Why factories of the future will all be automated
Source: Prasanth Aby Thomas, Consultant Editor
As the manufacturing segment strives to churn out products at a faster rate with minimum costs, automation companies are forced to think out of the box to find ways to meet their needs.
Automating processes in a plant is seen as a single major step to boost efficiency and productivity and demand for components like robots is shooting up at unprecedented rates. A report from Mordor Intelligence shows that the industrial robotics market was valued at US$18.05 billion in 2018 and is set to reach $37.75 billion by 2024, at a CAGR of 12.15 percent.
There are several factors contributing to the growth of factory automation
. They range from the changes in consumer behavior and affordability to even some sociopolitical reasons. Here is a brief look at some of them.
The decreasing cost of robots
Simply put, robots are more accessible now. According to the research firm McKinsey, over the past 30 years, the average robot price has fallen by half in real terms, and even further relative to labor costs.
“As demand from emerging economies encourages the production of robots to shift to lower-cost regions, they are likely to become cheaper still,” the company said.
More trained personnel
Earlier, robot engineers were a rare and expensive breed. Until recently, there weren’t many people who wanted to pursue a career in this field. However, now that the industry is realizing the potential of robots, more and more young people are specializing in robotics.
Universities and schools are also making a concentrated effort to inculcate robotic studies in their curriculum, either as separate courses or as part of their general education system. That there are low-cost software solutions that helps to learn the technology makes things easier.
“The availability of software, such as simulation packages and offline programming systems that can test robotic applications, has reduced engineering time and risk,” McKinsey noted. “It’s also made the task of programming robots easier and cheaper.”
Easier to integrate
A combination of three things, better software development techniques, increased computing power, and better networking technologies have made the process of setting up and maintaining robots simpler and easier.
“For example, while sensors and actuators once had to be individually connected to robot controllers with dedicated wiring through terminal racks, connectors, and junction boxes, they now use plug-and-play technologies in which components can be connected using simpler network wiring,” McKinsey said. “The components will identify themselves automatically to the control system, greatly reducing setup time. These sensors and actuators can also monitor themselves and report their status to the control system, to aid process control and collect data for maintenance, and for continuous improvement and troubleshooting purposes.”
Other standards and network technologies make it similarly straightforward to link robots to wider production systems.
Advances in robots
Progress in robotic technology has resulted in automation companies manufacturing better robots. For example, before, robots were blind and could only follow a single path. Now with the use of laser technology and other vision sensors, machines are able to see and understand
what’s in front of them. They are also able to integrate this with data captured from other sensors to optimize operations.
“This allows them, for example, to use force feedback to mimic the skill of a craftsman in grinding, deburring, or polishing applications,” McKinsey said. “They can also make use of more powerful computer technology and big data-style analysis. For instance, they can use spectral analysis to check the quality of a weld as it is being made, dramatically reducing the amount of post-manufacture inspection required.”
In fact, robots can now even work alongside people
without being a threat to their safety. Such collaborative robots enable factories to improvise on the production process without interrupting the workflow.