As industrial robots become smarter, faster, and cheaper, they are being used more than ever in the manufacturing industry. Does this mean robots will take over most manufacturing jobs? Some are of the opinion that robots will replace most jobs in the next 20 years. Whereas according to a survey done by PwC of US manufacturers, over one-third of manufacturers were of the opinion that the biggest impact robots will have on their workforce in the coming years will be that they will help create new job opportunities for making advanced robots and robotic systems.
While this debate is ongoing, a new class of collaborative robots, or ‘cobots’, has emerged, where humans and robots work together. The objective of these cobots is to automate a large range of jobs and perform tasks in close collaboration with the human workforce. In the factory of the future or smart factories, cobots play a very important role.
With the widening skills gap and labor shortages, in order to stay competitive in a global manufacturing economy, companies are looking at collaborative robots as an opportunity to help them become more efficient and responsive to changing customer demands.
The automotive giant BMW uses 7,500 industrial robots to perform various jobs in their factories around the world. In 2015, the company got significant results by experimenting with Universal Robot company’s cobots. The study conducted was led by an MIT professor using both humans and machines together in a work environment. It was shown that teams made of humans and robots collaborating efficiently can be more productive than teams made of either humans or robots alone. The other findings were that productivity increased and the number of ergonomically challenging tasks done by humans were reduced. This increased workforce morale empowered workers with the new technology of easily programmed collaborative robots.
Cobots come with truly amazing benefits that could revolutionize the manufacturing industry. These robots allow facilities to reduce assembly line sizes as they do not require separate stand-alone, caged spaces. And robots can be co-located to work directly next to the human workforce, which means fewer barriers to work around and more floor space. But manufacturers should be mindful that all collaborative robots are not cage-free.
By taking advantage of these robots to manage mundane tasks, manufacturers can also gain the benefit of motivating employees with more interesting responsibilities. There will be 1.3 million industrial robots operating in factories around the world by 2018, according to the International Federation of Robotics. Manufacturing has always been complex, but with the many variables present in today’s marketplace, it is more imperative than ever that companies seek the most flexible, cost-effective solutions that enable automation in never-before seen applications. Collaborative robots are one piece of the solution that is already bringing results to forward-thinking manufacturers, and this is a trend that will continue to gain momentum for years to come.
Even though some collaborative robots have removed the need for safety screens, it’s good for manufacturers to stay mindful of possible additional protection needed for humans. The human workforce will remain the company’s most valuable asset. Robots will only add to their productivity and efficiency.