The use of robots in manufacturing began in 1961 and with constant advancements in robot technology, big data, machine learning, artificial intelligence and Internet of Things (IoT), the recent years have witnessed a considerable increase in the adoption of robots in manufacturing industries. The adoption of automation in the manufacturing sector has transformed the need of human resources in and the economics of several manufacturing industries. Industrial robots can be programmed to perform dangerous and repetitive tasks with consistent accuracy and precision. Manufacturing robots aid in reducing raw material wastage, optimizing operational costs, and enhancing productivity, which is inducing several manufacturers to prefer the usage of robots in their production line. Owing to such benefits the global industrial robot market for heavy duty applications will witness considerable growth.
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Manufacturing Robots – Boon or Bane
Will robots replace human workforce in manufacturing industries or help them by reducing their workload? The opinion is fairly divided on this issue. One segment argues that since robots can work tirelessly with no need for breaks, do not call in sick, and do not go on strikes, manufacturers will be encouraged to replace their entire workforce with robots to increase productivity. With the growing adoption of robotics and automation in manufacturing industries, the threat to job security among workers will also grow. The rising human labor cost has led manufacturers in countries like China to look towards automation and robotics. The lack of high skill jobs in China has resulted in educated college graduates search for jobs in the manufacturing sectors, which are already being replaced by robots.
The other segment argues that robots are not stealing jobs but improving them. The cost savings achieved by implementing robotics in industries will help manufacturers focus and invest in innovation, thus creating a demand for better educated and highly skilled workforce. Robots create more desirable jobs, like engineering, programming, management and equipment maintenance while protecting workers from repetitive, mundane and dangerous tasks. For example, in the automotive industry, people have moved on from building cars manually to programming robots to perform car assembly and get paid more in the process.
Moreover, heavy investments in automation will boost the nation’s GDP which in turn will lead to an improvement in the quality of life. This will help create a positive cycle of greater satisfaction among highly skilled workers, leading to high quality work, which will lead to higher pay, which will allow people to afford higher education and lead to a higher skilled workforce that has the disposable income to further boost the economy. The ability of robots to take jobs could also prove as a blessing in disguise for developed economies such as Japan and the US, suffering from an ageing population.
Manufacturing Robots Market Overview
According to a study conducted by the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) in 2017, the number of operational industrial robots by the end of 2016 was over 1.82 million which is estimated to reach over 3 million by the end of 2020. It has also predicted that with an increase in adoption of industrial robots, 1.7 million new robots will be installed in factories and industries by 2020. China had the highest industrial robot sales in 2016, while Japan had the largest operational stock of industrial robots in 2015. The industrial robot market is dominated by the automotive industry with 35% market share. These statistics point out that the influence of robotics and automation on manufacturing will be profound in the future.
Benefits of the Adoption of Robotics in Manufacturing
Major types of industrial robots include welding, painting, assembly, pick and place for printed circuit boards, packaging and labelling, palletizing, product inspection, and testing. Manufacturing robots can also assist in material handling. Robots used in industries help in improving the efficiency of manufacturing processes from raw material handling to finished product packaging. Robots also help manufacturers in maximizing worker’s skills in other areas of business. The high flexibility of robotic equipment allows end users to customize their automation system to perform complex operations. Difficult and dangerous industrial tasks in hostile environment can be completed with the use of industrial robots. Manufacturing robots can also perform tasks with high precision and repeatability of +/-0.02mm. Apart from these benefits, manufacturing robots also decreases production costs and cycle times, improves product quality and reliability, offers better floor space utilization, reduces waste and increases workplace safety.
Recent Advancements in the Industrial Automation Industry
Industrial automation has already revolutionized the manufacturing industry. World’s largest robotics companies such as ABB, FANUC Robotics, KUKA, Yaskawa Electric and Kawasaki Heavy Industries are investing heavily on research and development to provide end users with more sophisticated and customized solutions. With recent advances in robotics technology, industrial robots are going to be the mainstay in the manufacturing sector. Listed below are some of the recent advances in industrial automation to look forward to in the future which are going to change the face of the manufacturing industry.
- Cloud Storage: Data from all machines can be automatically uploaded and backed up wirelessly with cloud storage. This helps in keeping data safe even in the event of system crashes and can be accessed and recovered from the cloud on any computer. This advance in automation is expected to benefit every industry including industrial automation
- Diode Lasers: Audi, a German car manufacturer is integrating automation with welding by programming robot controlled 13 kW diode lasers. This enabled the company to create invisible welds on the car’s body, thus improving the structural integrity of the car
- 3D Printing: Though this technology has been around since the 80’s, recent advancements in this technology has led to improved accuracy and capacities for these machines and growing adoption in manufacturing industries. 3D printing helps in manufacturing highly complex, customized and efficient designs and the products are lighter, stronger and require lesser assembly.
- Nanomanufacturing: This technology is expected to play a major role in the production of high efficiency solar cells and batteries. Nanomanufacturing technology is in its nascent stage and refers to the manufacturing of material on a molecular and atomic level. Future generations of electronics and computing devices are also expected to rely heavily on this technology.
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Future Trends of?Manufacturing Robots
The integration of robots into manufacturing processes need a significant upfront cost. Robotics as a service (RaaS) is a growing trend which involves the rental or temporary acquisition of robots and advanced hardware by startups or midsize operations at a manageable cost. This has enabled robotics to penetrate the cost sensitive agriculture market. Although the upfront costs and overall maintenance costs of manufacturing robots are high, ROI can be achieved very quickly and proves to be a valuable investment in the long run.
The fear of loss of jobs to robots can also be allayed with the use of collaborative robots or cobots wherein smaller and lighter robots work safely alongside human workers with the help of sensor and vision technology. With advanced safety features, cobots are expected to revolutionize the production and manufacturing sector by improving efficiency and reducing hazards. This will ensure that robots are not replacing humans but helping them. Moreover, with top industrial robotics companies focusing on research in the field of machine learning, tactile sensing and socially intelligent robots, the global industrial robots market is expected to be more technologically advanced and grow at CAGR close to 8% during the next four years.