New era of robotics and collaboration between humans and robots will become a reality, says Lim Say Leon
The International Federation of Robotics states that demand for industrial robots will continue at an average annual growth rate of 12% between 2015 and 2017.
In Asia/Australia, robot sales are expected to increase by around an average of 16% per year. The automotive and electronics industries will continue to see increasing investment in robots.
Robotics made simple
Small parts assembly is leading the charge in human-robot collaboration, where humans and machines are starting to work right next to each other, with no need for cages and other protective equipment or barriers.
Automation will become simpler and more user-friendly, such as modular plug-and-produce components that will enable people without extensive experience in robotics to programme and integrate a robot in the process.
At ABB we believe very strongly in a ‘what you see is what you get’ (WYSIWYG) programming interface, so it is possible – perhaps even expected – that visual apps as well as programming by teaching (rather than coding) will greatly enhance the ease of programming for the next generation.
The tools that allow robots to interact with the world around them are also in development, such as advanced sensing and advanced gripping. In order to allow robots to do all the jobs that they are well suited for, they will need to develop more ‘human-like’ abilities to find, identify and manipulate objects. When combined with powerful processing capability, tools like force control and advanced 2D and 3D vision systems will create a kind of robotic 'independence' and allow the robot to make ‘decisions’ about what to do when it encounters the inevitable hiccups that arise in everyday operation.
Already ABB has developed a new generation of Integrated Force Control and Integrated Vision to help make these advanced technologies available to more and more end-users.
The benefits for Asian manufacturers
Singapore has always set the lead for countries in Asian markets; in the recent budget announcement it was disclosed that while our wages have caught up with developed countries, our productivity had been lagging in the last three years. This exposes a stark impediment in productivity growth especially when businesses have to compete internationally.
Industries must act now to prepare themselves in integrated automation for when the economy recovers; where further automation will lead to a less labour intensive and more productive future, with less resources and time used to produce more goods at a high and consistent quality.
For manufacturers, robots not only bring productivity, but also huge reductions in energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions. Automation lines equipped with vision systems can also operate without the need for ambient factory lighting or air-conditioning (subject to the requirements of the manufactured product itself), allowing for the possibility of 24/7 operation with substantial energy savings.
Companies with a well-established manufacturing base can also leverage on systems that can collaborate and determine solutions that minimise the cost to the business. In Asia, companies manufacture items ranging from one-off design to large volume production of the same design. These pose great challenges for robots to be innovative, and yet robots can be productive to meet the desired return on investment.
Opportunities in Southeast Asia
The growing middle class in Southeast Asia and higher levels of education are producing new generations of youth who receive less job satisfaction with dirty, dangerous and dull tasks that are characteristic of some manufacturing processes. This creates a demand for more engaging and meaningful jobs in the market, which could pose a challenge to manufacturers in the region who will need to revamp their organisation of human resources. In fact, some small medium enterprises have started employing robotic automation as a means to retain talent and even attract their next generation to inherit the business.
Faced with an uncertain economic outlook, lower oil prices and increased market volatility, businesses have to rethink ways to add value to their products and services. Cheaper Asian countries have the competitive advantage of high volume and low cost in their production chain; players that will stand out are those who provide customisation and cater to the individual needs of customers.
For example, product cycles in the electronics industry are getting shorter, with new models and functions being introduced at a blistering pace. Fast deployment and incredible flexibility are key to meeting the demands of low volume but high mix products. In this regard, manufacturers can be flexible in switching between different products and processes with robots, rather than needing large scale production with high product volume.
By offering higher quality products coupled with fresh varieties, companies can bring a difference to the table and disrupt the market.
Lim Say Leong, Assistant Vice President, Marketing of ABB. The power and automation technologies company will be exhibiting its robotic solutions at MTA2015 - The 20th Precision Engineering Industry Event takes place 14th – 17th April 2015 in Singapore.