American manufacturing is evolving. What once was an industry dominated by a workforce made up of hardworking men and women has slowly begun to change — for the better. Robots have arrived on the assembly line.
Affordable and accessible, the next generation of autonomous mobile robots are finding their way on to the factory floor — and they are smarter, nimbler and easier to use than ever before.
But these robots are more than just robotic arms or automated carts on tracks. Improvements to mobility and autonomous navigation are redefining what it means to put a robot on the factory floor — working hand in hand with the people who make up the manufacturing workforce.
But how exactly are these robots being put to work? What tasks can they perform now and in the future? Before we get into how robots will integrate into the workforce, let’s address the elephant in the room.
Can Robots and Humans Co-exist?
A once-dreary outlook of robots replacing humans in the workplace has gradually begun to shift. In fact, the overall feeling appears to have grown exponentially more optimistic.
“56% of employers and 49% of employees say they are optimistic about automation technologies like AI, analytics, and robots.”
— MetLife, 2018
Manufacturers are also beginning to catch on to the value of introducing robots into their company culture — companies large and small are investing in robots to augment their already well-trained workforce.
According to the Robotic Industries Association, a record number of robots were shipped to North American companies in the first quarter of 2018. Both units shipped and shipment revenue achieved record levels. This trend is only expected to continue.
The International Federation of Robotics (IFR) in a May 2017 position paper — The Impact of Robots on Productivity, Employment and Jobs — estimates that over 2.5 million industrial robots will be at work in 2019. This represents an average annual growth rate of 12% between 2016 and 2019.
Similar to the MetLIfe survey of employees, the IFR’s position on the role robots play in the workplace is a positive one. In fact, the IFR believes robots will actually increase productivity, which will then increase demand, which in turn may create even more job opportunities down the road.
“The future will be robots and humans working together. Robots substitute labour activities but do not replace jobs. Less than 10% of jobs are fully automatable. Increasingly, robots are used to complement and augment labour activities; the net impact on jobs and the quality of work is positive. Automation provides the opportunity for humans to focus on higher-skilled, higher-quality and higher-paid tasks.”
– The International Federation of Robotics (IFR)
While this ability for workers and robots to coexist may still seem far-fetched for some, mobile robots are already making life easier for workers all over the world.
Amazon already has mobile robots working in its warehouses, while Rakuten Super Logistics is also following suit with autonomous warehouse robotics technology in its operations.
These examples represent only the frontier of mobile robots working in the manufacturing industry. Improvements are inevitably on the way.
How Manufacturing Robots Will Benefit the Industry
The next generation manufacturing robot will undoubtedly be a very valuable part of the production team.
No longer will manufacturing robots be bolted down and fixed in place. Instead, the robots of tomorrow will be mounted on sophisticated mobility platforms that allow them to be moved around the factory floor — making them mobile, flexible, and repeatable.
It is anticipated that robots will be able to assist workers thanks to the following:
- Focused attention on user experience
- More intuitive user interfaces
- Integrated vision guidance
- Enhanced sensors that enable robots to sense and respond to their environment
- The ability to respond to both voice and gesture commands
By letting robots carry the load, human workers will be allowed to focus on the work that truly matters. And better yet, robots don’t take breaks — so the work is continuous.
In addition to the obvious benefits related to efficiency, companies can also expect to experience fewer workplace injuries related to heavy lifting, overexertion, and repetitive motion — a dream come true for the human resource coordinators of the manufacturing world.
“These collaborative robots are not replacing human work, but are increasing the productivity of human workers, whilst simultaneously reducing the risk of workplace injury – for example, due to repetitive heavy lifting.”
– The International Federation of Robotics (IFR)
All of these improvements, however, mean nothing if robots are out of reach due to their price tags. Thankfully, automation has become increasingly more affordable over the years — allowing companies to put robots to work faster and easier than ever before.
Waypoint Robotics builds flexible, accessible, and customizable autonomous mobile industrial robots that serve as nimble and trustworthy additions to your workflow. Waypoint’s newest robot — Vector — which is equipped with our state-of-the-art Navigator package, empowers workers in manufacturing facilities of all types and sizes to capture the productivity gains that will help secure the future of their company and themselves. Contact us today to learn more about our state-of-the-art mobile robots.