Festo, a family-based company in Esslingen am Neckar, Germany, believe that they are ushering in a new era of human-robot collaboration with the release of the world’s first pneumatic robot. The company boast that their cobot sets new standards for technology and operability, claiming that the cobot is easy to operate, doesn’t require a safety fence while remaining affordable.
Human-robot collaboration is predicted to be one of the most rapidly expanding industry sectors over the coming years since cobots relieve employees of particularly strenuous or monotonous tasks, thus giving them new levels of freedom and making their work easier and healthier. What makes Festo’s new product so interesting is that no other technology has such a sensitive and flexible approach to human-robot collaboration as pneumatics.
The benefits of pneumatics
Most of the advantages of the Festo Cobot, such as its sensitivity, weight and value for money, derive from the benefits of pneumatics. One notable example of this are the direct drives in the articulated joints which are very cost-effective and particularly lightweight because, unlike electric solutions, no heavy gear units or expensive force-torque sensors are required.
Festo claim that their cobot makes using cobots cost-effective even for small and medium-sized companies, as they often rely on manual work processes. This cost-effectiveness is achieved because of the flexible application options so that small batch sizes or work steps can also be processed automatically. Festo also state that as a consequence of its uniquely intuitive and simple commissioning and programming, it is quick and easy to get to grips with and extensive training is not required.
The pneumatic Festo Cobot is set to be cheaper than electric cobots in the same class as it will provide excellent value for money in its main application area of small parts handling with payloads of up to 3 kg.
“When it goes on sale in 2023, the Festo Cobot will set new standards in human-robot collaboration with its ease of use,” explains Dr Frank Melzer, Member of the Management Board for Product and Technology Management at Festo.
The Festo Cobot is composed of the hardware itself, a handheld module and the Robotic Suite – Festo’s software for intuitive commissioning and programming. The company claims that this package makes it possible to commission and program the Cobot in less than an hour with prior knowledge of robotics not required since the self-explanatory “Robotic Suite” software contains clearly visualised and standardised function blocks. Pneumatic drives are also designed to enable the robot arm to be easily guided by hand and without any resistance so that waypoints or paths can be taught quickly and precisely.
Particularly for small and medium-sized companies, cobots are only attractive if they are capable of practically and quickly taking on a new task and are not just intended to be permanently used for the same purpose. The Festo Cobot fulfils this constraint as it doesn’t require an additional control cabinet that is difficult to connect and cumbersome. The compact controller integrated within its own base makes it particularly flexible while simple connections also allow it to be used ad hoc without long changeover times. Common bus standards enable fast connection to higher-order controllers. while the cobot also requires less space.
Thanks to state-of-the-art, lightweight construction methods, the Festo Cobot weighs only 17 kg – so that it can be used quickly and flexibly at another location.
Working safer and faster
Measuring 670 mm long, the Festo Cobot is just like a human arm and has the right reach for it to be perceived as a helping third hand when working with a member of staff. It moves – just like its human colleagues – within a manageable radius. Thanks to the flexibility of the pneumatic drives, the cobot acts sensitively – at a speed appropriate to the situation and with fluid, harmonious movements. It is as soft to the touch as human contact while the cobot’s pneumatic direct drives and its light weight reduce its contact energy.
Christian Tarragona, Head of Robotics at Festo states that “Thanks to precise pressure regulators in the articulated joints, the robot recognises when it is being touched and responds with appropriate safety functions.”
Consequently, employees can work together with their careful technical colleague in complete safety. Exciting times for the factories of the future.