Cobots: collaborative robots

Cobots are an increasingly common sight in the Safran production plants. This discipline consists in developing a new generation of robots designed to work in direct collaboration with humans rather than replace them. Below are some explanations from Jean-François Thibault, Group Ergonomics Program Consultant and Cédric O, Head of the Factory of the Future Project.

Industrial cobotics is a recent discipline. How would you define it?

The word "cobotics" is a shortened version of Collaborative Robotics. This discipline is characterized by the direct or remote interaction between an operator and a robotic system. There are several types of cobots: those controlled by an operator in the immediate vicinity of the system, others which are controlled at a greater distance (remote-operated) and exoskeletons, which are an extension of the human body itself.

200 people work at the Villeurbanne plant, situated near the town of Lyon. Plant activities are focused on the production of carbon brake disks mainly for aircraft, and for some racing cars.

The principle is a real-time association of the capabilities of a robot (strength, precision, repeatability, etc.) and the skills of a human being (know-how, analysis, decision-making and so on). This is why we talk of collaborative robotics. The advantage is to be able to assist the person in carrying out their duties or in particular situations. For example, by improving working conditions to prevent musculoskeletal disorders, one of the leading occupational injuries, or by protecting the operator from exposure to harmful environments. But the role of cobotics is also to improve human productivity, by enabling people to devote themselves to tasks with high added value. For example, a cobot will present a part to a human operator at the right angle, so that they can concentrate on precise fitting work.

What forms do cobots currently take within the Group and what are the development prospects for tomorrow?

We are working on several fronts at the same time, with the idea obviously of coordinating our work, pooling our resources and sharing our experience across the Group. Experience shows that a clearer understanding of how man and machine interact is crucial to developing the right cobots for our plants. In 2014, we therefore initiated an applied research program in which a robotics specialist, an ergonomics expert and a cognitive scientist are developing cobot concepts, subsequently tested in the Herakles and Aircelle plants, and are analyzing how they interact with humans.

At the same time, Snecma has created an industrial innovation workshop which is testing robots on its production lines. Finally, under the Government's "Factory of the future" plan, Safran and other French industrial groups are developing a technology innovation platform, for which one of the working topics is physical assistance for operators through cobotics.

Discover the future LEAP engine assembly line!




Cobots in action

Chantal Peyroutou, Head of the Industrial Innovation Workshop at Snecma, explains how cobots are incorporated into the engine manufacturer's production lines.


On what projects do you use cobots?

We are evaluating cobot solutions in the workshop, in an environment close to the actual production conditions. We are currently reaching the end of the prototyping phase for two major projects, which will be implemented in our plants in 2016. One consists in automating equipment installation on a part of the LEAP-1B engine to be fitted to the future Boeing 737 MAX, while the other concerns insertion and attachment of tooling parts.


So what are the advantages of working with cobots?

In both of these projects, cobots will help us save time, avoid repetitive human operations such as tightening, and thus prevent musculoskeletal disorders of the hand. The staff can thus spend more time on applying their professional know-how and focusing on specific techniques. This discipline is of particular interest in our industry precisely because the human contribution to the production process remains fundamental.

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