How cobots can maintain manufacturing SMEs and jobs in the EU
One of the most well-known effects of globalisation over the past decades has been large-scale manufacturing organisations moving operations overseas, due to various financial incentives. As a result, manufacturing SMEs in Europe and other Western countries struggle to maintain their cost competitiveness against those large-scale production facilities in low-wage economies.
The sector also suffers workforce scarcity because employees in manufacturing SMEs are often subjected to physically repetitive tasks, which don’t utilise their full capabilities, while also contributing to adverse health effects.
With the inability and lack of desire to move overseas, increasing competitiveness will only be achieved by offering high levels of production flexibility, which can be enabled thanks to collaborative robotics.
Unlike previous automation waves, collaborative robots – or cobots – focus on enhancing the cooperation between human workers and industrial robots and have the potential to have as much impact, or even more, within the manufacturing sector as 3D printing or IoT.
Collaborative robotics manufacturing not only allows for more efficient use of employees, more than 85% according to MIT; it reduces health issues and raises motivation.
With this in mind, Bax & Company has partnered with leading manufacturing organisations and SME networks across North West Europe to start the COTEMACO project. This EU collaborative initiative with support from the EC through the Interreg NWE programme, will deliver and bundle four regional fieldlabs led by Flanders Make (Belgium), Food Tech Brainport (the Netherlands), The University of Lincoln (the UK), and ZeMA (Germany), where the targeting of key production steps in the automotive and food sectors will be showcased. These fieldlabs will help to overcome low sectorial awareness and knowledge gaps about the impact and effectiveness that collaborative robotics can bring to regional SMEs.
By testing collaborative robots in relevant environmental conditions, and allowing manufacturing SMEs to interact with them, the fieldlabs will bring this innovative technology closer to the relevant end-users.
The exploration is not done just by SME management, but also by the other stakeholders in the regional manufacturing economies. COTEMACO will engage with 60 automotive and food sector SMEs in the fieldlabs and work with 50 of those to implement collaborative robotics in their manufacturing processes.
COTEMACO will run for a total of 4 years and aims to maintain regional turnover, NWE manufacturing jobs while also generating new jobs for which KPIs have been defined. The activities of the project will also be replicated to other sectors (eg. Aerospace, health) and regions within Europe (eg. ES, FR), to ensure consistent long-term benefits for all.