Trends Driving Industrial Robotic Automation
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.
Hyundae Induction Hardening Heat Treatment (HIHHT) deployed two UR10 cobots in its HMLV manufacturing facility. As a result, the production failure rate decreased from 0.03% to 0.01% and overall production efficiency increased by 31%. By automating repetitive processes, the company was also able to hire two additional employees.
According to Deloitte, the manufacturing labor shortage will reach a staggering 2.4 million by 2028, in the United States alone. Combined with demographic changes such as the rising average age of manufacturing workers, the case for introducing cobots as a low cost, low complexity way to fill these labor gaps with automation is a compelling one.
Driven by difficulties finding manual labor, India-based automotive component manufacturer Craft and Technik Industries (CATI) deployed cobots from Universal Robots for automatic inspection and CNC machine tending tasks. As a result, efficiency at the Indian SME has increased with production volume going up 15–20% --and with no defects or customer rejections. “We talk about unemployment all over the country but the truth with the SME sector is that we actually can’t find enough qualified labor,” said Prashant Shantaram Umbrani, CEO of CATI. “So, the best combination for us is incorporating robots in our manufacturing, alongside human workers. Smartly combining the number of machines and robots ensures that the payback period will be faster,” said the CEO, recommending his SME fraternity embrace automation. “The time has come for SMEs to automate – robots are no longer the prerogative of large-scale industries only.”
UR10 cobots at CATI have helped the company manufacture more than 40,000 parts, with zero defects or customer rejections.
Low Barriers To Automation Adoption
Traditional robots are expensive to purchase and maintain, require extensive safety features including cages and fencing and require experts for programming, maintenance and repair. Each of these factors acts as a barrier to automation adoption, particularly for small-to-medium size manufacturers. Universal Robots lowers these barriers, making it easier than ever to justify the cost of investing in industrial automation.
Cobots are a fraction of the cost of traditional robots to purchase outright and typically provide ROI in less than 12 months, but Universal Robots has lowered the financial burden even further through UR Financial Services, enabling manufacturers to instantly reap the benefits of cobot automation without worrying about cash flow and seasonal fluctuations. This means that companies of any size and budget can get started with cobots quickly and without having to make capital investments in equipment.
Cobots are designed with ease of use in mind. This means that the vast majority of operators, following completion of a simple online training course, are able to program Universal Robots’ cobots quicky and easily. Not only does this eliminate the costs associated with having to get robot experts in every time you want to reprogram your robot, it provides an opportunity to upskill existing workforces by, for example, enabling former machine tending operators to take responsibility for higher-value cobot monitoring and programming tasks. The UR Academy provides free online training to get started.
In manufacturing facilities where space is at a premium, cobots offer a way to implement automation without having to redesign production lines. This is because cobots have small footprint and are highly mobile –they can easily be mounted on a mobile platform or lifted by dolly and moved to a different part of your facility as production schedules change. Cobots are easy to add to a production line since they can be deployed, following a risk assessment, close to human workers without the need for space-sapping safety cages and fencing.
Looking forward with Universal Robots
Universal Robots provides automation to companies of all sizes across several industries from automotive, electronics and manufacturing through to the pharmaceutical, medical and consumer product sectors. Today, with over 50,000 collaborative robots sold, Universal Robots can be found in factories, coffee shops, hospitals and even on farms.
If your company is ready to improve the quality and efficiency of your production with low cost, easy-to-use automation, we encourage you to explore our website. You can find dozens of additional case studies featuring our cobots. And if you have any questions, reach out to one of our experts.