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Dawn of the cobots, robots that work with man instead of in his place

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Dawn of the cobots, robots that work with man instead of in his place

The presentation to the press of the new Italian headquarters of Fanuc near Milan, built in 2019 according to rigorous environmental and sustainability standards (it is Leed Gold certified and uses 40% of self-produced energy with the aim of reaching 100% in two years ), it was an opportunity for take stock of the trends in robotics and industrial automation.

The new Fanuc headquarters in Lainate (Mi)

The Japanese multinational from 8 thousand employees and 5 billion euros in turnover 2021, leader in the sector of computerized numerical control systems (CNC) and industrial robotswith market shares of 60 and 30% respectively, has set its business strategy for the future on innovation, sustainability and on what Marco DelainiManaging Director of Fanuc Italia (155 employees and 173 million turnover in 2021, up by 28% compared to the pre-covid year 2019), defined the “Centrality of man”.

Innovation is expressed also and above all in intelligent automation solutions, capable of exchanging large amounts of data in real time and improving processes through self-optimization, thanks to a digital network composed of sensors, motors and robotic technology which, through theIIoT (Internet of Things for Industry) and AI (Artificial Intelligence), is able to detect potential problems early and take countermeasures before downtime occurs. This also reverberates on the environmental side: “we guarantee the lifelong repairability of our robots and the regeneration of components, so as not to force customers to replace them with new products” explains Delaini.

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“Furthermore, our machines have always been electric and not hydraulic, which allows significant energy savings, in the order of 20-30%. Finally, many of our robots do not use oil at all, or replace it with vegetable fats”. As for the IoT, “we have opened a department on purpose” explains Delaini, “it is a very different world from that of industrial automation: the standards do not exist or are much more fluid, the technology becomes obsolete at a dizzying pace. adopt a platform open to developers, a bit like what happens with smartphone operating systems “.

Marco Delaini, Managing Director of Fanuc Italia

Marco Delaini, Managing Director of Fanuc Italia

But perhaps the most interesting thing is the part that concerns the centrality of people. In practice this is the fine-tuning of collaborative robot and gods training courses. Starting from the latter, Fanuc collaborates with schools, in particular ITS, and universities, providing technology and training, and is a world and national sponsor of WorldSkills, the World Championships of Professions which promote education and professional training in the industrial sector and which every two years see young talents from several countries compete in technological competitions. In November, for the first time, the “Robot System Integration” skill will be added to the national competition that will take place in Turin.

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As for the cobot, collaborative robots, this is potentially a Copernican revolution: if in fact traditionally robots have been used in the industrial field to replace humans (albeit often weary or harmful to health), hence the historical hostility towards machines – from Ned Ludd on – and the fact that they are perceived – not wrongly – as a threat to the occupation, collaborative robotics promises that robots, indeed, cobots, will work “with” humans. In essence, these are robots that instead of working in a closed environment, with the advantage of speed and the fact of being able to operate even in unhealthy conditions for humans, but with the big disadvantage, and increasingly perceived by companies as such, that they cannot be set or controlled during construction, they will work in close symbiosis with the operator. This guarantees infinitely greater flexibility. “Let’s think for example of welding: instead of having to program everything in advance and being able to carry out quality checks only after all the work, the operator can bring the machine in front of the object to be saddled, program it for that specific operation and then move on to the next one, which perhaps has slightly different needs “. According to the International Federation of Robotics, from 2017 to 2020, collaborative robotics doubled its share of the total robots installed, and in 10 years, Delaini says, more than 50% of robotics will be collaborative. Fanuc already has 11 of these cobots in its catalog “.

“Italy represents a country and a market full of resources”, concludes Delaini. “Japanese R&D centers often look to the old continent and, in particular, to the German and Italian markets as beacons of innovation. We therefore want to invest in the enhancement of our” genius “and allow our local companies to resist the different economic scenarios thanks to automation and robotization. In order to remain competitive, industries and SMEs have, in fact, the need to produce highly variable quantities of goods, guaranteeing the highest quality. Often investments in automation pay for themselves in less than a year , as they allow the cycle time to be reduced or production to be extended from one to two or three shifts “.

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