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How to Integrate Collaborative Robots (Cobots) Safely in Packaging Lines

by Earl Wohlrab | Sep 07, 2022

Earl Wohlrab is the Director of Product Strategy and Innovation for BW Integrated Systems. The following content contains excerpts from his interview with Control Design, which originally appeared on controldesign.com on April 4, 2022.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with robots in the packaging industry for nearly 30 years, the last three of which have been with BW Integrated Systems. So, when Control Design asked me to answer a reader’s question about safety considerations when integrating collaborative robots (cobots) into a contract packaging operation, I was happy to oblige.

The reader asked, “We’re interested in making [cobots] part of our collaborative applications and maybe even looking into these new autonomous mobile robots I keep hearing about. What type of presence sensing or safety components are necessary when we start putting workers and robots in the same areas?”

In this post, I’ll share my response.

Collaborative Robots Safety

Collaborative robots, by definition, don’t need additional safety equipment. Precautions like short barriers could be added to keep nonessential personnel from entering the work cell, but they are often not required if the work cell is properly laid out. Check with your robot supplier to obtain their safe speed rating.

Presence sensing is most often used when an operator only needs to spend a brief period in close contact with a process involving a robot, often not collaborative, or other machine/assembly center. Presence sensing allows for several machine safety modes to exist in the same space. One of the more common applications of this technology allows for a standard industrial robot to run at full or near full speed when the sensor does not detect a presence in a predetermined safety zone. Once someone or something is detected, the robot will automatically shift into a slower speed or stop depending on several calculated safety ranges.

Autonomous Mobile Robots

Autonomous mobile robots by design do not require any additional safety equipment. By the very nature of their function, they carry an onboard suite of safety devices. That said, depending on how they are applied and deployed, additional safety equipment like fencing may be required for areas like pickup and drop-off points or any other instance where you would want to protect personnel from the robot’s interaction with one of its programmed processes.

Earl Wohlrab

Earl Wohlrab

Earl Wohlrab is the Director of Product Strategy and Innovation for BW Integrated Systems. He brings nearly 30 years of robotics, product strategy, and packaging innovation experience to BW Integrated Systems.

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