The Roboglobal report, 2019 Trends in Robotics and AI, should be welcome news by Botsync and its competitors. The report predicts that 2019 will be pivotal moment. “No longer confined to the factory floor, many new applications are now being deployed at scale in hospitals, on farms, in e-commerce distribution centres, on the roads, and in our homes. Clearly robotics and AI revolution is marching forward at a rapid pace,” said Louis-Vincent Gave, ceo, Gavekal Research and co-founder of ROBO Global.
The International Federation of Robotics (IFR) claims that 16 countries around the world account for 90% of industrial robot usage. The IFR claims that China, along, accounts for 39% of all industrial robots as of 2018. That figure will balloon to 45% by 2021. The next company to use robots, arguably started it ahead of China early on, is Japan with 11%. The US falls even further behind at 7%.
Developing markets like Brazil, India, Mexico, Thailand and Vietnam, collectively account for just 5%.
So, what’s holding up factories from making use of robots?
You’d think its concern about the cost of these machines hitting the factory. Yes, arguably this could be a factor, but other reasons are more human in nature – people are concerned about losing changes. For factory operators, a lack of experience and expertise in designing, integrating machines on the production floor raise the spectre of failed deployments.
Ready or not?
The startup’s co-founder, Rahul Nambiar, says labour costs – salaries and benefits aren’t as expensive [to business owners] as we thought they’d. He argues that salaries or wages in Emerging Asia aren’t sufficiently high enough today. He is certain, however, that would change in the future. He just isn’t sure how soon that will come.
“What companies are doing is deploying robotic solutions in phases – an approach he recommends as it will help factory owners and operators appreciate the benefits of automatons while giving time for factory employees to be retrained for other higher-value operations,” he adds.
Nambiar suggests six months to one year as the sweet spot in trialling the technology on the factory floor. “It's far easier to introduce robots when people are accustomed to their presence on the floor,” he concludes.
Robots have been used in things like welding, painting, as well as assembly, packaging and labelling, palletizing, product inspection and testing.
Most of us are aware that robots are used in automotive assembly plants for brands like General Motors and Toyota. But the auto industry doesn’t hold the exclusive in the use of robots. Footwear and apparel brand Adidas built “Speedfactory” – its robotic manufacturing plant in Germany purpose-built to eliminate the six-week shipping time for products made in Asia and destined for Europe.
Popular consumer electronics retailer, Best Buy, uses Chloe, a vending machine that takes in orders from the store front and delivers the desired product to the customer on the shop floor in 30 seconds or less.
Botsync’s Nambiar talks about robots as used in material handling.
The future of robots
What differentiates the new generation of robotics today is its smarts. “The early application of robotics made use of rule-based algorithms to define a task,” said Nambiar. He conceded that this approach means very limited use for the robots.
Artificial intelligence and machine learning give robots the ability to adapt to changes in the condition, making autonomous decisions. “Depending on the design or application, robots will certainly improve operational efficiency, and with use of technologies like sensors and IoT, reduce machine downtime and wastage,” concludes Nambiar.