Antonio Gaudi revolutionised how people understand architecture. The significance of his work is not only in representing nature with entirely original structures and ceramic mosaics, it is also in the example he set for future artists. Similarly, leading figures in Industry 4.0 are examples of both what is possible today and what will inspire the engineers of tomorrow.
The International Federation of Robotics (IFR) expects the number of robots shipped globally to increase on average by 12% per year from 2020 to 2022. While this is incredible news for those championing the fourth industrial revolution, for this trend to be successful, the industry needs quality as well as quantity. The following experimental and daring automation campaigns show how the industry can get the most out of automation.
Robots in mobile phone manufacturing
Accounting for almost a third of all robot installations, the electronics industry is one of the most automated out there. In 2019, Samsung fully automated the construction of its smartphone screens. While previous methods relied on double-sided tape and manual labour, Samsung automated the process with the help of liquid adhesives. This apparently minor change is expected to reduce manufacturing costs by up to 80%.
How robots make robots
In no place is automation more fitting than robot manufacturing — Fanuc is the perfect example of how machinery can be used to replicate itself. Using a lights-out manufacturing approach since 2001, Fanuc has created a factory where no human worker is required. The secretive company base at the feet of Mt. Fuji uses its unique lack of factory-floor workers to eliminate costs such as lighting and air conditioning. Additionally, the slower pace of work some automated processes are known for is cancelled out by the plant’s ability to operate 24/7.
Building on Fanuc’s example, 3D printing company Voodoo Manufacturing has automated its offices with the help of cobots. Programming the robotic arms to operate 3D printers and retrieve products almost 24/7, this start-up has increased its use of 3D printers from 30-40%to 90%. For a small business, more than doubling efficiency can provide the advantage needed to compete with established brands.
Robotics in the groceries market
Outside of the factory, automating parts of the supply chain can also help businesses to deliver on their objectives. UK delivery specialist Ocado has further established the role of automation for customer facing businesses with its innovative grid system, which it operates in its warehouses.
A central computer controls a small fleet of washing machine sized robots, which move above a grid. Below, groceries stacked in an algorithmically determined order are moved around and delivered to human workers to fulfil client orders.
The robots’ simple functionality, limited to lifting and two-dimensional movement, is compensated by their interconnectivity. The central storehouse computer can make the robots move in perfect harmony, maximising the supermarket’s efficiency. However, the greatest advantage of this system is scalability. With relatively easy to repair machines and easy to expand storage capacity the warehouse can be upgraded to account for growing demand.
While the grid might not be as beautiful or ornate as Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, it allows us to change our assumptions of what a supermarket is and how they ought to operate.
The author is Neil Ballinger from EU Automation.