Is your collaborative robot truly as safe as you think?
Collaborative robots (cobots) that work side-by-side with people are becoming
increasingly common in the manufacturing industry. Many conventional
manufacturing facilities have invested in light collaborative robots that provide a
low-threshold opportunity to incorporate automation in the manufacturing process
in phases. Robots with moderate strength and speed are considered to be safe for
the people around them. However, all types of robots include certain safety risks
that are easy to forget in the hype of robotization.
The VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland performed pioneering research led by
Timo Salmi in the safety of collaborative robots in 2016–2019. When the research began
in 2016, the first technical specification regarding collaborative robots, ISO/TS15066, was
published, including more detailed safety principles for cobots. Salmi and his colleagues
emphasize that the safety risks of all robotic applications must be assessed on a case-by-
case basis. The best way to assess the impact force of any possible collisions is through
According to the study, the safety risks posed by cobots depend on their kinetic energy,
speed and mass. The level of safety also depends on the flexibility of the body part
exposed to an impact and the position and control parameters and configurations of the
robot. According to the researchers, a uniform, standardized measurement and modeling
system is required to measure the levels of force and pressure.
Collaboration between people and robots is contingent on an adequate level of safety, an
emergency stop system and the supervision of safety limits. Established safety practices
do not yet exist and it is apparent that there is still a large degree of variation between
different countries. A standardization group is currently working on these standards.
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