Collaborative robots – a process technology strategy to enable Leagile Manufacturing
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The collaborative approach where humans use robots as an intelligent assistant in the same workspace to achieve a common goal have become a powerful tool. Collaborative robots support quick adaptation to changing requirements, by quick reconfigurability to a new product- or process mix, and quick adaptability to different processes in the production line. In other words, they enable flexibility in the production processes; also known under the concept of ‘agility’ in the supply chain literature. At the same time, cobots have shown to enable lean processes in the production line by reducing cost due to elimination of waste. For example, the cobots enable reduced installation and reconfiguring time, less process complexity, prevent unused employee creativity and they need less manufacturing space. By combining the lean and agile manufacturing paradigms in the supply chain, the benefits from both worlds can be achieved. This thesis explores the collaborative robot’s ability, as a process technology strategy, to enable leagile manufacturing (by extrapolating lean and agile) with improved performance from flexibility and lean processes, in industrial environments with high product- and process variety. Further to show how to implement the product variety across the supply chain, including the manufacturing processes. The findings are summarized by a conceptual framework for leagile manufacturing through collaborative robots. This is achieved by triangulating an explorative literature study (by reviewing supply chain management and production systems literature and real-life cases) and expert interviews. Keywords: Collaborative Robots, Leagile Manufacturing, Lean Manufacturing, Agile Manufacturing, Flexibility, Reconfigurability.