ANNISTON ARMY DEPOT, Ala. -- Robots can be useful tools for improving productivity and quality, but robots can also be dangerous.In the past, robots have been avoided because of the floor space required to ensure the safety of all employees and the fact robots can’t adjust to variations within most processes without a human and machine interface.Robots require safe work zones, usually established by a large fence enclosure or laser curtains.If an operator were to enter the safety zone, the robot would be placed in a “Stop” position or “Man in Zone” status.This made programing the path of the robot very difficult. Programming had to be done by computer-aided modeling or pendant control, so, each time a change in the process occurred, adjustment to the program had to be made.As Anniston Army Depot employees are well aware, no two military tracked vehicles are made the same. This means, in order for robots to become a viable solution at ANAD, the robots had to become more “flexible.”Traditional welding robots are bulky and expensive, with long delivery times, significant set-up time and cost, and plenty of risk.The Directorate of Production Engineering would like to introduce you to a cobot.A cobot is a collaborative robot, meaning an artisan can work beside a cobot without safety barriers.ANAD contracted to purchase a cobot Aug. 10. Delivery is expected in September and the collaborative robot should be assisting in production areas in November.Cobots can be set up to work safely, maintaining force and/or speed at a rate which won’t result in injury to the employee.Simply put, the cobot can travel slow with a high capacity. If any contact is made with an employee, indicated by a slight increase in force, the cobot stops immediately, without any outside input.The cobot can also travel quickly with a very low force, such that if contact is made with an employee, there is no resultant injury.The contact force is set at a level below the biomechanical limits established by the Robotic Industries Association.Now that we have the ability to be in close proximity to program a cobot, a welding operator can program its path simply by manually manipulating the welding torch with cobot attached to the start and end points of a straight path or by dragging the weld torch along the path to be welded.Additionally, cobots can be portable. Because the cobot doesn’t need a safety enclosure or extensive set-up, it can be moved to areas requiring a weld quickly, programmed in short order and can perform the task, whether it is an overhead, vertical or horizontal weld.The cobot can be programmed to achieve a quality weld no matter the difficulty or position. It can even be set up in areas which are difficult and uncomfortable for a person to access.The American Welding Society estimates the average age of a welder to be in the mid-fifties.With an increased focus on the safety of our welders and an aging work force, ANAD is preparing to use cobot welders to improve the health and welfare of our employees.Our welders are exposed to many hazardous conditions, such as cadmium and other heavy metals.With a welding cobot, the welding operator programs the robot for the particular configuration and then leaves the harmful environment.“The robot is going to take my job” is typically the response to the implementation of a robot.That statement just isn’t true.A robot, in our case a cobot, is simply a better tool for the job.A certified welding operator is still needed for the operation of a welding cobot.The cobot may ensure better safety for our welders, because of the reduced exposure to harmful environments.The cobot will encourage us to find ways to work smarter, not harder.