For many customers, factory robots are complex and expensive. But this need not be so, according to industry experts.
Industrial robots are becoming more and more ubiquitous, but there are still certain challenges hindering their growth. For many customers, robots are still a part of science fiction. They are expensive and only meant for large conglomerates. Barriers to entry include perceptions of cost and complexity and a perception that a business needs significant engineering and programming skills to install and use robots
However, industry experts suggest that these perceptions don't precisely reflect reality. According to Subrata Karmakar, President of Robotics and Discrete Automation at ABB India, robots are easier to install, program, and operate than ever before.
"Lead-through programming means even someone without specialized training can program the robot and have it running in minutes," Karmakar said. "Robots that can be programmed and deployed without special training will lower the barriers to entry for new users and new markets. We also offer function packages which are pre-engineered solutions (e.g., welding, packing) that can be downloaded and used 'off the shelf.'"
Karmakar gave the example of ABB's simulation and offline programming software, which is a PC-based solution for programming, configuration, and virtual commissioning before installation. It offers a complete digital replica – a digital twin – of physical assets
or systems so you can see what's going on in your production line, enabling users to create, simulate and test a complete robot installation in a virtual 3D environment without having to disturb their actual production line. This means that new product lines can be installed faster and ramped up to full speed without surprises during commissioning.
The challenge of change
The adoption of industrial robots faces challenges on multiple fronts depending on the stage of evolution of the organization/ plant and the workforce that is managing it. This means that when an organization is already set in its operating system for far too long, there are significant constraints to making a change.
"For example, mindset and constraints of robotization of 'legacy plants' that are not designed to utilize full capabilities of robots, products that are not designed for automation/robotics enabled manufacturing, availability of the right skilled workforce that can program and maintain robots, the capabilities of Systems Integrations capabilities, to name just a few," said Swaminathan Ramamurthy, GM of OMRON Automation Centre & Robotics, OMRON Asia Pacific. "Although the total cost of ownership in most cases justify the ROI of a robotics project, it would need a mindset change on the costing front, especially for the emerging markets."
Cloud solutions to overcome challenges
The scale of investment required is a major factor discouraging customers. But Stefan Nusser, Chief Product Officer at Fetch Robotics, points out that such concerns can be minimized using cloud technology, reducing space and cost requirements.
"Challenges will be less of an issue with cloud-connected systems that allow you to get a couple of robots to a pilot," Nusser said. "Then there isn't a large infrastructure investment that you need to plan for and think about, and that is like the barrier of entry being lowered, and the flexibility of these robots goes up. Our robots are very adapted to the kind of environment that they're going into."
The main challenge that's limiting the adoption of factory robots is the cost of investment and the perception of complexities that might come in. However, solution providers in this industry are quick to point out that with the optimal use of cloud solutions and an understanding of these concerns' requirements can be alleviated.