There was a time when companies only deployed robots into hot, heavy and hazardous applications. As the robotics industry matured, robots were deployed into a greater number of industries and application niches.
According to statistics provided by the Robotics Industry Association (RIA)1, 8,197 robots valued at approximately $450 million were sold in North America during the second quarter of 2014, which are new records for each category. These figures represent a significant growth of 65 percent for units and 33 percent for dollars over 2Q 2013. In 2Q 2014, non-automotive orders grew to 25 percent in units and 16 percent in dollars over 2Q 2013. Automotive-related orders made a staggering rebound in 2Q 2014, growing 97 percent in units and 46 percent in dollars over 2Q 2013.
In terms of growth rates (units ordered), the hottest industries in 2Q 2014 were Automotive OEM (197 percent), Food and Consumer Goods (58 percent), and Semiconductors, Electronics and Photonics (54 percent). When looking at the number of units sold in the first half of 2014, growth in Food and Consumer Goods reached 73.2 percent!
What’s driven this growth in the Food and Consumer Goods segment? Robots are now used from the beginning to the end of a packaging line. It is no longer uncommon to see robots performing in primary, secondary and tertiary packaging applications – handling food, form fill and seal, cartoning, case packing and palletizing.
The total cost of robot ownership, including operating expenses, has decreased significantly. Robot quality has dramatically increased, yielding much greater mean time between failure (MTBF) results, allowing for improved overall equipment effectiveness (OEE). Manufacturers now require much greater flexibility in their production lines due to increased product changeover and the need to run a variety of packaging combinations on a single line.
Robots such as the Motoman® MPP3 and MPK2 are designed to run faster than ever and to operate in more stringent sanitation conditions as stipulated in the Food Safety Modernization Act. To support this, Yaskawa Motoman’s complete line of packaging robots have Food Grade Grease as a standard feature. Unified Controls platforms like the MLX200 allow robots to be programmed as a part of a system’s overall control scheme, rather than as standalone devices with proprietary languages. Those with PLC programming knowledge can now program robots without the need for sophisticated additional training. Robot programing is further simplified by employing tools such as our new PalletSolver™ software. This dynamic package permits the setup of pallet patterns and robot motion on a PC so that the robot does not have to be taken offline for teaching.
Given the combination of less costly robots, increased reliability and operational simplicity, line designers are finding that in many instances it is far more advantageous to utilize a robot rather than build custom machinery. It is likely that this trend will broaden and gain even more popularity in the future. With all of the training, 24-hour support and launch expertise available, it makes the decision to deploy robots a much simpler one.
By Dean Elkins, Senior General Sales Manager