The last two decades have been marked by significant advancements in robotic automation. More factories and manufacturing facilities than ever before rely on robots to help assist and relieve human workers from tedious and dangerous tasks, ensure product quality and improve overall productivity. As industry moves towards smart factories and Industry 4.0, how robots are used in manufacturing is changing, with progress being marked by the emergence of collaborative robots (or ‘cobots’), the growing use of artificial intelligence (AI) in industrial settings, and advancements in vision and sensor technologies.
In 2020, the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) estimated that 2.7 million industrial robots are currently deployed around the globe. The IFR also reported that cobots have overtaken traditional robots in terms of growth, with cobots growing at a rate four times faster than that of traditional robots in 2019. Separately, Emergen Research predicts that cobot sales will climb to USD9.3 billion by 2027, up from USD0.7bn in 2019.
This article highlights some of the key trends driving the remarkable increase in adoption of cobots in industrial and manufacturing settings, from labor shortages and the rise of high-mix, low-volume production to the ease of use and low cost of entry associated with cobot technologies. Let’s get started!
How Industrial Robotic Automation Leverages High-Mix, Low Volume Production
In the past decade, the manufacturing sector has seen a considerable shift in focus away from mass production towards high-mix/low-volume (HMLV) production batches. Universal Robots supports this trend towards customized manufacturing by providing manufacturers with versatile collaborative robots that are easy to program, making it easy to accommodate short production runs.
In a recent study designed to identify manufacturers that have the most to gain from adoption of cobots, The Purdue Manufacturing Extension Partnership at Purdue University found that cobots are best suited to manufacturing companies with 50 to 500 employees and “a family product mix.” The researchers also found that cobots are a good fit for owners looking for a fast ROI (Universal Robots deployments typically result in ROI in less than 12 months), managers who “can’t fill shifts, but can redeploy employees to more value-added positions” and for companies looking to relieve workers from unergonomic and dangerous jobs.
Cobots are versatile and flexible, making them ideally suited to HMLV manufacturing environments. Universal Robots cobots can be deployed on a wide variety of applications, including assembly, dispensing, finishing, machine tending, material handling, material removal, quality inspection, and welding. The UR+ Ecosystem builds on this flexibility by providing a range of software and hardware components from end-of-arm tooling to vision systems, inspection and palletizing kits designed to provide manufacturers with all the tools needed to quickly set up a specialized automation project.
Additionally, following a risk assessment, cobots can be deployed safely next to human workers without the need for safety cages/fences, which further facilitates quick and easy deployments.