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This is how ABB sees the future of industry robots

This is how ABB sees the future of industry robots
Industrial robots are becoming more popular than ever as customers become increasingly aware of their benefits at a time when labor costs continue to rise.
Industrial robots are becoming more popular than ever as customers become increasingly aware of their benefits at a time when labor costs continue to rise. Reports suggest that the research firm IDC expects spending in the robotics and drones sector in 2019 will be 17.6 percent more than what was seen in 2018. A CAGR of over 20 percent is projected to 2022.

ABB, one of the major players in the field of industrial robots, expects changes in three major areas in the coming year. Speaking to recently, Hui Zhang, Product Manager for Robotics at the company elaborated on this as he explained what could happen in 2019.


Gone are the days when industrial robots came with complicated installation and operation procedures and needed to be kept in separate enclosures. With several new innovations, machines have become simple enough to operate alongside humans without raising safety concerns.

“ABB sees an increase in making robots that are easier to install, program and operate,” Zhang said. “Examples include programming by demonstration, use of tools like augmented or virtual reality, and better human/robot interfaces. This is especially important to small and medium enterprises, where lack of robot experience is a key entry barrier. Simplification is also important to large global manufacturers, who want to open local factories with consistent quality regardless of the local labor pool.”

Zhang added that such a development is becoming extremely significant as more manufacturers face shortages of willing workers, for instance in industries with high turnover for low-skill jobs, where increasingly complex automation systems need to be easy to operate for new workers without extensive training.


The industry may also see an increase in applications (not just cobots) that allow people and robots to interact more, from safe coexistence in the same space to cooperation on shared tasks. Cobots have already revolutionized the way robots function in factories.

“Collaboration is critical to increasing manufacturing flexibility to accommodate high mix, low volume production,” Zhang said. “People can add their unique ability to adapt to change and improvise, while robots add tireless endurance for repetitive tasks. Safe coexistence is increasingly important as high mix/low volume production means people need to work in close proximity to robots in more sporadic and intermittent ways — e.g., bringing robots different materials, changing programs and inspecting new runs.”

Many manufacturers are struggling to balance the imperative of safety with the need to keep robots running at full speed, Zhang continued. An added benefit of safe human/robot coexistence is that it allows more flexible factory production flows that are not constrained by safety fences. For example, goods no longer need to follow rigid, linear assembly lines — they can move organically through a factory through different applications to be tailored — sometimes in lots as small as one.


Connected devices are a single major trend in most industries at the moment. In the coming year, we may also be able to see connected robots in the digital manufacturing ecosystem.

“This is improving efficiency, productivity and reliability through the entire production cycle (engineering, commissioning, operating and maintenance),” Zhang said. “Digitalization enables greater collaboration across the value chain  either horizontal (e.g., between supplier, manufacturer, and distributor) or vertical within a factory (e.g., between e-commerce front ends and CRM systems, business ERP systems, production planning and logistics automation systems). Both of these types of collaboration can create better customer experiences and increase manufacturing efficiency.”

A simple example is that a global manufacturer can look at the performance of individual robots among thousands across the world and identify weak performers which might need upgrading or servicing to produce at the same level as top performing robots in their fleet. Digitalization is important to meet high mix/low volume production, for example, greater engineering efficiency to switch with agility between products or launch new offerings faster.
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