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Collaborative robots to boost productivity in SL

Deploying collaborative robots that work with humans in the workplace can boost productivity, create new jobs and help expand employment opportunities of female workers in Sri Lanka, officials said.

Collaborative robot (cobot) arms can lift heavy weights, do repetitive work, expand the reach of a worker and make precise placements of items on a production line.

“A cobot is a third hand or a helping hand that improves the quality of life, the ergonomics and the productivity of workers,” Pradeep David, General Manager, Sri Lanka for Denmark based Universal Robots said.

Cobots also expands the employment opportunities of female workers by taking over heavy lifting tasks that may find difficult to do.

Universal Robots and their local partner Techfield (Pvt) Ltd has already started deploying cobots in Sri Lanka.

Techfield will study production lines and find the locations that the cobots can be set up to boost productivity, Managing Director Sugath Jayatilake said.

The cobots are then programmed to handle the task and the arm will be tooled with ‘fingers’ to be able to precisely manipulate or grasp items in that are being made,

The same robot can be reprogrammed to do a different task later. They can be set up with minimal training, he says.

Ceylon Biscuits Limited has already deployed the technology in their end of line processes where products are packaged, Jayatilake said.

Universal Robots has already sold over 15,000 of their units which can handle tasks involving 3, 5 and 10 kilo cobots.

A UR-3 unit can be set up for about 3.5 million rupees, making them a possibility of even a small and medium level enterprise.

Jayatilleke says there is interest from consumer goods and apparel sector firm in Sri Lanka, with half a dozen units already on order after they started operations six months ago.

Universal Robots is hoping to sell around 100 units in Sri Lanka over the next three years.

While a cobot can eliminate some job, usually so-called 3D (Dirty, Dangerous, Demanding) jobs where it is difficult to find jobs, overall increases in productivity that result can boost competitiveness of a firm and bring in new business and jobs, David says.

He says a firm called Aurolab in Tamil Nadu, India which was making intra-ocular lenses used in cataract operations, started using cobots a few years ago.

From a firm that was making 150 lenses a day with a dozen workers a day, it grew to one that is now making 10,000 lenses a day with 700 workers.

About 80 percent of the workers at Auolabs are female, he says with cobots helping with ‘physically challenging’ parts of their jobs.

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