Though currently they cost a pretty penny, robots could shrink U.S. labor costs by 22 percent if machines complete only 25 percent of the tasks they’re capable of performing, according to U.S. News & World Report.
To remain competitive, manufacturers must improve productivity, efficiency, and product quality while also reducing labor costs. Investing in automation via robotics can help manufacturers achieve these goals. Robots are helping digital manufacturing businesses streamline processes, perform dangerous or repetitive tasks, optimize production schedules, and reduce labor costs, among other things.
Robotic applications can also help manufacturers to achieve specific business goals, such as reducing time to market, improving customer satisfaction, and increasing sustainability. Since robots can be used to perform tasks that may be unsafe or difficult for humans to perform, such as working with hazardous materials or performing tasks in harsh environments, improvements to plant and worker safety are an additional benefit for manufacturers.
Current trends in robotics for manufacturing
According to results from the 2022 McKinsey Global Industrial Robotic Survey, automated systems will account for 25 percent of capital spending through 2027. The increased use of robotics in the digital manufacturing industry is being driven by several factors and these trends are expected to continue, especially as robots become more sophisticated and affordable.
Labor shortages & costs
Labor shortages are the number one trend driving industrial automation adoption. The aging population of warehouse workers are not being replaced, and overseas labor costs are rising while the cost of automation is dropping fast. Automation emerges as a smart solution for manufacturers looking to fill labor gaps, improve productivity, and stay competitive.
The robotics-as-a-service (RaaS) model has made adopting automation easier and less capital intensive, giving operators the ability to seamlessly scale to meet changing volumes and seasonal spikes in minutes vs. weeks or months. RaaS allows customers to always have the latest automation technology because robots can be refurbished, repaired, and upgraded with new types of hardware and software.
Increased use of collaborative robots
Collaborative robots remain the fastest growing segment of the industrial robotics sector. Cobots, robots that can safely work alongside humans, are becoming increasingly popular in manufacturing because they can be used to automate a wide range of tasks, without the need for safety guarding.
Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML)
AI and ML are being used to develop more intelligent and autonomous robots. These robots can learn from experience and adapt to changing conditions, making them ideal for complex manufacturing tasks.
New robotic applications
New robotic applications are being developed all the time, as manufacturers look for ways to automate more and more tasks. New robotic applications include robots that can perform complex assembly tasks, delicate tasks, and robots that can work in hazardous environments.
Increasing affordability of robots
Robots are becoming more affordable, making them accessible to a wider range of manufacturers.
Main application of robotics in the digital manufacturing industry
The primary application of robotics in the digital manufacturing industry is to automate various processes and tasks to increase efficiency, productivity, and accuracy. By automating repetitive and labor-intensive tasks, manufacturers can reduce the likelihood of errors and defects, leading to improved product quality and reduced waste. Robots can work faster and more consistently than humans and can also be used to perform tasks that may be unsafe or difficult for humans to perform.
Here are some of the ways robotics are being used to automate processes and tasks in digital manufacturing:
- Assembly – Robots are widely used in assembly tasks to improve speed and accuracy, such as pick and place, palletizing, and packaging.
- Welding – Robots are commonly used in welding applications, where they can perform repetitive and potentially dangerous tasks with precision, improving the quality of welds, and reducing the risk of injuries.
- Machine tending – Robots can be used to tend machines, such as CNC machines and injection molding machines.
- Inspection and testing – Robots can be equipped with sensors and cameras to perform inspections and identify defects early in the manufacturing process, preventing them from reaching the customer.
- Material handling – Robots can be used to perform a variety of material handling tasks, such as loading and unloading machines, transporting materials around the factory, and palletizing finished products.
- Quality control – Robots can be used to collect data from the manufacturing process and use it to identify and address quality issues.
- Predictive maintenance – Robots can be used to monitor the condition of equipment and predict when maintenance is needed, reducing downtime, and extending the life of equipment.
- Process optimization – Robots can be used to collect data from the manufacturing process and use it to identify and implement process improvements.
Benefits of robotic applications in digital manufacturing
There are many benefits of applying robotic automation to digital manufacturing and new applications are being developed all the time. Currently, the main benefits of robotic applications in the digital manufacturing industry include:
- Improved productivity and efficiency – Robots can significantly improve productivity and efficiency by automating repetitive and time-consuming tasks which frees human workers to focus on more complex tasks.
