Industrial robots are machines that can be automatically reprogrammed and controlled to manipulate objects to move along three or more axes. Since their inception in the 1960s, an estimated 1.4 million industrial robots are in use all around the world today. Even so, the use of robots in many high-cost economies has still remained limited an the adoption rates of robotics in industries that have long been at the forefront of automation have also remained surprisingly low.
However, the use of industrial robots in manufacturing industries is highly concentrated with nearly three-quarters of all robots operating in just four industrial groupings namely:
- Electrical equipment, appliances and components
- Computers and electronic products
- Transport equipment
Since robotic systems have historically been expensive to own and operate, they are mainly found in large companies. However, this is rapidly changing all thanks to advanced robotics such as collaborative robots. For this reason, both technical and economic barriers to the wider adoption of robot assembly are beginning to fall thus redefining competitiveness in the world of manufacturing.
Performance and Cost
A plethora of companies are now replacing manual labor in working environments that are unsafe for human workers because it is cost-effective. The cost of purchasing robotic software and hardware have dramatically reduced by about 40% over the last decade. Similarly, the cost of system engineering which involves installing, programming, and integrating robotic systems has reduced even more. The declining of robot assembly cost is projected to continue over the next decade.
Every year, the performance of robotic systems has been improving by approximately 5%. These changes in price and performance are making robotic systems to be an economically viable alternative thus redefining competitiveness.
Advances in technology
At present, the technical capabilities of most industrial robots are still quite limited. This is because traditional robots are rigid meaning they are fixed in one location and can only handle objects that have a uniform size. They are also oriented in a predictable way and move at a determined speed. Even though most can detect features and process images, they still lack the logic ability to make decisions about those objects.
What’s more, traditional robots require expensive and heavy devices that protect human workers when they are in operation. Typically, they are isolated and placed in the corner of a working environment where they perform tasks that are hazardous to humans or those that require accuracy and consistency and are highly repetitive.
However, thanks to leaps in the advancement of technology, the newer generation of robotic systems have the capability of working and performing tasks in environments that are far less structured. With reduction in costs, companies can now afford assembly robots with arms that rotate freely which give them more flexibility to handle and deal with objects whose properties, dimensions and features vary. These advanced robots are intelligent and can apply logic to judge reality and make decision on objects as well as use information technology to receive and provide feedback to the other parts of a production system.
Accessibility to small and mid-sized manufacturers
The continued improvements in functionality, cost and performance of robotic systems are driving yet another force in the upcoming manufacturing revolution. This is the wider adoption of robotic systems by small and mid-sized companies. Until just a few years ago, such systems were overly complex and prohibitively expensive for manufacturers with limited engineering resources and capital budgets.
However, the new generation of innovative systems is putting robotics within the financial reach of small businesses. This has greatly expanded the utility of robotic systems in a range of industries, giving different manufacturers almost the same playing field thus enhancing competitiveness.
As both technical and economic barriers continue to fall, robots are becoming increasingly accessible for many enterprises. For this reason, production efficiencies are spreading beyond individual factories through industries, entire supply chains as well as national economies thus redefining competitiveness.