For robotics engineers, programmers, software developers and automation engineers, cobots present the unique challenge of combining humans and robots working together to find new solutions to a range of different processes and tasks. Whilst most cobots are manually programmed by their human coworkers, software still has to be created in order to allow for this machine learning, along with programs for safety protocols and adaptability.
Cobots are an area of the robotics and automation industry that continues to grow as more and more uses are found for the integration of robotic equipment alongside human work. The potential for this kind of technology is vast, which is why so many engineers and programmers want to be a part of the industry.
But how do you actually get into cobot programming? What routes can you take into the career, and what skills are needed to succeed?
This post has the answers.
What are Cobots?
A collaborative robot, or a cobot, is a piece of robotics machinery that works alongside humans, often in an industrial setting. They can be used for all kinds of tasks, including packaging, assembling, machine tending and quality control.
One of the key purposes of a cobot is to carry out tasks that are too dangerous or repetitive and dull for humans to complete day after day. Unlike industrial robots, which are often large, unsafe, static and require total reprogramming if a task changes, a cobot is smaller, flexible and can easily work alongside humans to help streamline a process and carry out a range of tasks as needed.
Cobots differ from traditional industrial robots because they learn their functions from the humans they work with. Instead of being programmed with tasks before they are installed in a work environment, most cobots are manually moved through the stages of their job by a human and learn what to do from this.
Another difference is that most traditional robots are large, difficult to manoeuvre and cannot be stopped suddenly in the event of an emergency. Cobots on the other hand tend to be smaller and more agile, and many have been programmed to detect other objects or people so that they can stop when they get near to something else.
One of the best ways to look at it is that industrial robots are designed to take the place of employees to do tasks, whereas industrial cobots are designed to work alongside employees to make their jobs easier and make work more efficient.
There are numerous benefits to working with cobots in a range of different settings, but one of the biggest advantages is that they are much easier to program than traditional industrial robotics and machinery. Whilst some cobots still require traditional programming and some work by using a combination of basic programming and manual teaching, the majority can be easily taught by anyone which makes them much more accessible and allows for wider application of the technology.
How to Become a Cobot Programmer
A cobot programmer is a kind of robotics engineer or software developer who has specialised in collaborative robotics, which means that there are several different routes available if you want to become one.
Most cobot programmers begin their careers by studying a university or college degree in a relevant discipline. Plenty of universities now offer degrees in various robotics, mechatronics or computer systems engineering courses, but a degree in computer science, mechanical engineering or automation and control engineering also gives you an appropriate level of skill and understanding.
If you don’t wish to study at a university, there are a wide variety of equivalent higher education engineering courses available, as well as apprenticeships in programming or robotic operation and maintenance that provide suitable experience and understanding.
Many programmers also begin their careers by studying computer programming at a technical institute that offers shorter, more focused courses that will give you an excellent foundation of programming skills.
Once you have studied programming and robotics, the next step to becoming a cobot programmer is to get a job in a relevant field. Depending on your degree and where your interests lie, this could be as a junior robotics engineer or programmer, as a robotics software developer, or as an industrial robot operator or technician.
With this experience, your next step will be to start applying for specific roles that work with cobots. If you have worked solely in programming then your job will likely be to write code and create software for new collaborative robots, whereas cobot engineers may be involved in the manual programming, installation and maintenance of the cobots they have helped design.
There is a wide range of different cobot programming jobs out there, each allowing different levels of interaction with robotic machinery and the chance to work in a variety of industries. You may also end up working with and programming cobots if you work in a factory or other setting that introduces collaborative robots into the workplace and requires you to manually teach the machinery different tasks to optimise your own process.
The Best Industries for Cobot Programmers
Cobots were initially just used in factory and manufacturing settings as a way to make processes more efficient and provide a more flexible alternative to traditional industrial robots and machinery. Now, the potential for collaborative robots has meant that they are used across a range of different sectors to do a wide variety of different tasks. Here are some of the best industries for cobot programmers and engineers to work in.
The manufacturing industry is one of the sectors where the use of cobots is widespread, thanks to the repetitive nature of most manufacturing processes that makes robots an ideal choice.
A cobot’s job in manufacturing can be as simple as picking items up off a production line and placing them in different areas. Whilst this kind of work is dull and can cause repetitive strain injuries for humans, a cobot can be taught to do the same precise movement every time and massively reduces the errors often made by a human employee.
