Advanced Industrial Robots

March 2015
Original Source: SCM World Report

Image Source: Siemens AG

SCM World has published a report called “The Digital Factory: Game-Changing Technologies That Will Transform Manufacturing Industry.” It analyzes the future of new technologies in manufacturing through looking at the investment priorities of professionals from these industries.

Salients

  • Most Disruptive Technologies -  For 30% of the respondents in the survey, advanced robotic technologies are to be found among the top five technologies manufacturers are relying on to improve the agility, responsiveness and reliability of their operations, together with the analysis of Big Data (42%), mobile technologies (36%), the Internet of Things (36%) and digital manufacturing (29%).

  • Use of Advanced Robotics Technologies - 59% of manufacturers are either using (18%), piloting (16%) or planning to invest in (25%) advanced robotics over the next 3 years. Manufacturers are prioritizing their technology investments in mobile systems (31%), Big Data and the Internet of Things (both at 30%).

  • Robotics for Bringing Down Costs - Of all the new technologies analyzed, 49%  of manufacturers see advanced robotics as the one that will have most impact in reducing their operational costs and in making more efficient use of the assets they have available.

Insights

  • The Fourth Industrial Revolution - Experts consider that up until now there have been three industrial revolutions brought about by the incorporation of new technologies in manufacturing processes: the first revolution came with the widespread adoption of the steam engine; the second with the supply of electrical energy to factories; and the third with the application of IT systems and automation. We are now at the beginning of what will be the fourth industrial revolution, which will be marked by interconnectivity and the use of cyber-physical (CPS) systems. Robots, which first appeared in industry in the mid-twentieth century, will be the leading players in this new industrial revolution, as integral elements of the factories of the future, in the phase which has been called Industry 4.0. This is expected to be a new ecosystem of automated and flexible production in which the products, the machines and the robots will communicate directly among themselves and with the production control software in order to optimize their own manufacturing processes.

  • Large-scale Robotization is Beginning - The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) has advanced some conclusions from its as yet unpublished study of projections for the robotics industry. According to these conclusions, we are approaching the turning point where the shrinking manufacturing costs and the growing capabilities of robots will permit their introduction on a large scale throughout industry. The BCG estimates that the number of robotic installations will grow at a rate of approximately 10% per year over the next ten years, markedly increasing productivity and drastically reducing manufacturing costs throughout the major economies. The massive introduction of robots in factories will change the rules of the game for many industries. For one thing, the relocation of facilities in search of cheap labor will cease to make sense and will therefore be gradually reduced. For another thing, with production models that are more flexible and more adaptable to demand, and with robotic programming that can be easily replicated in different facilities, having large permanent plants will lose importance in favor of having smaller, more numerous and more local factories, closer to the eventual consumers of their products.

  • Beyond the Auto Industry - According to data from the International Organisation of Motor Vehicles (OICA), the automotive industry produced over 80 million vehicles in 2013, with a turnover of $2 trillion. The over 8 million jobs generated worldwide by the automotive industry represent more than 5% of all jobs in all industries. Adding to this total the indirect jobs the automotive industry supports, it is estimated that it provides more than 50 million people with work. Of the 1.5 million industrial robots in the world, over 50% are currently employed in the automotive sector, including OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturers) and the makers of components. This percentage has gone down by about 20% over the last 5 years, as robots have been adopted by new industries, mainly in the metal, food, electronics and biomedicine sectors. But there is still considerable room for growth. According to the IFR (International Federation of Robotics), the proportion of robots in the automotive sector, where there are 1,091 robots per 10,000 employees, is more than ten times higher than in general industry, which has 76 robots per 10,000 employees. In a market for industrial robots which it is estimated will be worth $41 billion by 2020, their adoption by different industries will be determined, initially at least, by how much they might reduce labor costs. The Boston Consulting Group estimates that the manufacturing of electronic components for transportation and machinery, which involve tasks which can be automated, and where staff costs represent a high percentage of the overall costs of production, could generate 75% of the purchases of robots by 2025.

  • The Scope for Advanced Robotics - In traditional robotics, industrial robots operate in highly structured or fixed environments, continuously performing tasks for which they have been pre-programmed. With this rigid modus operandi, robots can only perform part of the work involved in the manufacturing process. The concept of advanced robotics, however, broadens the field of operation for industrial robots. Thanks to technological advances and cost reductions, robots can be better enabled to collect and process information from their environments, to move themselves independently, to handle objects skillfully, to connect with and communicate with other devices and systems, and to learn from the work patterns, gestures or other behaviours of human beings. This makes them apt for many more uses in unstructured environments where they can apply, on their own account, a certain logic to the processes in which they are involved. The increasing use of robots in factories over the coming years will be determined by three factors: lower prices for traditional robots, the greater availability of collaborative robots to allow their introduction into SME’s and the expansion of the field of activity of advanced robots to new areas and new functions. We estimate that the cost of the robots will be reduced by a modest 7-10% YoY (Year on Year) over the next 5 years. However as the implementation is much easier with the new robots, the installation and commissioning costs will come down from the current up to three times the cost of the robot to more or less its price, which represents a very significant saving.

  • Botsourcing and Cost Reduction - An inevitable consequence of the introduction of robots in factories, which will undoubtedly have social effects, is the loss of jobs, the so-called "botsourcing." It would be naive to think that this will not happen, as it would be simplistic to equate improvements in productivity and lowering of costs to simply exchanging people for robots. The Siemens AG electronics plant in Amberg, Germany (EWA, for its acronym in German) incorporates elements of the automation, connectivity and control characteristic of Industry 4.0, and is considered the most efficient plant in the world, with a production quality standard of 99.9988%. According to Professor Karl-Heinz Büttner, head of the EWA, 40% of the annual productivity improvement has come from suggestions from the employees, while the other 60% ​​is the result of investments in infrastructure and in improvements to the logistical equipment. In 2013, the EWA adopted 13,000 new ideas contributed by employees, for which they were rewarded and incentivized to the tune of €1 million. So Siemens is not thinking of making the EWA a factory without workers anytime soon.