Marked by the on-going skilled labor shortage, a turbulent global economy, and rapidly evolving customer demands, manufacturers responded in 2019 with a higher level of technological awareness
and digital adrenaline than ever before. While powerful industrial robots and flexible robotic workcells continued to be commonplace for many large manufacturers, job shops realized the benefits of these systems as well. Similarly, many small- to medium-size enterprises in various industries took advantage of more affordable and easy-to-use robotic technologies to tackle operational pitfalls and realize productivity goals.
What Continues to be Strong
For 2020, the rising tide of new, improved technologies that are easily programmed via intuitive methods will proceed to accelerate the utilization of robotic automation among a growing number of industries. The demand for higher quality products, more agile supply chains and high-mix low-volume production to remain globally competitive are just a few factors driving the uptick in robot implementation as manufacturers strive for greater flexibility, more versatility and lower costs.
Applications that were considered “up and coming” two years ago are now appearing everywhere as users are realizing cobot benefits and strengths. At the same time, collaborative robot
limitations are also being revealed, showing manufacturers where other robotic automation may make better sense.
As customer demands grow and robot usage in diverse industries
accelerates, so does the need for more flexible, easy-to-use robotic end-of-arm tooling (EOAT) and accessories to deal with differently shaped objects and product textures. While a customized EOAT is always an option, fortunately it is no longer the only option. Thanks to standardization and common interfacing, grippers, sensors and tool changers are continuing to evolve towards a plug-and-play functionality. This approach makes it much easier to get robots in operation, saving money and greatly reducing integration time.
From pick and place
, applications that have anything to do with shipping and logistics
continue to grow in popularity. Likewise, coating
tasks pertaining to hazardous materials are also making an impact throughout various industries.
Advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) offer a lot of potential in the new year as well, but still require finesse before being the ideal solution for a wide range of tasks. Look for additional AI productization in very specific applications such as pipe welding.
Technologies like graphical user interface (GUI) teach pendants are taking
robot programming to the next level with advanced Human Machine Interface (HMI) features. Moreover, the Yaskawa Smart Pendant
offers patented built-in Smart Frame technology that eliminates the use of coordinate (X, Y, Z) frames and helps jog a robot in human coordinates by determining the user’s orientation relative to the robot. This makes robot programming extremely easy, especially for novice robot users.
From part identification and part sortation, to bin picking and the flexible feeding of parts, advancements in the software and technology for Vision Guided Robotics
(VGR) continue to aid various applications, optimizing throughput and product quality. Improvements in speed for the acquisition of images and recognition of components for 2D machine vision have broadened the range of robot functionality for diverse markets, and powerful algorithms have provided robots with 3D vision capability, enabling the efficient discovery and handling of a wider part mix.
Quickly becoming an integral piece of the automated factory puzzle, next-generation factory automation monitoring systems are assisting with the uptick in manufacturing complexity ignited by greater consumer demand and Industry 4.0 technologies. By enabling preventive maintenance through data-driven optimized planning, Yaskawa Cockpit
helps to fill the gap between heterogeneous devices throughout a factory – monitoring Yaskawa robots, while allowing Add-on Functions to monitor other non-Yaskawa devices.
What Should Manufacturers Watch For or Implement
Increased Simplicity of Advanced Technologies
One example of a recent advancement where advanced technology is being
combined with high-performance industrial robots is via laser welding. Often used to replace welding or other fine joining methods, the use of welding lasers provides manufacturers with another option for high-volume welding where precision and flexibility are required. In the past, laser welding has been incredibly complicated (not to mention very expensive). But, improvements in laser sensor capabilities and reductions in price have made laser welding utilization more advantageous and monetarily manageable
Better and Safer Collaborative Welding Robots
While a wide range of applications still thrive and are best suited with traditional robot utilization, more portable and versatile collaborative robots equipped with the proper safety features and EOAT are being used for a variety of tasks, including specific welding applications. Manufacturers interested in this technology should look for new renditions that closely match existing welding robots (while offering a new level of mobility and flexibility) later in the year.
Greater Investment in Robotic Training Resources
One of the best things manufacturers can do to survive the competitive and evolving industrial landscape over the next year and throughout the new decade is to invest in the resources that will train their current workforce on robotics to push forward into Manufacturing 5.0 – where the human touch and robotic technology work in unison to achieve top operational performance.
Upskilling workers is often done via hands-on robot classes with high-level certifications at world class training facilities like Yaskawa Academy
. Once these employees are trained, manufacturers are creating unique ways to maximize the skills learned. One example is the creation of a robotic workcell champion, where an employee is dedicated to all on-site robot programming, utilization and maintenance.
More Upskilling and Educational Resources
When it comes to creating the next-generation workforce, more company leaders are seeing the value in being active participants in defining and promoting the skills required for future success. As a result, a growing number of strategic partnerships are forming between dedicated manufacturers and various educational organizations to develop a sustainable workforce through robotic training and technology solutions.
More specifically, educational institutions (many that are state and federally funded) are creating educational roadmaps for students and providing the necessary training tools to learn relevant skills. An increased focus is being placed on a “plug and play” educational approach called micro-credentialing
– a form of blended learning that combines usable soft skills and hands-on instruction to teach subsets of knowledge to students.
What’s the Next Step?
If you’ve yet to implement robotic automation and / or other intelligent solutions into your operations to increase operational efficiency, now is the time. With 81 percent of industrial manufacturers already utilizing advanced technologies – especially for logistics, supply chain and predictive maintenance needs – it is imperative that companies take the appropriate steps to maintain operational success
For companies experienced with robotic automation, focusing on upskilling employees to build a more sustainable workforce, upgrading legacy equipment for greater throughput, or implementing additional robots to address bottlenecks or to improve product quality may be the beginning to a more productive new year.