Cobots: Robots helping co-workers

(CNN) – Meet the cobots where human and robots work together on the factory floor in Baden-Württemberg’s Sew-Eurodrive Company.

Carmen is just one of dozens of “cobots,” co-worker robots, on the production line at German machine manufacturer Sew. She’s now being designed to pick up loads as heavy as 500 kilos and help, even a novice, gently guide a motor for assembly. It takes some practice, but Carmen does the heavy lifting.

Since adding Carmen, Tanja, Jessie and other cobots, they all have female names, Sew has seen a 15% gain in productivity. As much as a 40% decrease in production time. In this factory alone, they make more than a million different kinds of specialty motors.

The key, says Sew’s managing director, is to think of all the ways cobots can assist humans.

Managing Director at Sew-Eurodrive Johann Soder said, “We created a different way of working: A human-robot cooperation that puts the human workforce at its center.”

The most popular robots here are the smart workstations that roll across the factory floor, alongside employees on bicycle. These “cobots” don’t just deliver parts; they can spot mistakes and alert their human co-workers.

German factories have long embraced the robot revolution. This year, Adidas announced its newest shoes will be made by so-called “Speed-factory” robots. Volkswagen has used robots to manufacture its cars.

However, Sew wants robots not to make on a fully automated factory line but as assistants. The world economic form says 5 million jobs worldwide could be lost from robots and other technological change in the next 4 years. Sew insists that the robot’s increase in productivity has actually allowed them to expand and create more.

Supervisor Toto Valenziano says, “We used to have 35 meter assembly lines with long production lines. It was physically hard and monotonous. Now, the robots give us some relief and there is greater variety in how we work.”

Sew is now developing new robots. Carmen will soon have a younger, stronger sister “Carinna” for new factory lines. For the robots and humans in this factory, there’s no looking back.