx, P&G prioritize up-training or up-skilling employees to work in sync with robots rather than to cut jobs. These include in-house training with online education platforms, and community colleges that are identical with P&G programs focus on both internal and external training, and on the job experience to enhance skills of workers and technicians who interact with advanced automation and robots. Even at FedEx, employees to volunteer to become Robot Team leaders are required to attend either vendor training sessions or private classes that teach them the fundamentals of robot operations and safety. These sessions are regularly evaluated to make sure that their workforce is well set up for futuristic roles as the adoption of automation and robots become an essential part of the company operations. This does not mean robots will rob us of the jobs. It is a symbiotic relationship where jobs that demand common sense, creativity, and agility are for humans, and menial ones are saved for robots, leading to higher productivity.