Worldwide consumer and economic trends are applying pressure for high-mix, low-volume, on-demand manufacturing requiring enhanced flexibility, productivity and efficiency.
Today’s intelligent robots and cobots are increasingly becoming more collaborative and productive, smarter and better positioned to take on these complex tasks. However, the full promise of Industry 4.0 to transform manufacturing with industrial robotics will not be realised until new cost-effective advancements in industrial robot sensing, safety, communications, power and size efficiency are adopted on the factory floor.
Analog Devices Inc. (ADI) is leading the revolution in industrial robotics, in areas including motion control, functional safety, advanced sensing and system-level design. ADI’s sensing, measurement, interpretation, connectivity and power capabilities take real-world phenomena and translate them into valuable insights and outcomes, whether it’s improved dynamic control or worker safety. The company’s domain experts collaborate with partners and customers, not only to consider their immediate needs but also to uncover the greater underlying design challenges. Together with customers, ADI architects robotics systems and solutions, meeting their needs and exceeding their aspirations.
These advancements in automation and industrial robotics are shaping the future of work. Increased human/robot collaboration is maximising the contributions of human workers, better scaling the critical thinking, problem-solving and creativity skills held by humans – allowing them to be more effective and productive. With complex, repetitive and often dangerous tasks being performed by robotic technology, human workers are freed up to take on more cognitive, inclusive and safer work.
‘Robots as a service’ is creating new business models and more job opportunities for workers. While the nature of work may be changing quickly, manufacturers and governments can ensure workers are prepared through training and education.
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 on 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, sanitising 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 in 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 behaviour. Expectations for more customisation and faster turnaround times have forced manufacturers to change their operations to respond to this new demand, including more localised 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 bubble-gum pink sports car with gold initials engraved on the hood, they can get it thanks to customisation brought on by the prevalence of robots. Beyond this, the return on investment (ROI) for automation is increasing as robots become more affordable while enabling greater productivity and flexibility.
Traditional industrial robots like those seen at automotive 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 synchronisation and size and power efficiencies.
Cobots are also on the rise and are enabling automation of tasks that were previously only possible by 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).
Augmenting human work with the ‘3 Ds’ of automation
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 3 Ds 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 cognitively rewarding tasks, while also reducing injury risk. This worker enhancement maximises employee potential, increases job satisfaction and minimises worker turnover.
Per Fortune Business Insights, the global robotic welding market size is expected to gain momentum by reaching $8,31 billion by 2027. This is attributable to the increasing adoption of automation in the manufacturing process. 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.
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 dependence on global supply chains and reshoring manufacturing. And that’s something everyone can look forward to experiencing.
Robot types for industrial applications
1. Industrial robots
Traditional industrial robots operate at high speed and force with precision motion. They service a wide variety of end industries, ranging from compact, lightweight robots to massive robots capable of carrying heavy payloads such as vehicles.
Robots operating in collaborative applications are commonly referred to as ‘collaborative robots’ or ‘cobots’ and are designed with human safety in mind. Limited thresholds of power and force, combined with environmental sensing capabilities, allow cobots to safely and efficiently complete non-cognitive tasks alongside their human counterparts. Cobots are vital to workforce transformation, allowing intelligent assistants to complete repetitive tasks for their skilled human experts.
3. Autonomous mobile robots
Autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) and automated guided vehicles (AGVs) are increasingly replacing traditional, driver-operated factory floor vehicles and conveyor belts, enabling more flexible production systems, space savings and increased safety. Key requirements for AGV and AMR systems include localisation, navigation, collision avoidance, safety and energy efficiency.
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