Automation has rapidly become the trend of the day, from simple tasks to full line replacement being pursued across industries. While this trend has been emerging for some time, it had previously been a slow and gradual progress – that is, until the past few years.
Robots have been instrumental in reducing cost while increasing quality in the automotive industry for decades. This had accounted for more than 70% of automation sales, with large installations, huge investment, and long-lead times. As we see the growth of automation expand beyond the automotive industry, we’re also seeing the field of robotics reach the tipping point of accessibility.
Perhaps the strongest reason is an evolution in robotics, growing past the automotive design paradigm of heavy initial investment for a highly optimized system requiring in-depth knowledge and experience with the complicated systems. These robots, programmed to perform one task exceptionally well, were not accessible or suitable for the nimble, ever-adapting production industry.
Now, new robotics manufacturers like Rethink Robotics, and Universal Robotics have developed a new type of robot. A “cobot” or collaborative robot fills the need for labor-intensive processes that either change too often, or could not previously afford a robotic solution. These cobots work in tandem with their operators, relieving them of previously strenuous, tedious, or dangerous tasks. Typically, the laborers, who have the greatest experiential knowledge, are trained to be operators teaching the cobot. This new type of robot can be easily operated by anyone “who knows how to use a smartphone.” Operators can be up and running with their new robot companion in as little as a day.
These advancements are critical now more than ever before with labor scarcity rapidly increasing – particularly in AgTech and food automation. In the toughest and most mundane jobs, employers have difficulty maintaining a consistent workforce, raising operational costs and decreasing efficiency and reliability of production lines.
This move towards automation also creates higher quality and skilled jobs for former line-workers as programmers, operations managers and repair technicians. We only see this trend increasing over time and the working relationship between robots and humans becoming increasingly integrated.