- Increased accuracy and quality – Robots can improve the quality of products and reduce the number defects by performing tasks with a high degree of accuracy and consistency.
- Enhanced safety – Robots can be used to perform dangerous and hazardous tasks, reducing the risk of injuries to human workers.
- Reduced labor costs – Robots can reduce labor costs by automating tasks that would otherwise be performed by humans.
- Increased flexibility and agility – Robots can be easily reprogrammed to perform different tasks, making them a versatile and adaptable solution for manufacturers.
- Enhanced data collection and analytics – Robots equipped with sensors can collect data from the manufacturing process which can then be used to improve process control, identify quality issues, and predict when maintenance is needed.
Types of manufacturing robots
There are several types of robots used in digital manufacturing, each with its own unique capabilities and advantages. The most common types of robots used in digital manufacturing are articulated robots, cartesian robots, SCARA robots, and collaborative robots. Delta robots and polar robots are robots with unique designs that allow them to specialize in certain high-speed, high accuracy tasks.
are the most widely used robots in digital manufacturing. They have multiple joints that allow them a wide range of motion, making them highly flexible and versatile. They are often used for tasks such as welding, painting, and pick-and-place operations.
also known as gantry robots, are robots that have three linear axes of motion. They are often used for tasks that require high accuracy and precision, such as milling, drilling, and cutting.
are similar to articulated robots but have a different arm structure that allows for circular motion. They are often used for tasks such as assembly, packaging, and material handling.
also known as cobots, are robots designed to work alongside humans in a shared workspace. They are often used for tasks that require a high degree of precision and accuracy, such as quality control and inspection.
are a type of parallel robot known for their speed, precision, and lightweight design. One of the key advantages of delta robots is their ability to perform tasks at high speeds, making delta robots ideal for applications such as packaging, sorting, or moving small items between conveyor belts.
also known as spherical or radial robots, are a type of industrial robot with a unique design consisting of a rotating base and an extendable arm which gives them the ability to reach around obstacles in their workspace. Polar robots offer a wide range of motion and versatility, making them suitable for various manufacturing applications such as welding, painting, and material handling.
Industries that use robotics
Robots can help manufacturers to improve productivity, efficiency, and quality, while also reducing costs and improving safety. The use of robotics in manufacturing is expected to continue to grow, as robots become more sophisticated and affordable. For example, Vebu Labs, based in El Segundo, California, is working with Chipotle on a robot that helps prep avocados for its guacamole, dubbed the Autocado. And Tesla, the American manufacturer of electric automobiles, currently uses over 600 robots in its production line and plans to develop a humanoid robot for its factories.
Robots are used in a wide and expanding range of manufacturing industries, including:
- Food and beverage
- Metals and mining
- Plastics and rubber
- Textiles and apparel
- Wood products
Robotics and sustainability
- Robotic automation can help manufacturers meet sustainability goals by reducing energy consumption, minimizing waste, and reducing emissions. In addition to the environmental benefits, robots can also help manufacturers to meet their social sustainability goals by improving working conditions and creating new jobs.
- Robots can be programmed to operate in a more energy-efficient manner than humans. Robots can be turned off when not in use and can be programmed to operate at optimal speeds and temperatures.
- Robots can help minimize waste by performing tasks with a high degree of accuracy and consistency. This can help to reduce the number of defective products that are produced.
- Robots can help to reduce emissions by operating in a more efficient manner and by reducing the need for transportation of materials and products. Robots can also be used to generate renewable energy, which can help to reduce the environmental impact of manufacturing.
- Robots are not replacing human workers in manufacturing. Instead, they are creating new jobs in areas such as robot programming, robot maintenance, and data analysis. Additionally, robots are helping to create new jobs in the downstream supply chain, such as in logistics and customer service.
Robotics offer significant benefits to the digital manufacturing industry. By automating tasks, improving accuracy and quality, enhancing safety, reducing labor costs, and increasing flexibility and agility, robots can help manufacturers to improve their productivity, efficiency, and competitiveness.
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