Packaging is also another repetitive task in manufacturing that can be made much more efficient by using cobots. Equally, moving and packing finished products into containers for delivery can be done much faster and without injury when it is done by cobots instead of humans.
Finally, a common task that cobots are being used more for is manufacturing quality control. Using a range of camera equipment allows for cobots to meticulously scan finished products and compare them to specifications and diagrams, flagging up any issues and making far fewer errors than a human would.
Cobots are also increasingly being used in the automotive industry, particularly in manufacturing parts for different vehicles. They’re an excellent choice when dangerous materials or processes are involved, such as shaping metal, welding pieces together, exposing materials to high temperatures and working with anything that might produce dangerous fumes or dust.
The automotive industry requires a lot of precision when assembling parts and vehicles, as high safety standards must be met and human error could have very serious consequences. Manufacturers experiencing high levels of demand will also benefit from the speed that cobots can bring to their production line, allowing for faster production and more efficient work.
The electronics manufacturing industry is another area where intense precision is required, and using cobots can massively reduce errors in the production process and speed up development. Where human skill is required, cobots can be used to make the design and build processes easier by holding components or moving items to reduce the need for excessive movement and strain.
The electronics industry is also involved with the development and manufacture of cobots themselves, so not only are the robots used in the manufacturing process for other electrical items, but they can also be used to build other cobots.
The past eighteen months have seen a sharp rise in the need for automation in the medical industry, and cobots are increasingly being used in the production of medical equipment and medicines themselves to maximise efficiency and reduce the need for human contact. The manufacturing of medical devices and pharmaceutical products requires an intense level of accuracy and quality assurance, and cobots are also being used to make this process more reliable and provide precision that humans just can’t offer.
There is also a predicted trend of cobots being used in basic medical procedures where a medical professional can teach a machine how to perform routine surgeries or tasks. The accuracy and precision offered by a robot are ideal for certain medical situations and could massively reduce error as well as making many doctor and surgeon’s jobs much easier.
As well as the benefits of using cobots in packaging, moving items on a production line and quality control, collaborative robots are also very useful in the food production industry because they can work around the clock. When there is a huge demand for food and drink products companies can be impacted by human employees who need breaks and can only work during the day, whereas cobots can run for 24 hours easily and allow for a much higher turnover of produce.
Cobot Programming Skills
If you want to become a cobot programmer, there are several key skills that potential employers will be looking out for and which will help you to succeed in the role.
One of the most important skills you will need as a cobot programmer is proficiency with programming languages. If you’re writing the code that allows a robot to learn actions from manual teaching, get programmed by someone with limited programming knowledge and potentially be re-programmed multiple times, you’ll need to have excellent skills in writing code and software in a variety of languages.
If you have just trained as a computer programmer, you will need specific knowledge of the robotics industry to succeed as a cobots programmer. Developing collaborative robots means understanding automation and the theory that machine learning is based on, and you’ll also need to consider how they are going to work alongside human employees to maximise efficiency and safety.
To be a successful programmer you need exceptional analytical thinking skills. In your role you will be presented with a range of different scenarios that require cobot intervention and will have to identify what the robot needs to do, how best to write code and develop a program to allow this task to be taught, and decide on other practical considerations need to be made before the cobot can be installed in a workplace.
Every successful coder is a good problem solver. When you boil it down, writing code is about finding the best solution to a complex problem, and as a cobot programmer, you will be presented with numerous problems and scenarios that you will need to develop cobots and cobot programs in order to solve.
Whilst there is a common assumption that computer programmers sit on their own all day and talk to nobody else whilst they work, cobot programmers are usually part of a wide team of developers and robotics engineers. You will need strong written and verbal communication skills to successfully take part in development projects, whether you’re writing up a brief, creating user manuals or explaining a problem that needs solving.
Cobot programming is a role that will continue to develop and expand as more and more industries start to use collaborative robots as part of their work processes to carry out tasks that are more suited to machinery than humans. Getting into cobot programming puts you at the heart of an exciting, developing sector of the robotics industry that is predicted to rapidly grow in the next few years.
If you’re a robotics engineer, an engineer looking to get into cobots, or an employer looking to hire in this sector, Samuel Frank can help. To find out more about how a specialist recruiter can make a difference for your company or career, get in touch and speak to a member of our team.