Collaborating with robots

Departments - The Growing Edge

A Danish company is looking into how to use collaborative robots to ease greenhouse growers’ loads.

July 30, 2018

An OnRobot gripper transporting a box in a greenhouse facility
Photo courtesy of OnRobot

A Danish company is placing its bets on collaborative robots, or “cobots,” that can work in the same space as humans. While humans need to stay away from many industrial robots for their own safety, they can work together with cobots like those that are compatible with OnRobot’s End-of-Arm Tooling (EOAT), says Kristian Hulgard, general manager, Americas at OnRobot.

OnRobot grippers and the Universal Robots-brand cobots to which they attach are easy to install and program for engineers and those who are “technical-minded,” such as many greenhouse professionals, Hulgard says. There are some weight and size limitations as to what the OnRobot gripper can hold, he says, but its capabilities include anything a human hand can grab. In the greenhouse industry, for instance, this means it could hold a cutting, plug or pot.

“Our angle to start with is to save the people some money, not by necessarily taking away jobs, but to add labor so that on the normal work budget, they will be able to produce more simply,” Hulgard says.

Rosborg Greenhouse, a grower in Odense, Denmark, uses other automated technologies, and adopted the RG6 gripper from OnRobot to package herbs. Its reasoning for using it was that it takes tedious labor tasks away from employees and reduces labor costs, Henning Jørgensen, partner and operations manager, Rosborg Food Holding, said in a promotional video for the collaborative grippers.

Return on investment for the OnRobot and its affiliated technology depends on how it is being applied and how many jobs it is handling at a given time, Hulgard says. “The standard collaborative robot return on investment, as a rule of thumb, is somewhere between three and nine months, which is extremely low compared to the traditional industrial robots,” Hulgard says.

An OnRobot gripper grabbing a pot of basil
Photo courtesy of OnRobot

Collaborating safely

Collaborative robots have safety features that allow them to work in the same space with humans, Hulgard says. “A traditional industrial robot has to work in a safely guarded environment, meaning there [are] no people who can come anywhere near the robot. It has to be [separated] off — it has to be in a separate cell [system],” he says. However, cobots have safety stops and meet a different set of ISO standards.

And OnRobot and Universal Robots have taken things a step further yet, Hulgard says. “Not only does [our product] comply with the safety part, but it also goes in and makes it easy for the user to program and cutting away these expensive links in the integration part, so that the end user can go in and change and program the robot themselves,” he says. “It makes a huge difference in the costs and return of investment when you’re investing into a robot cell.”

Ease of use and installation

An engineer on staff at a greenhouse is entirely capable of programming and setting up a Universal Robots cobot and OnRobot gripper by watching a short introductory course of the technology on YouTube, Hulgard says. Universal Robots also has an online course called the Universal Robots Academy, which he says would allow engineers or other employees with technical skills to excel at installing and working with the equipment in a short period.

Employees can set up the robot to apply different levels of force within the same application, Hulgard says. “That makes it very useful for the user because you can use the same robot and the same end effector for handling different products, which saves you money in the end, and time, because you don’t have to go out and buy more robots, and you can make these changes yourself,” he says.