collaborative automation palletizing robot

Cobot vs robot palletizer – what to choose?

The rise of cobots and increasingly smarter robots has caused a new dilemma for organizations wanting to join industry 4.0. This post will provide a deeper understanding of the differences between a cobot palletizer and a robot palletizer as well as presenting advantages and disadvantages of both solutions.

Cobot vs Robot Palletizer, what is the difference?

First things first, what defines a cobot and what defines a robot?

Cobots

The expression ”Cobot ” is short for collaborative robot. It is a robot designed to collaborate with humans. The cobot is therefore forced to operate within certain parameters to be allowed to work in the same area as humans, this is maximum speed, safety measures and human supervision. This means that a cobot is limited to productions where the speed of the conveyor/production does not exceed the speed of the cobot. They are well suited for operations where humans work closely or even alongside the conveyor, such as pick and place, polishing, grinding and machine tending tasks. 

Short and easy installation time

A few of the advantages with a cobot is the short installation time, easy interface and flexibility. A complete cobot palletizing solution can be installed in a matter of weeks, including everything from validation, fabrication and installation. 

This case story is an example of how fast it can be done

Smaller and more agile

In addition to the short installation time the cobots provide a simpler interface which requires minimal training to use and program. Software like Pally makes it easy to modify and adjust your cobot. Compared to an industrial robot the cobot is often much smaller in size, it can be installed in different places, comply with various tasks and does not necessarily require fencing or major area adjustments to be safe. Combined with easy programming makes the cobot a lot more flexible than an industrial robot. 

palletizer pickup 2 conveyors

Robots (industrial robots)

A robot is not bound by the same parameters as the cobot, such as speed limitation, because it usually needs to be caged. Automation with a robot requires a “fixed workcell” to operate safely, which translates to a more comprehensive installation process and space requirements. On the other hand, the industrial robot is a more capable piece of machinery in terms of payload and speed. 

Higher payload and speed

For high volume production and fast conveyors a robot is better suited than a cobot since it can operate at a higher pace. Another benefit of an industrial robot is that once the robot is installed with fencing and safety measures it does not require human supervision. Lastly, reach should also be considered an advantage for robots as they can palletize higher and need less programming to adjust for reach issues.

Costs in cobots vs robots

The cost of a robot/cobot varies a lot depending on what kind of solution works for you, sometimes a “turn-key” solution works and sometimes customization is necessary. A turn-key solution for a cobot palletizer costs from 70 000 EUR depending on what kind of robot, gripper, software etc. you choose. A turn-key robot palletizer can be anywhere from 100 – 200 000 EUR, this might not include fencing and other requirements for installation. 

Palletizers

Palletizing is one of the many areas of use for robots and cobots, in short it is placing products on a pallet for shipment or storage. It used to be, or still is for a lot of SME’s, a task performed by human labor. It is a very repetitive and labor intensive task which robots and cobots are gradually taking over, this trend has led to a wide range of palletizers to choose from.

Six common solutions for robot palletizing.

  1. Palletizing Robots – a good choice for many, these are designed to carry heavy payloads and have a long reach. They are usually made with an axis coupling, this means that two or more of the robot’s joints are linked together, by doing this it increases payload capacity and speed.
  2. 6-Axis Industrial Robots – These robots are more flexible and suited to perform a variety of tasks. They are available in many different sizes, this means that finding one suited for your project should be easy. 6-axis robots are currently the robots that are capable of the largest payload on the market.
  3. Delta Robots – they are normally used as a high-speed pick and place robot, but it is possible to program one to be used as a palletizing robot.
  4. SCARA Robots – Not all industrial robots are big, Scara robots are smaller robots with a payload capacity from 3 – 20kg. The Scara robots are designed to only move along the x and y axis, while the Z axis is locked in place. Usually used for light and detailed tasks, but can also be used for palletizing.
  5. Gantry Robots – Also known as cartesian or linear robots, they are mounted on an overhead system which allows horizontal movement. They are capable of large payloads and usually perform pick and place tasks.
  6. Collaborative Robots – “Cobots” differ from traditional industrial robots as they are meant to share workspace alongside people and are easy to operate. Because of this, cobots are smaller and slower. They are designed with smooth edges and come with an easy-to-use interface which makes anyone a programming expert. 
palletizing robot arm and column

Cobot palletizers

A cobot can go straight to work in the production area without major changes to the production line and facilities. Like stated above the cobot palletizer must operate within certain parameters, for a lot of enterprises this is the deciding factor when it comes to choosing between a cobot and a robot.

