Automation and the Future of Manufacturing

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Technology is advancing at a remarkable rate across all industries. This advancement brings with it some anxieties but also some excitement. In the manufacturing field in particular, new technologies are ever-improving in terms of capability, flexibility and availability—bringing us ever-closer to fully-automated production facilities.

Recent years have seen the proliferation of robots in manufacturing organizations. However, this technology was not always so widely available; the increased accessibility of automation results from a few specific developments:

Lower Costs

The robotics industry has been able to lower the costs and increase the production of technologies by piggybacking on consumer electronics. For example, sales of Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and Nintendo’s Wii gaming systems helped to lower the high costs of sensor technology. As the cost of robots has fallen, human labor costs have increased. As a result, automation has become an available and cost-effective solution for manufacturers.

Available Skilled Workers

As new technologies have become readily available, so have the skilled operators of this technology. Robotics engineers and technicians used to be exceptional specialists—difficult to find and expensive to hire. Today, the field is growing rapidly, and professionals able to design, install and program these robots are much more accessible to manufacturers.

Flexible Technology

Advancements in software development technology and networking techniques have made it simpler than ever to assemble, install, program and maintain robotic technology. This has reduced some of the initial investment and overhead costs and enticed even more manufacturers to embrace automation.

Because of these factors, automation is more prevalent than ever. Robots and Robotic Work Cells are chiefly applied to repetitive, high-volume manufacturing production, however, in the future, it is likely that robotics will branch out to other applications and industries:

Low Volume Production

As devices becomes more easily programmed and modified, robots will no longer have to repeat high volume tasks to justify their purchase and meet ROI targets. Automation will be applied cost-effectively to shorter production runs and adopted by smaller organizations. Mainstay has implemented our first robotic work cell to do repetitive, complex welding. Much of the ROI will come from a reduced internal scrap rate.

High Variable Projects

Likewise, as robotic capabilities advance, devices will be able to handle increased task variability. Soon, robots will be better able to adapt their responses based on physical and  environmental indicators, proving useful for niche projects.

Full Integration

For many years, humans and robots have worked side by side. In the future, we will likely see fewer people working on assembly lines as more and more robots are added. As this happens, manufacturers will have more freedom to designate individual tasks as either automated or manual and, in some cases, even run “lights out,” having the robots continue to produce with no humans present.

New technology is exciting, inciting revolutionary changes in the manufacturing industry. However, when adopting automation, it is critical to do so thoughtfully. Your organization’s automation strategy should respond to a clear problem, offer a clear ROI and align with your overarching business strategy.