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The world has become increasingly connected, and in Australia’s manufacturing sector, there has been a notable uptick in Industry 4.0 technologies, largely due to disruptions caused by recurring lockdowns and the need for ongoing productivity.

Through cloud-based technologies, manufacturers can connect their equipment and their processes on the shop floor, without the need for on-the-ground support. Benefits include real time analytics, predictive maintenance, online support and diagnostics, and cloud backups.

Further to this, robots and collaborative robots (cobots) are getting a lot of attention these days as the answer to social distancing and ongoing productivity in the workplace. Their ability to be programmed and used remotely is also in high demand. 

With this in mind, Universal Robots has partnered with its OEM, Hirebotics, which has had cloud-connected cobots in play for many years now, to make cloud tools freely available for its entire portfolio of cobots.

According to James McKew, regional director of Universal Robots Asia-Pacific, there are numerous benefits to connecting cobots to the cloud, which can be put in three primary categories: Analytics, Backups and Support. 

“Cloud robotics is an emerging field that makes use of cloud-based technologies, such as cloud computing, cloud storage and other technologies to remotely use, service and program robots,” explains McKew.

“With the need for social distancing and staff safety of the utmost concern, productivity is at stake and this is where cobots, and particularly connected cobots, come in. 

“The workplace of the future is now, and in ever-changing and disruptive times, they’re set to become your biggest competitive advantage.” 

With analytics, McKew says that simply put, they are used to answer two questions: what happened and what is going on? And these insights are what help to build predictive models based on trends.

“The former makes use of machine data to better understand historical production data, cycle time variations, downtime, amongst others, while the latter makes use of sophisticated software that leverages machine learning to gain a deeper understanding of a particular application,” McKew continues.

For backups, McKew says that cobots are just as dynamic as the production environment itself, and rather than relying on manual backups, manufacturers can now back up a cobot on the cloud.

“Over time, changes need to be made to a cobot program to accommodate new part numbers or changes in the environment,” adds McKew.

“This provides peace of mind and new capabilities. Furthermore, cloud backups can be completed in real time.”

Finally, with support, McKew notes that the biggest saving in this space is that of time.

“A cloud-connected cobot is easy to support. If you’re struggling with an application or are running into issues, you can easily share analytics, logs, the I/O status, and other data with your distributor, integrator or a support contact,” McKew says.

“Rather than waiting for someone to come out and assist, support can be carried out remotely. 

“And while some traditional industrial robots still require price add-ons or modules to help analyse data, cobots are equipped with an Ethernet port on their controller.”

With so much benefits of cloud connecting robots, why exactly are companies holding back when it comes to investing in this space? McKew believes it usually falls among a number of reasons, including cost, complexity and security fears.

“However, there are solutions to avoid both cost and complexity. Our cloud software runs natively on a cobot’s controller and there is no need for external hardware – it can be registered by simply scanning a QR code using a mobile app, and this platform comes at no added cost,” McKew advises.

“Naturally, security is always of concern when making use of a cloud connected device, and it is therefore always recommended that one makes use of firewall to allow for only trusted traffic. 

“The benefits of cloud connecting robots on local shores are clear and the companies that exploit these capabilities will have a competitive advantage over companies that don’t, particularly in this current ‘stay-at-home’ environment.” 

Universal Robots will be hosting regular webinars to help customers with cobots and explore automation opportunities. 

Furthermore, local support, service and maintenance, as well as training offerings, are also locally available through Universal Robots’ UR Academy, global network of Authorised Training Centres, and its extensive UR+ ecosystem.

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