Advanced Robotics

Benefits of Advanced Robotics

A common perception among small manufacturers is that current advancements in robotics focus on technology that is out of reach – expensive and time-consuming implementations.  However, there is a recognized trend in the robotics industry towards aiding small manufacturers in automation efforts:

“Some robot manufacturers are also considering leasing models, particularly in order to accelerate adoption by small-to-medium-sized manufacturers. Simplification is a key trend for this market segment. The ongoing need for robots which are easier to use and to program and the increasing need for ever more flexible automation initiated the development of smarter solutions.”[1]

These efforts are resulting in an increasing range of flexible options from suppliers that can allow even some job shop small manufacturers to realize the competitive benefits of robotics.  While the term ‘advanced robotics’ may still conjure images of massive factories with an army of highly specialized robotic arms along an assembly line producing an endless stream of identical parts, that is no longer accurate and is becoming less so every day.

RISE OF ROBOTICS

According to PwC Consulting report – The new hire: How a new generation of robots is transforming manufacturing, industrial robots are on the verge of revolutionizing manufacturing. As robots become smarter, faster and cheaper, they are doing more than the traditional repetitive, onerous or dangerous tasks. Robots are now incorporating more “human” capabilities such as sensing, dexterity, memory, trainability, and object recognition. As a result, we are seeing a new generation of “collaborative” robots working hand-in-hand with human workers who train them through physical demonstration. [2]

“Robotics as a technology has really reached its tipping point,” says John Santagate, research manager, supply chain at IDC Manufacturing Insights. “Robotic capabilities continue to expand while increasing investment in robot development is driving competition and helping to bring down the costs associated with robots.” [3]

Wider adoption of robots comes at a time when both large and small manufacturers are under increasing pressures to squeeze even greater productivity from their workforces. Manufacturers are also finding that to be competitive today, they must inject greater flexibility into their production to satisfy customer demand for products with shorter life cycles and a greater variety of products. Robotics is helping on this front as well.

GAINING A COMPETITIVE EDGE

Through robotics, manufacturers are finding that productivity gains manifest in diverse ways to give a competitive edge [4]:

  • Extending the range and complexity of tasks that can be performed cost effectively and thus extending the competitive scope of the firm
  • Leveraging the strength of robots – especially in good handling and logistics
  • Leveraging robot productivity to perform tasks faster and more accurately, especially repetitive tasks
  • Leveraging robot productivity as a third hand, as a helper having some limited capability for cooperation, if possible in a closely shared workspace with the human workforce
  • Enabling the manufacturer to cope with rapid changes in demand – higher or lower production
  • Coping with hazardous environments, and/or long-term health risk

BENEFITS FOR SMALL & MEDIUM SIZED MANUFACTURERS (SMMs)

  • Improve competitiveness of SMM by extending range & complexity of tasks
  • Leverage strength of robots, especially in goods handling & logistics
  • Leverage robot productivity to perform tasks faster & more accurately, especially repetitive tasks
  • Leverage robot productivity as 3rd hand in shared workspace with employees
  • Enable SMM to cope with rapid changes in demand, higher or lower production
  • Cope with hazardous environments, and/or long-term health risks

CHALLENGES FOR SMMs

  • Robotics and related services are changing industries worldwide, but for many SMMs, there are challenges in adopting robotics:
  • Low capitalization and/or reduced access to capital
  • Low awareness of the technological improvements in robotics
  • Limited examples of how other SMMs have adopted and improved/expanded via robotics
  • Low technical competence outside their core business
  • Gaps in workforce talent and lack of skills inside SMMs for supporting robots, especially related to programming and integration
  • Lack of knowledge of the regional value chain to support robotic adoption efforts
  • Fears of disrupting the current workforce

Large OEMs already see the value in the new generation of robots that are smarter, more mobile, more collaborative and more adaptable, and have already made significant investments. They see the promise that robotics will bring major changes to the factory floor, as well as the global competitive landscape. For many SMMs, on the other hand, they are just starting to consider if now is the time to automate…

TAKING ACTION

The AR-MEP Collaborative combines the strengths of Catalyst Connection and the National MEP Network’s manufacturing expertise, with the ARM Institute, whose mission is to accelerate robotics technology and education to grow US manufacturing.

Our Collaborative has national reach and helps SMMs via:

  • Automation & Robotics Ecosystem / Regional Asset Map
  • Regional Working Groups
  • Introductory Workshops, Webinars & Trainings
  • Readiness Assessments
  • Business Case Analysis & ROI Calculator
  • Implementation Assistance through adoption process, including value stream mapping, equipment selection, robot programming and integration, etc.

 

[1] https://ifr.org/ifr-press-releases/news/ifr-forecast-1.7-million-new-robots-to-transform-the-worlds-factories-by-20

[2] “The new hire: How a new generation of robots is transforming manufacturing”. PwC September 2014

[3] “IDC Forecasts Worldwide Spending on Robotics to Reach $135 Billion in 2019 Driven by Strong Spending Growth in Manufacturing and Healthcare”. IDC press release February 2016

[4] “A Helping Hand for Europe: The Competitive Outlook for the EU Robotics Industry”. JRC Scientific and Technical Reports 2010