How Will the Advancement of Automation and Robotics Affect Manufacturing
Enhance efficiency. Improve safety. Streamline productivity and profit.
Those are just a few of the benefits that the adoption of industrial automation and robotics can help with — and while robotics and automation can seem like intimidating strategies to adopt in a manufacturing environment, today they’re arguably more feasible than ever and can provide a significant one-two punch to enhance a firm’s competitive advantage.
Robot production has significantly increased since the 1990s, and with this uptick in production has come lower prices for such equipment. What’s especially notable is the cost advantage of implementing robots compared to rising labor costs (not to mention a shortage of skilled trades workers to perform the tasks that robots are now largely able to).
And when you consider the advances in technology that enable robots to seamlessly integrate onto the factory floor, the cost of investing in robotics doesn’t just make sense — but so does the opportunity to do it.
While robotics and automation were buzzwords not too long ago, they’re both here — and they’re both here to stay. In this post, we’ll take a closer look at robotics, the future of industrial automation, and how if your firm isn’t making an effort to bring its operations up to speed, it’s likely going to fall behind its competition. Here’s a look:
Automation and Robotics, Explained
Simply put, automation is using a machine to perform a task that would otherwise need a human worker to manually perform it. It’s a fairly broad industrial term, which can consist of something as simple as a mechanism flipping a switch when activated to something more advanced like a controller responding to some sort of signal. Activities are programmed and can be changed and adjusted as requirements change on the factory floor. Some examples of automation on the shop floor include laser marking, package filling, and machining. Just think of automation as any repetitive activity that is performed by a machine.
Robotics is a type of automation that can act as the “machine” that performs one of the tasks that are mentioned in the above section. Robots are programmable and flexible, and some 2.7 million are currently actively operating in industrial facilities around the world. As we noted at the beginning of this post, robotic production has taken off over the past 20-30 years, making such equipment more affordable than ever today. And the benefits of including robotics in your factory automation strategy are plentiful. We’ll get into more of these benefits in the next section:
Key Benefits: Safer, Faster, Cheaper
Like we noted in the beginning, the major benefits of investing in robotics and automation are to reduce operating and labor costs, streamline productivity and help improve safety. Ideally, automating your operations and removing the risk of human error will also improve the quality of the end product as well.
Just as Henry Ford’s assembly line further automated and streamlined vehicle production a century ago, robotics and automation are here to take shop floor productivity to the next level today. And while some may view automation and robotics unfavorably due to the replacement of a human worker performing manual tasks, keep in mind that there’s a skilled trades worker shortage in the United States and around the world. Not only this, but the robotics industry has also created tens of millions of jobs — far more than robots have displaced. So investing in an automation and robotics strategy isn’t anti-worker, but more of a strategic shift in the way industrial facilities produce end products.
Robotics and automation also fit into the strategy of Industry 4.0, which is defined by adopting the technology for manufacturing facilities to digitally transform how they operate. This transformation may include adopting the industrial Internet of Things (IoT), automation, simulation technologies, robotics and big data analytics, among others. Industry 4.0 is a broad strategy that includes many moving parts — including robotics and automation — to improve efficiency, enhance quality and develop new business models. Think of Industry 4.0 as a type of business transformation. If it’s carried out correctly and firms formulate a plan, significant growth and profitability can be achieved.
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Automation and robotics aren’t just “technologies of the moment,” they’re here and they’re here to stay. It’s why if you’ve yet to begin assessing your operations to see the places it could benefit from such technologies, you want to start doing so today. If you wait too much longer, you’re likely to be outpaced by your competition. Again, while automating processes and acquiring and integrating robots does come with a cost, the benefits of reduced costs, improved efficiencies, better quality, and a safer overall environment are often more than enough to make up for the initial investment in the long term. For more information on automation, robotics, and the future of the industrial environment, contact us at JHFOSTER today.