Cobotics can help create safer working environments for people. This is particularly important within Australian manufacturing, an industry with one of the highest incident rates for serious claims of work-related injury or disease (Key work health and safety statistics, Australia 2021 | Safe Work Australia).
Our Industry Partners have always been committed to continually improving health and safety of their workers and for many, this desire to consistently improve is one of the main drivers for their involvement with the Centre.
So, how can cobots create a safer workplace?
Cobotics can allow workers to avoid the dirty, repetitive, and hazardous tasks they currently encounter and instead focus on high-detail and knowledge led tasks that a robot cannot do, such as finishing and quality assurance work, programming and servicing cobotic technology, and other highly skilled and knowledgeable tasks.
Cobots allow workers to be removed from potentially hazardous situations through:
- Decreased time spent on activities that expose the worker to dangerous substances– e.g. cobotic welding or spray painting
- Reduction in repetitious tasks removing the risk of repetitious strain injuries
- Remote operation to reduce the risk of injury to the worker. e.g. through operating machinery, handling dangerous materials, or working in confined spaces
One of the Centre’s industry partners, InfraBuild, has a Safety Vision where every employee returns home fit and well at the end of each workday. One of their principles in achieving their vision is to be always alert to hazards.
“As a steel producer, our process involves casting 80 tonnes of 1640°C liquid steel into 2050kg billets and rolling those billets at 1050°C into bar and rod products”, describes InfraBuild’s Andrew Thomas. “Our most effective hazard control is elimination and we see cobots as providing opportunities to remove our operators from what are hazardous workplaces by virtue of the high temperature, volume and energy of the steel.”
The Centre’s researchers and engineers are working with InfraBuild to research and develop a high-speed sensing and control system that is capable of identifying and moving steel rods and bars with the ability to be able to work safely within relative proximity of their operators. This will result in better working conditions for employees who will supervise the cobot, reducing manual handling tasks and risk of injury.
The project team are careful to ensure any new technology does not introduce new or increase existing hazards to InfraBuild employees. Ideally it will also increase the health and wellness of their employees. Andrew notes that this can be achieved by including the employees in the design and implementation of the solution and reducing uncertainty for employees through, open and honest communication with employees around the benefits and reasons for introducing technology.
Cobotics also offers organisations an opportunity to attract and retain workers. With labour shortages across the industry, it is important that organisations focus not just on the physical safety of their workplace, but also the ongoing opportunities for existing staff to be exposed to, and learn new skills; and the ability to broaden workforce participation by offering work that relies less on specific physical capabilities.
The Australian Cobotics Centre’s researchers are working with partners to identify solutions can improve a worker’s employment through the development of new skills, and more generally, allowing greater diversity and longevity in the workforce.
This is a priority for our industry partners who want to ensure they have a healthy, safe and engaged workforce.
The Centre has research projects that focus on:
- Designing systems, cobots and working environments that enable safe and productive interaction between robots and workers.
- Increasing understanding of human and robot interactions to ensure human worker safety.
- Providing guidance and frameworks for working with cobotic technologies.
- Understanding the future manufacturing workforce including skills and security, jobs, workplace readiness for change, and diversity and longevity.
You can read more about InfraBuild’s commitment to Safety here: Safety at InfraBuild – InfraBuild
Further details about our partners and projects can be found via www.australiancobotics.org.