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Meet your new employee, Cobot Stretch

How many engineers does it take to screw in a light bulb? At Rapid Control Service Inc. in Wyoming, the answer is zero. They have a “cobot” that can do it.

Seven-joint collaborative robots, also known as cobots, that can brew coffee, flip burgers, pick and pack items from shelves, shake martinis, weld rivets, flip switches and fill prescriptions. Introducing Stretch. It’s designed to mimic human movement and can perform any number of repetitive tasks, even multi-step tasks, as long as someone can show you how. increase.

“No programming required, you just have to teach the cobot,” says Vince Bonczyk, Sales Engineer and Assembly Specialist at Rapid Control. Along with robotics specialist Todd Stewart and operations manager Mitch Dennison, Bonczyk and the team demonstrated some of Stretch’s capabilities in the company’s back room. The excitement was palpable.

According to Vince Bonczyk, cobots perform mundane tasks, which can lead to employee turnover. Photo by Lisa Enos

A cobot was instructed to pick up a coffee cup. Since it carries a liquid, the movement was smooth and adjusted to be slow and steady. We could have done the same movement much faster, but that’s the beauty of cobots. Very versatile. We were then instructed to pick up the jar and place it on a nearby table.

A way to teach a cobot is to move it and tell it to press a button or other command, such as tapping its head, to grab and release an object to perform a task. If grips and releases aren’t part of the job, any number of accessories can be fitted, from pneumatics to welding tools and everything in between, whatever Rapid Control’s customers need . Directing a cobot to perform a task can be done by a layman in minutes and in the simplest way: hands-on guidance.

The cobot speaks in a “Siri-like” tone and lights up various areas to indicate its current mode. Blue is fixed, green is in progress, and so on. Can be set to non-cobot mode (aka robot mode). ), and where protective barriers are fitted for work requiring rapid movements which may pose a hazard to passers-by. There are many real-world applications, but don’t worry, sci-fi horror movie fans. For one thing, you never learn things, have feelings, or take over the world on your own.

“It’s not AI (artificial intelligence). It learns what you teach it. Nothing more, nothing less. This robot can’t do anything without human intervention,” says New York City, Chicago, and now said Stewart, who joined the Rapid Control team specifically for cobots after working in the field of information technology and robotics in Western Michigan for 35 years. “I come from a Tier 1 Epson Robotics Industry Distributor.

A newcomer to the Rapid Controls team, Stewart sees great potential in collaborative robots in Western Michigan, saying the robotics industry is growing at an average annual rate of 10% to 15%. In 2021, 630,000 units were shipped worldwide.

“Of course, we are going to target industrial manufacturers. However, we also see great potential in ma and pa business. I think there’s a lot of potential in the market,” said Dennison.

“We have traditionally been a supplier to the machine manufacturing industry,” added Dennison, citing numerous West Michigan customers, including companies in the metalworking, automotive and furniture manufacturing industries. The company’s customers range in size from “Fortune 1000 to small tools and dies to moms and pops,” Denison says. “We see this (OB7 Stretch) as a tool for small businesses, not just factories.”

The company is ready to start processing orders, with a cobot lead time of one to two weeks.

Rapid Control sells the OB7 Stretch for a price equivalent to a minimum wage employee’s annual salary ($31,500), so it pays for itself quickly.

“Return on investment for robotics solutions can range from six months to a year, depending on the application,” says Dennison. “The barriers to entry are low because the investment required in expertise is relatively low. People can do most of it in-house and have it up and running.”

The Productive Robots Stretch product line is a natural solution for markets currently facing labor shortages and supply chain issues, he said. Firms facing a high volume of orders due to gaps in the supply chain created by the COVID-19 pandemic will not care about overtime and workers’ compensation as the cobot does not mind working his 24/7. It may be filled quickly without any problems.

The Rapid Control team was quick to point out that cobots are meant to do repetitive tasks. This is a job Western Michigan employers are finding increasingly difficult to fill.

“The way it impacts your job situation is that you’re there to do the simple jobs, the tough jobs, the mundane jobs that lead to job turnover,” said Bonczyk. rice field.

“The most important thing is not to replace workers, but to increase productivity,” added Dennison.

OB7 Stretch is manufactured by Productive Robots in Santa Barbara, CA. It is one of four 7-joint robots in the same product line. From the 58 lb version of his Stretch to the OB7-Max with reach at 128 lbs. over 5 feet.

Rapid Control will be demonstrating the OB7 Stretch at the Advanced Manufacturing Expo August 11-12 at DeVos Place.