The Eurecat technology centre, a member of Tecnio, leads the European Sharework project which will bring a new smart system to the market integrated by different software modules, with the aim of driving collaborative work between operators and robots without need for physical protection barriers, thereby boosting process productivity and improving the ergonomics of those workstations where it is implemented.

Specifically, Sharework, which stands for “Safe and effective HumAn-Robot coopEration toWards a better cOmpetiveness on cuRrent automation lacK manufacturing processes”, will establish a modular system designed to adjust collaborative robotics to each industrial process and to the workers themselves, and will also make it possible to adapt the robots currently installed in each plant to ensure more effective cooperation with humans.

Sharework is fully financed by the European Commission and is developed in Spain, Italy, Luxembourg, France, Germany and Greece for the purpose of offering industries “an artificial intelligence system aimed at improving the efficiency of manufacturing processes while guaranteeing the safety of the worker,” points out Project Coordinator Jesús Pablo González.

The objective, explains Daniel Martín, Sharework Technical Coordinator, of the Eurecat Robotics and Automation Unit is to develop a collaborative robotics system “capable of understanding the environment and human actions through knowledge and sensors and future state predictions and capable of making the robot act accordingly.”

The transfer of Sharework solutions to other relevant industrial environments through the development of a system adaptable to different industrial assembly and production processes is also envisaged.

It is estimated that there are currently 2 million robots in the world, especially in the automotive industry, where the EU is one of the world leaders.

Although collaborative robots account for only 5,000 units, their reduction in price and the boom of Industry 4.0 has driven investment in automation and spurred companies’ interest in investing in cobots, whose market value is expected to reach €3.7 billion in 2023, given the high rate of return on investment.

The development of the system also envisages the continuous study of human factors with the aim of adapting and improving user perception.

Implementation in four types of real industrial scenarios

In this collaborative robotics growth scenario, Sharework will begin by applying human-robot collaboration in four types of real industrial scenarios in the automotive, railway, metal and capital goods manufacturing industries.

To this end, it will develop modular software based on human-robot collaboration capable of flexibly and efficiently adapting to the required work, thanks to the robot’s perception of the environment through multiple sensors, smart data processing, augmented reality and gesture and speech recognition technology. It will also continuously evaluate work ergonomics and make suggestions for improving the worker’s posture.

Project phases

In a first phase, the project will analyse the work environment and the worker’s needs. Next, the necessary technology will be developed to address the new production paradigm through the systematic and effective application of human-robot collaboration. Subsequently, the technology developed will be evaluated, validated and integrated in the industrial environment.

This new work methodology is developed under Industry 4.0, one of whose innovations implies that humans and robots work side by side and collaborate by combining their capabilities. To make this possible, the robot must be capable of flexibly adjusting a series of variables, such as speed and strength, to ensure the worker’s safety, in addition to effectively participating in the industrial process.

The project, which kicked off in November of last year and will be completed by 31 October 2022, has a budget of €7.3 million and falls within the scope of the Horizon 2020 call for “Transforming European Industry”, which is aimed at implementing innovative artificial intelligence technologies to enable the effective collaboration of robots with workers.

Sharework is being developed by a consortium of 15 partners from six different countries (Germany, Spain, France, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg) that encompasses six research institutions (Eurecat, LMS, FRAUNHOFER, CNR, TUDA, RWTH); eight industrial partners, of which three are SMEs (STRANE-France, STAM-Italy, GOIZPER-Spain); and five large companies (ALSTOM-Spain, CEMBRE-Italy, NISSAN-Spain, INTRASOFT-Luxembourg, MCM-Italy), in addition to a standardising organisation (UNE-Spain).