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OM in the News: The Latest Robots Take Hold–Deftly

April 21, 2015
German Chancellor Merkel and Indian Prime Minister Modi with the new YuMi robot

German Chancellor Merkel and Indian Prime Minister Modi with the new YuMi robot

A new generation of robots designed to work safely alongside people and take on tasks such as assembly of small parts that require more dexterity than older robots can muster, is here, reports The Wall Street Journal (April 14, 2015). The Swiss firm ABB just introduced YuMi, which with a starting price of about $40,000, can help assemble such products as smartphones, laptops and tablet computers that have been assembled largely by hand by workers in lower-cost countries like China.

The small robots, called collaborative robots, are more flexible, much easier to program and safer for humans. Older types of robots, designed to do such tasks as weld or hoist heavy objects, are so fast and powerful that they need to be surrounded by fences to avoid injuring workers. The newer robots have sensors and cameras, telling them to slow down or halt when people get too near. They can be used for quality inspections and packaging.“We have taken the robot out of the cage,” said ABB’s CEO.  YuMi is dexterous enough to thread a needle, he added.

YuMi is designed to work with small parts weighing as much as 1.1 pounds. German robot maker, Fanuc, by contrast, has built the CR35iA, which can pick up items weighing as much as 77 pounds. That new robot is expected to be used for such things as stacking boxes on pallets, moving materials into place for assembly, and driving in screws. Many repetitive tasks in factories are still done by people because they require a delicate sense of touch and dexterity that eludes most machines. Robot makers say they are making progress toward matching human dexterity, though. The German Kuka LBR iiwa robot, for instance,  can install a tube inside a dishwasher.

Classroom discussion questions:

1. Why is this new generation of collaborative robots important to operations managers?

2. What is the restriction that older and larger robots face?

 

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