It looks like the golden age of manufacturing robots is dawning.
Sure, robots have been around for a while, but a flurry of recent headlines drives home the idea that more sophisticated robotics and automated production and logistics capabilities are securing a more prominent place in the manufacturing world.
While robots are becoming faster, cheaper and smarter (like their consumer device counterparts), they also are being developed with more human-looking capabilities such as those involving sensing, dexterity, memory building and training, noted PwC. This means they are also winning more jobs on the shop floors, including picking and packaging, testing or inspecting products or assembling minute electronics. A PwC survey of manufacturers indicated that 59% said they are already currently using some sort of robotics technology, and the firm predicts that traditional and new industries will be looking to include more robotics technology in their plants.
This is playing out in all corners of the world.
The Changying Precision Technology Company factory in Dongguan, China, for instance, reportedly has set up a factory run almost entirely by robots, reducing its 650 human employees to 60 and perhaps eventually to 20 people, according to this news article. As a result, product defects dropped from 25% to 5%, and production per person climbed from 8,000 pieces to 21,000 pieces.
Another Chinese factory is going a similar route, A 1,000 robots will be introduced at Shenzhen Evenwin Precision Technology Co. factory, and could reduce the site's workforce of 1,800 to only about 200, as reported here.
The need for robotics-based technology is also crossing over into other industries, including medical device making and composite parts for rockets.
East Coast Orthotic & Prosthetic Corp. hinged its recent success to a robot that can design, carve and make their prosthetic molds; the robot can mold a spinal brace in 12 minutes, something that takes three to four hours to do by hand.
The story echoes in NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. One of the largest composites manufacturing robots created in America is helping the space organization build the biggest, lightweight composite parts ever made for space vehicles, according to this report.
You may have also heard about online giant Amazon exploring new robotics uses. The company held its first Amazon Picking Challenge at ICRA 2015 to "strengthen the ties between the industrial and academic robotic communities and promote shared and open solutions to some of the big problems in unstructured automation." The competition challenged entrants to build their own robot hardware and software and attempt to simplify the general task of picking items from shelves. Additionally, while the company uses software, robotics, people and complex algorithms to run its fulfillment centers, there is talk about how those facilities could migrate to full automation.
It seems like the brave, new world of robot-run manufacturing is upon us. How is your company leaping forward? What are the worries around having too many robots controlling your production runs?