Universal Robots Introduces New Cobot with 16kg Payload. But Why?
Isaac Maw posted on September 17, 2019 |

“We shall see.”

That’s basically the response I (and countless other industry journalists) have received to the question: “You’ve had the UR3, UR5 and UR10 for years now. Will we see another cobot from UR?”

The answer has turned out to be yes, with the introduction of the UR16e. According to the company, the UR16e is now available to address applications such as heavy-duty material handling, part handling, palletizing, and machine tending.

Here’s a look at the specs as compared to the existing five and ten kilogram payload cobots:

Universal Robots Technical Details
Universal Robots Technical Details

The UR16e has a reach of 900mm, compared to the UR5e’s 850mm and the UR10e’s 1300mm. The new cobot uses less power, at 585W, than the UR10e (615W) but slightly more than the five (570W). While the UR5e has a pose repeatability of +/- 0.03mm, both the UR10e and the new UR16e do +/- 0.05mm.

In the past, when I’ve personally asked UR leadership about the possibility of a UR20 or UR50, perhaps, with a payload of 20 or 50 kg., one common response has been that collaborative robots aren’t always ideal for tasks involving heavy payloads, because these payloads may make the robot less safe to work around—meaning there probably isn’t a market for heavy-lifting cobots. This has seemingly turned out to be, at least in part, not relevant.

Aside from payload, there are applications which reduce or negate the safety advantages of cobots, such as a welding gun, which is now a major application for UR cobots, with partners such as Hirebotics and Arc Specialties.

Why Release a Beefier Cobot?

So, why are manufacturers buying cobots if they’re going to use them with heavy payloads or unsafe implements? This reveals something important about the value and the role of cobots in the industrial robotics space: safety is not the only thing that makes a robot collaborative. It’s something that Universal Robots has understood since the beginning, while some of the other cobots in the market seem to miss.

For example, some cobots use the same programming interface and language as the non-collaborative robots from the same manufacturer. While there are a few obvious advantages to this standardized approach, it misses an opportunity to make the robot more usable, redeployable and flexible. Another example is the design of interfacing tooling and accessories with the robot. While some cobot manufacturers, such as Mobile Industrial Robots, make this easy with tools like open API documentation and wizard tools for installation and configuration, other robot OEMs require users to tinker with PLC i/o or other installation and configuration processes that aren’t designed to be user-friendly.

Even the safety features of cobots aren’t strictly a benefit from an OSHA perspective. Any robot can be made safe by restricting human access to it during operation. The real advantage of the safety features of a cobot is that when your robot program inevitably faults or errors, you don’t have to stop the line, lock out and tag out the robot cell, enter the cell, and reset the robot, which is not only a big pain for technical personnel, it’s also a source of costly downtime. With a cobot, nearly any operator can easily fix the problem (such as picking up a dropped box, for example) and reset the program.

If cobots are evaluated by the same criteria as conventional industrial robots, they lose: conventional robots are faster, stronger, and less expensive. The fact that UR has released a cobot with a higher payload, as well as embracing non-collaborative applications like welding, indicates that a cobot is much more than a robot without a fence. The flexibility and ease-of use aspects of the concept of collaborative robotics are turning out to be the real value of the technology.

The UR16e is being showcased at the China International Industry Fair in Shanghai and will also make its first appearance stateside at Pack Expo in Las Vegas.

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