To help guide industry through this change, Analog Devices has made Nicola O’Byrne its global ambassador for robotics. O’Byrne is an engineer with years of experience in developing components and technology for robotics systems such as motors, SLAM modules, and safety event detection.
Now, she advises ADI’s customers, and its customers’ customers, on the wider issues involved in the introduction or extension of robotics. This higher level view is more important than ever, she says, because the coronavirus pandemic is driving companies to adopt robotics technology faster than before. And if they take account of the issues that O’Byrne is raising, they can ensure that their deployments are not only quick, but also effective, and good for the company and the communities it operates in.
“We know from real-world experience that robots are huge productivity enhancers on the factory production line,” she says. “The classic uses of robots involve the deployment of large, expensive machines, which take weeks to install, commission, and program.“
“Since the coronavirus pandemic took hold, we have been seeing growing interest in the deployment of new types of robots, including collaborative robots, known as cobots. Absence because of illness or self-isolation makes it harder to plan work rosters, and the need for social distancing in the workplace means that in some settings, employers simply cannot accommodate their usual complement of workers. Robots or cobots offer the potential to take up the slack.”
The pandemic has also put pressure on global supply chains that were already feeling the strain of U.S.-China trade tensions and Brexit. One common response is to reshore production, so that products are manufactured closer to the point of purchase or use.
Again, robots play an important role. As O’Byrne says, “Reshoring can be good for business continuity and resilience, but manufacturers producing in western Europe or North America do not have access to low cost labor in the same way that they do in China or other Asian nations. Robots solve the workforce problem. They also provide the additional benefit of enabling a more modular and flexible approach to production operations, to support moves towards mass customization.”