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Cobots: The Automation Juggernaut that Manufacturers Need
16. July 2019 / By Jim Lawton / 0 Comments
I work for a robotics company. I’m sure you can imagine the rush that comes when the latest predictions about the growth of the market peg the opportunity on the fast-track to exponential growth. After all, it’s how I make my living.
For collaborative robots (cobots), the news seems to be all good. Last week, a report crossed my desk touting CAGR growth of up to 50%, resulting in a market size of $4+ billion by 2023. Reading this, it’s easy to understand how one might get swept up in the head-spinning optimism. Not me, though. If there’s one lesson I’ve learned in my career in the world of disruptive technology, it’s beware the hype.
Spanish company RNB Cosmeticos has integrated six UR10s into its packing and packaging plant to perform end-of-line palletizing tasks. The collaborative cells offer the company a high level of versatility to comply with its six-packages-per-minute production cycles, which require flexible solutions for adapting to over 350 different items. “We are not hiring expert staff to handle a high-tech robot. We are turning our staff into experts with their skills level on the increase,” says
AURELIO TORNERO, General Industrial Manager at RNB Cosméticos.
That’s not at all to say that I don’t believe in the potential of cobots to transform manufacturing. I’ve written plenty about it – and more importantly – have seen our customers put cobots to work in their operations with great success. More often than not, though, there’s plenty of resistance to the disruptive innovation that cobots bring. And even after the cobots are in place and doing the job well, entrenched thinking throws up roadblocks to expansion.
What is it going to take to close the gap between the hype and what Gartner has labeled as the “trough of disillusionment” for cobots? Manufacturers know they are caught between today’s reality – where productivity is being squelched by one workforce aging out and a labor pool that doesn’t want to work in manufacturing and the pressure to move to the age of digital manufacturing – where machines operate autonomously, powered by distributed decision-making, and products find their way independently through the production process. Manufacturers know that more automation is key to breaking the deadlock between today’s status quo and the promise of Industry 4.0.
Taiwanese injection molder BTC Mold introduced four UR5 cobots into its plastic injection mold production lines saving more than 35% in labor cost while solving a serious manpower shortage. BTC Mold can now immediately adapt its production lines to customers’ demand for high-mix, low-volume production, providing customized products of high quality, optimizing the company’s overall competitiveness.
Getting more of their operations automated requires evaluating robotics vendors through a dual focus: what can you do for me today and how will you help me be ready for tomorrow? Here are some things to ask and look for to be confident that the cobot solution is one for both:
It truly is exciting to see the changes we’re going to experience as manufacturing evolves toward the digital future. And it’s all the more exciting to be a part of the market that’s going to help accelerate that journey. Tweet me @jim_lawton.
Experienced in both start-up and Fortune 500 environments, Jim’s career has focused on building organizations that give manufacturers new and effective ways to capitalize on the intersection of technology and business performance. From early days in e-commerce market and supply chain optimization to supplier risk management, Jim has been on the leading edge of innovation that changes what world-class manufacturing looks like. Since 2013, Jim has focused on the opportunity for manufacturers to harness advanced automation and collaborative robots to transform their operations and how the world thinks about work. He joined Universal Robots in 2018 and today leads the product and applications management of the company’s advanced collaborative robots to manufacturers and distributors all over the world. Jim holds a BS in Electrical Engineering from Tufts University, an MS in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from MIT and an MBA from MIT’s Sloan School of Management, where he was an inaugural Fellow in the MIT Leaders for Global Operations (LGO) program.