The operational stock of industrial robots hit a new record of about 3 million units worldwide – increasing by 13% on average each year (2015-2020). The International Federation of Robotics (IFR) analyses the top five trends shaping robotics and automation around the globe.
“Transformation for robotic automation is picking up speed across traditional and new industries,” said Milton Guerry, president of the IFR. “More and more companies are realising the numerous advantages robotics provides for their businesses.”
1 – Robots adopted by new industries
Segments that are relatively new to automation are rapidly adopting robots. Consumer behaviour is driving companies to address demand for personalisation of both products and delivery. The e-commerce revolution was driven by the pandemic and will continue to accelerate in 2022. There are thousands of robots installed worldwide today that did not exist in this segment just five years ago.
In an effort to address labour shortages, companies that have not previously considered automation will reconsider. Businesses that rely on service workers, such as retail and restaurants, are unable to fill job openings, and as a result, we can expect to see them invest in automation to meet patrons’ needs.
2 – Robots easier to use
Implementing robots can be a complex task, but new generations of robots are easier to use. There is a clear trend towards user interfaces that allow simple icon-driven programming and the manual guidance of robots. Robot companies and some 3rd party suppliers are bundling hardware packages together with software to ease implementation. This trend may seem simple, but offerings that focus on complete ecosystems are adding tremendous value by reducing the effort and the time to operation.
The trend for low-cost robotics also comes with easy setup and installation, with specific applications pre-configured in some instances. Suppliers offer standard programmes combined with grippers, sensors and controllers. App stores provide programme routines for various applications and support lower-cost robot deployment.
3 – Robots and humans up-skilling
More and more governments, industry associations and companies are seeing the need for basic robot and automation education at an early stage for the next generation. The journey of data-driven production lines will focus on education and training. In addition to the training of workers in-house, external education routes can enhance staff learning programmes. Most robot manufacturers all register between 10 000 and 30 000 participants in their robot classes across more than 30 countries every year.
Robotics is changing job profiles of factory workers for the better. As the recent ‘Great Resignation’ shows, people want to work in a modern environment where they can build a career. New training opportunities with robotics are a win-win strategy for companies and employees alike. Dull, dirty, and dangerous tasks get automated while people learn key skills for the industrial workplace of the future and increase their earning potential throughout their careers.
4 – Robots secure production
Trade tensions and Covid-19 are driving manufacturing back closer to the customer. Supply-chain issues lead companies to consider nearshoring with automation as a solution. One particularly revealing statistic from the US shows how automation is helping businesses get back to business. According to the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), robot orders in the United States in the third quarter of 2021 were up 35% over the same period in 2020. More than half of the orders are from non-automotive sectors.
And this record growth isn’t just robotics either. Machine vision, motion control and motors are also seeing big increases. “The pandemic and the resulting disruptions to supply chains and labour availability appear to have been the push that many needed to justify the investment. The companies most likely to invest in automation are those that have been considering it for a while but just hadn’t taken the final step,” said Dr. Susanne Bieller, general secretary of the IFR.
5 – Robots support digital automation
In 2022 and beyond, we see an emphasis on data as key enablers of future manufacturing. Data collected from intelligently automated processes will be analysed by producers to make more informed decisions. With a robot’s ability to share tasks and learn through AI, companies can also adopt intelligent automation more easily in new environments, from construction to food and beverage packaging facilities to healthcare labs.
AI for robotics is maturing and learning robots are becoming mainstream. The industry is past the pilot phase, and we can expect to see a larger deployment of these technologies in 2022.
Picture source: Audi AG