As manufacturing businesses around the world seek new ways to modernize their operations, advanced robots are becoming a ubiquitous feature on the factory floor.
Over the years, as technologies have improved, people have found any number of creative ways to automate undesirable tasks. One might consider the earliest stages of automation as simply improved tools—treadles on a loom, the crankshaft on a potter’s wheel, or a mill to grind grain. These mechanisms were simple, and still required intense human oversight. As industrialization set in, mechanization grew more complex, and a single worker could oversee or operate production at a larger scale.
Before robots, however, many automated processes were still limited to tasks that were discrete and repeatable. A hard-tooled style machine could be used to perform a function—or a chain of functions—over and over again, but the more complex a problem became, the more difficult it would be for that hard-tooled machine to adjust. Handling irregular objects, operating within a changing environment, moving through an environment, or making basic decisions based on environmental feedback were all outside the scope of what machines could manage.
Robots have changed the game. With vision technology, pressure-sensitive grippers, high-tech end-of-arm-tools, and intelligent programming that allows robots to make basic decisions within set parameters, robots are now able to take on a wider range of tasks, once again freeing operators for jobs that require the kind of creativity and problem solving that people do best.
Robot adoption has been growing slowly for many years now, but recent events have led to increased demand in the manufacturing sector in particular. Current valuations show the robot sector growing from 24.35 billion USD in 2022 to an estimated 52.85 billion USD by 2026. That doubling of growth is evidence not only that robots still have large untapped markets to grow into, but also that their increasing utility will soon make them essential for manufacturers to remain competitive.
For companies that haven’t yet embraced the robot revolution, here are three factors that may cause you to reconsider.
1. Labor shortages spurred by the Covid-19 pandemic and lack of qualified workers.
The Covid–19 pandemic brought into focus many concerning weaknesses in the American manufacturing sector, from supply chain vulnerabilities to inabilities to create a safe working environment for line workers. In many ways, the pandemic accelerated a trend that was already apparent: assembly line jobs are growing harder to fill, and qualified workers are scarce.
Ironically, the rise of robotics within manufacturing is part of the challenge. On the one hand, many workers worry about their jobs being replaced by robots. While there’s some truth to the fact that robots are taking over certain jobs within manufacturing, these jobs are primarily ones that human workers don’t want to fill in the first place. The very factors that make a job eligible for automation—repetitive, laborious, intense—also make them ill-suited for workers, who are likely to grow fatigued, make mistakes, or even become injured.
On the other hand, robots are creating a higher-tech environment that requires more trained workers. While this comes on the heels of a great exodus of labor in the manufacturing sector, it is to be hoped that these skilled jobs—and the higher wages and benefits that go along with them—will attract some employees back to the field.
2. Increased speed and reliability of output with high endurance.
It’s not just that robots are taking over jobs that workers don’t want or aren’t suited for, they’re also able to perform them faster and with higher quality. An inspection task that would have previously relied on a worker’s ability to pay attention and notice defects can now be handled with vision technology by a robot with the same consistency after a thousand hours of work as after the first hour. A robot’s speed at packaging an item won’t be affected by shift variables like breaks and fatigue, or how close it is to the end of a shift.
Most importantly, robots can perform even heavy-duty tasks repeatedly without the risk of bodily injury. When robot tooling or the end effector is showing wear, sensors can proactively notify the manufacturer so that replacement components can be ordered, and downtime scheduled for repairs. This technology is available with Eagle’s SmartTRAC™.
3. Smaller floor print leading to greater energy efficiency.
Robots aren’t just more efficient at performing repeatable tasks, they’re also more efficient in terms of the space they take up and the environments they can operate in. A more compact footprint on the factory floor means businesses can install an automated system in a smaller space—or have multiple automation platforms in one large space.
A more compact floor plan also plays a role in helping robots become more energy-efficient, as it shortens the physical distance products must travel while being assembled and packaged. A design that reduces the length of a conveyor or material handling system, eliminates a redundant step, or shortens the overall production line cycle will mean less energy spent in the production of a product.
Finally, robots don’t have the same temperature requirements as human workers. They can work in colder spaces during the winter and hotter spaces during the summer, reducing the energy costs and environmental impacts of heating or cooling a large warehouse. Even where climate control is still a requirement, a smaller space is more energy efficient.
The flexibility, durability, and programmability of robots will make them indispensable for the factories of the future.
Two things are clear about the coming robotization of manufacturing. First, like the industrial revolutions that preceded it, there’s no reason to believe robots will be taking jobs away from human workers. Instead, they will be taking over the dull, dangerous, and tedious jobs people don’t want to do, and leaving more room for people to work in jobs that give them a greater sense of ownership, purpose, and meaning.
Second, robots are manufacturing’s surest bet for achieving overall operational efficiency. The sooner manufacturers integrate this technology into their factories, the faster they can reap the rewards—and protect their business from market instabilities to come.
At Eagle, our expertise in factory automation makes us perfectly equipped to help businesses incorporate robotics into their processes. We’ve worked with industry leaders to apply robot solutions in settings as diverse as agriculture, aerospace, consumer goods, and the other industries we serve. Contact us today to learn more about the solutions available to you.
Eagle Technologies, headquarters in Bridgman, MI