Cobot and welder working side-by-side in a dark room
Cobot and welder working side-by-side in a dark room
 

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Headshot of Nicola O'Byrne
Nicola O’Byrne,

ADI Strategic Marketing Manager for Connected Motion and Robotics

KEEP CALM AND ROBOT ON


Take a look around. Robots are ubiquitous, especially in these days of the pandemic and social distancing. Robots are in grocery stores wiping up spills and answering questions. They’re working alongside workers, helping with repetitive tasks in smarter factory floors where they’re known as cobots or collaborative robots. Robots cut our lawns and vacuum our floors. They’re even providing lifesaving skills in hospitals sanitizing rooms and helping nurses lift heavy patients, saving caregivers from injury.

Robots are redefining how we work, play and interact with each other, and their presence will undoubtedly play an integral part of our lives forever.

ROBOTS HELP SUPPLY MEET DEMAND

Robots are also having a major impact across the manufacturing landscape, as industries are changing to keep up with consumer demand and behavior. Expectations for more customization and faster turn-around times have forced manufacturers to change their operations to respond to this new demand, including more localized facilities with quickly reconfigurable production lines.

Increasing consumer demand is driving a shift away from low mix, high volume manufacturing towards high mix, low volume manufacturing, which demands greater flexibility on the factory floor. So now, if a consumer wants a bubblegum pink sports car with gold initials engraved on the hood, they can get it, thanks to customization brought on by the prevalence of robots. Beyond this, ROI for automation is increasing as robots become more affordable while enabling greater productivity and flexibility.

Traditional industrial robots like those seen at auto manufacturers, operate at high speed and often with very large payloads, so they need to be separated from humans using safety cages or light curtains. These types of robots are continuing to advance, demanding higher precision motion control, improved multi-axis synchronization, and size and power efficiencies.

Collaborative robots (cobots) are also on the rise and are enabling automation of tasks that were previously only possible with humans. Cobots are much easier and cheaper to install than traditional industrial robots and have a lower purchase cost. Businesses can install and set up the robot and program it themselves. This leads to more manufacturers adopting automation where they previously could not afford to, all the while experiencing a reduced total cost of ownership (TCO).

“AUTOMATION IS DRIVING THE DECLINE OF BANAL AND REPETITIVE TASKS.”

Amber Rudd

Former UK Secretary of State for Work and Pension

AUGMENTING HUMAN WORK WITH THE 3Ds OF AUTOMATION

Illustrations of two people brainstorming, cobots working with a factory worker, and transportation methods

Today, manufacturers need to do more with less and singular tasks are being automated as opposed to entire jobs. Dull, dirty and dangerous tasks (the 3D’s of automation) can now be automated to augment human work. This relieves employees of tedious, repetitive tasks while freeing them up for more skilled and cognitive rewarding tasks, while also reducing injury risk. This worker enhancement maximizes employee potential, increases job satisfaction, and minimizes worker turnover.

Cobots in a factory with sparks flying
The global robotic welding market size is expected to gain momentum by reaching USD 8.31 billion by 2027. This is attributable to the increasing adoption of automation in the manufacturing process.
Source: Fortune Business Insights

But for those who fear robots, there are many jobs where technology simply cannot compete with the intricacies of the human brain, for example, those tasks requiring human skills such as empathy, critical decision-making or process knowledge.

5 EXAMPLES OF ROBOT REVOLUTION

Illustration of AGVs and autonomous vehicles arriving at a warehouse

Pivoting manufacturing lines

Flexible automation allows seamless tool changes, plug-and-play interfaces and fast reprogramming so robots can redeploy from an existing task, such as dressmaking, and pivot to something new like making healthcare masks or gowns.

Worker physical distancing or separation

In times of crisis (or pandemic), manufacturing, logistics or recycling centers are ideal environments for robots, as they can be placed between employees for required separation, while supplementing any missing workforce to maintain productivity.

Cleaning/Disinfection

Hospitals, airports, malls and public spaces are where robots really earn their keep. Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) are faster, more effective than manual cleaning by humans, as they use UV light to disinfect hospital rooms, compared to spraying.

Material transport and handling

Robots in medical facilities can navigate completely on their own, even ride in elevators without human intervention. They can distribute medicines or move samples to a lab, increasing efficiencies and decreasing human contact with dangerous materials.

Picking and packing of goods in distribution centers

The massive growth of online shopping will undoubtedly continue in the future. This means a robot’s unique abilities will be put to the test, picking and packing orders quickly and accurately to meet next day (or same day) delivery.

EMBRACE YOUR INNER ROBOT

While pessimists will continue to follow the sky-is-falling-prognostications about robots and the potential negative outcomes of automation, it’s important to stay calm and embrace the positive changes ahead. The very real contribution of automation and robotics to human productivity, safety, competitiveness and job creation is enormous. In these ever-changing pandemic times, robots will play a key and expansive role in supporting society and helping with the recovery, while reducing dependency on global supply chains and reshoring manufacturing. And that’s something everyone can look forward to experiencing.

Watch Nicola discuss global trends commanding more automation than ever