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The rise of ‘cobotics’

Engineers at BAE Systems’ Warton facility in Lancashire will soon benefit from new colleagues in the form of ‘collaborative robots’ designed to work closely with their human operators.

The so-called ‘cobots’ will help in the manufacturing of complex systems for cutting-edge combat aircraft, enabling workers to focus on strategic decisions while delegating repetitive, machine-driven tasks.

New high-tech workstations will include a robotic arm which uses wireless sensors to identify and tailor itself to individual operators.

Each operator will have a digital training passport which will remember their level of expertise and training history, allowing the workstation to deliver tailored cues and instructions such as picking out the correct components with light-assisted technology.

Robotics is already an integral part of BAE System’s aircraft production, but the integrated sensors of the new workstations make it a ‘next step’ in the journey towards people working directly with robots.

Dave Holmes, Manufacturing Director at BAE Systems’ Air business, said:

“We’ve only really started to scratch the surface of what automation can do in industry and some really exciting possibilities are emerging as we enter the fourth industrial revolution.

"Cobotics is the next, natural step in developing manufacturing technology that will allow for a blending of skilled roles. We envisage that people will make larger, more strategic decisions while delegating the repetitive and intricate aspects of production to a robot."

"Through the factory of the future technology, automation will empower employees to work safely at greater speed and with maintained accuracy, leading to increased productivity and quality.”

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