When was the last time you thought about robotics being used in manufacturing? If the auto industry videos you were shown in high school come to mind, you are not alone. That was historically the most accurate depiction of robotics. However, today’s robotics are breaking ground on new technologies and capabilities. The role of the robot is no longer to simply provide the brunt force in manufacturing but to extend and work with humanity to create is superior, usable, and life-sustaining solution. As the role of robotics becomes more prominent, politicians will continue to debate their usefulness and management. However, the role of robotics in manufacturing is here to stay, and manufacturers need to understand how nearly all robotic benefits can be summarized in these two aspects.
Increasing Capabilities and Flexibility of Robotics
The use of robotics in manufacturing has typically been linked to simplistic, gross movements. However, modern robotics in manufacturing is rapidly changing. Today’s robotics are becoming increasingly flexible and capable of performing intricate, finite tasks. According to Mark Albert of Modern Machine Shop, “the dexterity of the robot is one essential capability of the system.” Today’s robots need to perform specific, coordinated tasks. This leads to the need for some form of quality assurance in this part of the manufacturing process.
Robots can be programmed to perform virtually any task. However, manufacturing is filled with opportunities for error, and modern robotics need to be able to sense when a specific process is finished. For example, the robot-based processes of milling, grinding, surface smoothing, and polishing seem unrelated. However, each process represents a little step in the pathway towards a better product. Rather than introducing the human component of inspecting the product at the end of each phase, a modern robotics solution should be able to autonomously detect problems and adapt the workflow. As a result, robotics can move beyond the traditional mold of assembly line robotics and begin to fulfill the gap between different service stations and platforms within the manufacturing process.
The trend for better, smarter robotics is spreading to new industries as well. The primary consumer and investor of robots in North America, the automotive industry, decreased robot ordering from 41 percent in 2005 to 21 percent in 2014. Yet, the food and consumer goods industry increased robot orders from 3 to 7 percent, and use of robotics in life sciences, pharmaceuticals, and biomedical jumped from 2 to 6 percent, asserts the Robotic Industries Association. These changes are only possible with more capable robotics.
When thinking about how robots are taking on new responsibilities, manufacturers must consider how human workers and robots must form a greater collaborative effort.
Robotic Collaboration Will Become Greater, Not Omnipotent
The worldwide population is growing, and China represents one of the largest labor shortages in the world. According to Jeff Green of Rethink Robotics, China sought to fulfill this gap by ordering an unprecedented amount of robots to supplement the shortage, which brought the total global supply of industrial robots to 229,261 units. Look at how much collaborative robotics will continue to grow in this infographic, created by Rethink Robotics.
Opponents of the use of robotics in manufacturing point to an imminent takeover of the workplace to eliminate all human workers. However, these antagonists are failing to see the bigger picture. a robot supplements the human workforce, such as polishing a fan blade in 5 minutes, when the human counterpart would have required 30 minutes to perform the action. So, how does this affect the workforce. According to a PwC and Zpryme Survey, the use of robots is impacting workers by creating new job opportunities in the field of robot repair and Engineering of advanced robotics and systems. furthermore, the actual amount of workers who have been replace, 28 percent, remains relatively minimal when considering how much manufacturing has grown.
Think about artificial intelligence from. where does the source code for artificial intelligence come from? Where did the designs for modern robotic platform start? What happens when a robot needs repair?
Each of these questions represent a new challenge to the manufacturing industry. True, the robot may be able to perform the same tasks as humans and increase production, but it’s leading to a new field of study for those who are about to enter the workforce.
Chances are good that today’s college students have a better grasp on programming then How Part A fits into Part B, which is used in the construction of Parts Z and Y. If you look at the simple rise of the smartphone, you can see how much programming has become an integral part of today’s society. Anyone can put together the basic coding for an app, and this capability is leading a new era of engineering and programming growth, which fuels the growth and excitement of using robotics in manufacturing. This concept is further exemplified by Sue Sokoloski of Rethink Robotics. Some field experts in robotics conservatively estimate the collaborative robot market will climb to more than $11 billion by 2020.
The holiday season of 2015 saw Amazon focus on the use of collaborative robotics for increasing the efficiency of its workers. Amazon never put out a bulletin about cutting back on employment during the holidays, nor did Amazon leave their workers out in the cold while robots handled everything indoors. If the world’s largest online retailer is clearly focusing on collaborative robotics, how can smaller manufacturers assume robots will replace all workers and leave the industry in the hands of a machine?
The role of robotics in manufacturing seems to have become one of the most common stereotypes and icons of the modern age. However, the role of robotics is becoming increasingly important for manufacturers and industries around the globe. From Pratt & Smith’s application of robotics in designing advanced, high-performance vehicles for auto racing, explains Peter Haapaniemi, to the use of robotics to immediately test, analyze, and create orthopedic supplies in the operating room, robotics will shape the manufacturing industry in 2016 and beyond.