Manufacturing AUTOMATION

Designing energy supply systems for collaborative robots

November 17, 2017
By David Sandiland

Nov. 17, 2017 – Collaborative robots, or cobots, work side by side with human workers to complete a wide range of tasks, including welding, quality inspection, and component insertion/fastening. They were introduced in the mid 1990s, but took until 2008 to make it to the industrial marketplace (

With anticipated global compound annual growth of more than 60 per cent over the next five years to an expected $3.3 billion by 2022 (MarketsandMarkets), collaborative robots are definitely here to stay. As collaborative robots become more relied upon, more attention must be paid to extending the service life and reliability of these systems, especially designing and protecting their energy supply system.

Collaborative robotic technology
Cobots are integrated with a number of sensors which detect humans and other objects, allowing the robot’s speed and force to be immediately reduced. They are also designed without any exposed motors, and with a reduced number of pinch points and sharp edges to reduce possibility of injury if contact is made with a human coworker. These added safety features mean that cobots are truly able to work alongside people, without the need to add safety guards or light curtains.

The robotic systems are much smaller than traditional industrial robots, often tabletop scale for small, light tasks. A range of models are available from manufacturers like Universal Robots, who started with smaller scale robots, and KUKA, which made its name in large industrial robots before branching out to develop cobots.

Energy supply for collaborative robots
Many cobots do not come with their own energy supply systems. This means that all cable management must be run external to the robot by the integrator or end-user. There are two major factors to consider when selecting and installing the energy supply system — the cables themselves, and even more importantly, the cable management system. It is important to select cables that are able to stand up to the constant movement, as well as a cable carrier with the flexibility to match the movements of a robotic arm making high-precision movements, while not constricting or damaging the cables inside.


David Sandiland is automotive and robotics industry manager at igus Inc.

The triflex R multi-axis cable carrier from igus promises extremely flexible movement around all robotic axes, even when in restricted spaces. The ball-and-socket link design moves in a snakelike fashion, with integrated slits for simplified cable installation. Available in a range of sizes to suit all robots, igus has also partnered with Universal Robots and KUKA to develop special easy-open/close clamping brackets to mount the triflex system to their cobots. Click here to learn more about triflex multi-axis cable carriers and brackets.

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