APPLY, CONNECT, AND RUN: WHY INDUSTRIAL ROBOTICS IS BECOMING SIMPLER
History is littered with examples of when hype and high hopes failed to deliver the expected result, but it appears the industrial robotics industry is about to deliver on its undoubted potential.
After decades of investment and innovation, the global industrial robotics market is going to have a major growth spurt. A recent report by McKinsey said that the integration of industrial robotics into existing working practices is becoming more widespread, with a consensus that the technology is increasingly simple to apply, connect and run.
According to McKinsey’s 2019 Industrial Robotics report, fundamental business-related changes are the underlying factor why the adoption and investment will increase.
These changes include constantly evolving developments in the hardware and software applications, the rising costs of labor (which includes turnover and defined shortages), and the decreasing cost of robotic solutions. This has resulted in an uptick in robotic installations in a variety of industrial sectors, with McKinsey predicting that the current global install base of 2.1 million units will experience a compound annual growth rate of 13 percent over the next two years.
Citing existing research from both an existing McKinsey study and the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), the speed of industrial robotics adoption will naturally vary between countries and industries, but the expectation is that the ROI of the technology will allow companies to decrease production cost and increase flexibility across their internal ecosystems. In addition, the report said, robotics and automation applications will become commonplace in materials handling (defined as picking and packing, palletizing, machine tending), assembly, and welding.
“Robots will become major enablers of automation with large economic impact,” the authors of the report said. “IFR estimates that the total market for industrial robotics systems was already $48 billion in 2017. Of this revenue, the robot itself creates about 30 percent of the revenue, accessories make up about 25 percent, and service (including auxiliary hardware, software and programing, and installation) the remaining 45 percent.”
Despite the fact that robots have been part of the industrial landscape since the 1960s, there is a growing acceptance that an automated workforce will produce significant results for both the balance sheet and a company’s distribution and logistics network.
The industrial robotics sector has been growing steadily for a number of years, with the last five years showing a CAGR of around 19 percent. This CAGR, as we noted above, will increase by around 13 percent in the next two years, with 630,000 industrial robots predicted to ship worldwide in 2021 alone. As a result, there is a consensus that already identified growth trends will allow companies to double down on the idea of apply, connect and run.
McKinsey cites the decreasing costs of robotic applications (which includes production), the variety of available models – industrial, collaborative, mobile, automated solutions – and the greater technical abilities of these models as reasons for long-term optimism. Labor costs have continued to increase and there is a demonstrated skills gap in the industrial sector. At the same time, robotics engineers (the people with the skills to design, install, operate and maintain robotic solutions) are more widely available, which means that integration is significantly easier.
A solution that is simpler to apply means that companies will be able to have a clear vision of use cases for robotics, while limiting the complexity of connection into existing structures is a win-win situation. At the same time, making connected or interactive interfaces such as robots simpler to run puts the onus less on “experts” and more on frontline operations themselves.
Around 88 percent of the respondents to McKinsey’s survey said that they would be increasing investment in robotics. The increase would be predicated on a need to decrease overall production costs within a specific industrial sector or work environment, increased flexibility and, importantly, the improved capabilities of robotic solutions themselves. In addition, there was a growing belief that a robotic workforce would improve safety and remove some of the physical burdens or limitations of their human colleagues.
Making the integration path for robotics simpler is a significant step, but the report did point out that companies would still need to be aware of potential pain points. And although the investment outlook was positive, install growth could be impacted by differing industry requirements.
Automotive and electronics companies, for example, invest in robotics for production flexibility and quality, respectively. Both industries are looking to resolve labor shortages, while the Total Cost of Ownership is an important factor to consider. Pharma companies, on the other hand, are looking to robotics to improve overall performance in their production facilities – accuracy and speed of robotics solutions was cited as the number one purchasing criteria by 71 percent of pharma respondents. And, retailers are investing in robotics to replace mundane tasks in stores and to improve efficiency in distribution operations where they are faced with fulfillment trends that require faster shipments of smaller orders through multiple channels.
Survey respondents were also asked to list the key challenges that they were currently facing in robotic solution implementation. The most widely cited challenge was cost, the report said, while a lack of homogenous platforms/interfaces, a shortage of integrators and minimal experience with automation itself all scored highly.
These comments all underlined the need for potential solutions to be simpler to apply, connect and run. In fact, all three of McKinsey’s core tenants for increased robotic integration are rooted in making the process both a business optimization tool and an upgrade on legacy working practices.
Complete robotic solutions
Berkshire Grey’s holistic approach to complete intelligent robotic solutions ticks all of these boxes. Integration should be simple and solutions should provide ROI out-of-the-box. Investment in automated solutions that both do the heavy lifting (literally) and streamline the production and distribution processes can be part of the ubiquitous digital transformation that companies must undertake to remain competitive.
As we noted above, automated and robotic solutions are not new. The core technology has been available for decades, but the difference now is that robotics can be surrounded by complimentary technologies including computer vision and sensors to make truly intelligent agile systems that can be leveraged a variety of industry sectors beyond rote tasks in manufacturing. Tyson Foods, for example, recently opened a Manufacturing Automation Center that will be used to advance automated processes in food production and distribution. And this investment is a clear sign that companies see tremendous value in bringing evolving tech such as robots into their daily operations.
What is clear is that the long-predicted robot integration into our working lives is not only already here but also ready to deliver the return on investment that can be the difference between success and failure. Life can be filled with simple pleasures, and making automated solutions simpler to apply, connect and run can now be added to the list.
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