  • How fast is the conveyor?
  • How heavy are the products?
  • How high do you need to palletize?

These are all variables that need to be considered when going for a palletizing solution. For a lot of small to medium sized enterprises a cobot is more than capable enough to handle all of the issues above. Cobot palletizers are compared to robot palletizers easier to deploy, have a shorter installation time and are easier to program, flexibility is key.

Robot palletizers

The robot palletizer has been around for decades and has proven its worth by being able to process large quantities and heavy products. This kind of robot requires a fixed workcell and cannot work alongside humans since it carries out operations at a higher speed and with more weight, however for larger organizations it might be beneficial to have a fully automated system with less human interaction.

The table below compares an industrial robot from Kuka and a collaborative robot from Universal Robots

FactorsIndustrial robot (Kuka)Collaborative robot (Universal robots)
PayloadFrom 40 to 1300kgUp to 16kg
SpeedSmaller industrial robots can reach 56 cycles per minute Can reach 13 cycles per minute.
sizeBig. They need a lot more floor space due to fencing and safety measuresRequire less space than an industrial robot. About the size of 2,5 pallets
Re-use Needs a heavy investment to move to a different task/locationCan easily be moved to another location
HeightUp to 3,1 metersUp to 2,75 meters
Safety measuresNeeds heavy fencing and sometimes extra sensorsUsually without fencing, can sometimes require extra sensors to control speed when humans are nearby
ProgrammingNeeds a specialist knowledge to programCan easily be programmed with some training
Installation timeCan be monthsCan be done within two weeks

Cobot vs robot palletizing

As seen in the table above, cobots and robots are quite similar, but at the same time they’re not, they’ve got their own individual strengths. These key factors should be taken into account when choosing a palletizer. 

Price

As stated above there could be a significant difference in terms of price on robots and cobots. An industrial robot requires a heavier investment upfront, it needs more resources like floor space and the organization must be financially capable to handle a longer ROI. A cobot has a lower upfront investment than a robot, it does not require the same amount of floor space and the ROI is a lot shorter due to less costs.

In addition to upfront costs there is maintenance and electrical expenses, the maintenance expenses vary a lot depending on what kind of equipment you are using, the electrical costs vary by the size of the robot. Lastly, a cobot is a lot easier and cheaper to reprogram or modify to do different tasks than an industrial robot.

Safety 

The requirements for safety is a big part of the reason why industrial robots need more floor space, they need heavy fencing and sometimes extra sensors. A Cobot is usually installed without fencing and extra sensors, this means that it can be installed with less floor space available.

Payload

The payload is one of the key strengths of an industrial robot, as stated above the Kuka robot can lift up to 1300kg. When comparing this to the 16kg capacity of the Universal Robots cobot it is a huge difference. 

Installation

This is where the cobot shines, it can be installed in a day. An industrial robot on the other hand has got a significantly higher installation time, taking up to several months.

Short installation time and no down time was a huge advantage for Aegir Brewery when they chose a cobot palletizer

palletizing solution at Aegir brewery

What should you choose?

The facts suggests that there is room for both industrial and collaborative robots (still) in today’s industry. Even though it’s a tied race you’ll see that the cobot is better suited for smaller product lines because of payload limitations, lower costs and less requirements in terms of floor space and fencing.

The industrial robots are more suited to handle faster production lines and heavier payloads, but they also require more resources in the shape of floor space and financial capabilities. The lessons to be learned from this post is to understand that in order to choose between a cobot and a robot you need to know and form an opinion about the key factors: installation, reach, payload and price. Then you should be able to make the right decision for your business.

For further research on cobot vs robot palletizing you can look here.

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