The Robotic Revolution
Robots have been used since the 1950’s to automate basic processes and make more units, faster, with more accuracy. With increasing reliance on automated processes throughout the world, robots are playing a larger and larger role in manufacturing. The International Federation of Robotics (IFR) reports average annual robotic sales between 2005 and 2008 at 115,000 units. This rose to annual sales of 171,000 between 2010 and 2014, an increase of about 48%. Poised on the edge of a critical technological overhaul, the robotics industry is expected to grow in leaps around the world, across industries and across businesses of all sizes.
Robots play a significant role in the adoption of international Industry 4.0 plans, using technology to make processes faster and more efficient. The U.S. and many European nations have already started bringing more robots onto factory floors. Quick to follow is China, with an ambitious plan to revolutionize their workforce and manufacturing processes through robotics. Accounting for 25% of robotics sales in 2014, China already represents the largest market for robotics. This number is expected to rise to one third by 2018, according to the IFR.
Besides presenting risks of eliminating much-needed jobs, contenders against robotics also argue that retooling factories solely with robots creates an environment of stagnation. Workers know best how to improve factory processes and can inform managers where inadequacies exist. The solution: Cobotics, human and robotic cooperation. Machines may work under the direction or supervision of managers, augment existing activities, or work side-by-side without interference. This delegates dangerous or hazardous tasks to specialized robots, such as working around asbestos, forging hot titanium, or augmenting heavy lifting.
Simpler, Cheaper Robots For All
As more industries demand specialized robots to keep up with production, more robotics suppliers enter the sphere, driving prices down. Where many robots are currently highly specialized and require exact installation procedures to integrate successfully, the introduction of simpler, cheaper robots created by generalized suppliers allows more businesses to enter the market. Simpler, more versatile robots, such as flying drones or multi-purpose picking and packing robots, are active in many small businesses now.