Most Americans don’t see or interact directly with robots on a typical day, but these sophisticated devices are everywhere, contributing in just about every industry imaginable: warehousing, healthcare, engineering, manufacturing, construction, surveillance/security, transportation…the list goes on. In 2016 alone, more than 34,000 new robots valued at approximately $1.9 billion were ordered in North America, a 10 percent growth in units ordered the previous year (Robotics Industries Association).
According to BusinessWire, more than half of all robotics spending comes from the manufacturing sector, with discrete delivering 31 percent and process manufacturing 28 percent of the worldwide total last year. These industries use both robots that perform work independently and those that are able to work safely alongside humans (called collaborative robots, or “cobots”), performing tasks from parts assembly and palletizing to welding and quality control.
What Can Robots Do for the Bottom Line?
The ultimate benefit of using robotics in manufacturing is related to productivity. One report shows that output in companies using robots to do a portion of their work increased by up to 20 percent. This is due, in part, to robots’ ability to work faster—up to three times faster—though this is not the norm. It is, however, becoming more common as innovations are introduced. Increases in productivity are more likely attributable to robots’ ability to work as many hours as they’re programmed to, with no vacations, no breaks, no sick days and, arguably, fewer mistakes and less waste.
How Discrete Manufacturers Can Take Advantage of Robotics
As a small or medium-sized discrete manufacturer, are there opportunities for you to take advantage of robots? Yes; in fact, robots can give you a significant advantage in the marketplace by improving the quality and consistency of your products, and by reducing overall operating costs. Nearly any process that doesn’t require functions only humans can provide—mental agility, problem-solving skills, certain dexterities—can potentially be done by a robot. Here are some areas in which robots could be put to work in your facility:
- Discrete manufacturers whose production involves hazardous materials or conditions can engage robots to do a portion of the work and significantly reduce the risks involved
- Companies doing lights-out manufacturing are the ideal place for robots, and those not yet able to operate around the clock may find that robots give them that opportunity
- Another situation in which robots can add value is when owners are leveraging the technologies related to the Internet of Things (IoT). Organizations using the IoT add sensors and gauges to equipment, and connect those sensors to a network that analyzes the data they gather; the insights from that data are used to optimize all facets of the production process in which that equipment is involved. A robot networked into this kind of system can be programmed to operate in the most efficient way, and can actually “learn” from the data to continually improve its productivity
- Today, many small manufacturers are finding it difficult to attract (and expensive to train) willing workers. As it becomes more challenging to keep up with production demands with the available workforce, robots can fill roles in your organization. Training robots to do what’s needed—today and in the future—is a matter of programming them to execute the appropriate tasks precisely.
Robots are a big investment, certainly, and some discrete manufacturers will opt to lease theirs. Leasing limits a company’s capital expenditure and gives its owners a chance to evaluate the impact a robot will have on the business before taking the plunge and purchasing it.
Many industry leaders feel that robots are helping reinvigorate American manufacturing by making it possible for organizations to become more agile and efficient—something no discrete manufacturer can ignore as they look for opportunities to grow profitably. Our manufacturing experts would be very glad to discuss the opportunities within your organization to engage robots to make your business more productive and more profitable. Just reach out today.