While making the most of machine learning to become more self-sufficient, the industrial robots of tomorrow will also brush up on their interpersonal skills so they can work more closely with their human colleagues.
The global industrial robotics market share is booming, now accounting for more than 50 percent of the total robot market according to the International Federation of Robotics. It forecasts that in 2020 the global annual sales volume of industrial robots will increase to $23.18 billion, up from to $16.82 billion in 2017.
01. The Rise of Cobots
Human-machine collaboration is a major industrial robotics trend and a driver behind this growth. “Cobots” that are designed for safe physical interaction with humans in a shared workspace are finding their place in a wide range of industries.
Safe coexistence is increasingly important in environments where people need to work closely with robots in more sporadic and intermittent ways, such as bringing robots different materials, changing programs and inspecting new runs.
An added benefit to safe human/robot coexistence is that it allows more flexible factory production flows which are not constrained by safety fences, according to Per Vegard Nerseth – Managing Director of Robotics for Swiss robotics giant ABB.
“Collaboration is critical to increasing manufacturing flexibility to accommodate high mix, low volume production. People can add their unique ability to adapt to change and improvise, while robots add tireless endurance for repetitive tasks.”
02. Artificial Intelligence
Artificial intelligence and machine learning are also set to have a significant impact on the next generation of industrial robotics. This will help robots both become more autonomous and work hand in hand with their human co-workers, according to Bob Doyle – Vice President of the Robotic Industries Association (RIA) and A3 Mexico Association for Advancing Automation (A3).
“One trend I am watching closely in 2019 is the convergence of AI, robotics and machine vision. This convergence from relatively disparate technologies is opening up new opportunities that haven’t ever been utilized before. Examples of startups doing this include Plus One Robotics and RightHand Robotics.”
03. New Industrial Users
Decreasing dependence on the automotive industry is another key trend as other industries embrace the efficiency and flexibility that industrial robots can provide. For decades, the success of the industrial robotics market was joined at the hip to the growth of the automotive industry. That has started changing in recent years as other sectors have accelerated their adoption of robots, Doyle says.
“Traditionally, the automotive industry has accounted for more than 60 percent of the North American market, but that number is down to 52 percent through September 2018, with non-automotive orders at 48 percent – the closest these two segments have been in the history of RIA’s reporting that dates back to 1984. Among the non-automotive industries that set new records were life sciences, food and consumer goods, plastics and rubber, and electronics. We believe that as robots have become more dexterous, safer and available in a variety of form factors, they have become more appealing to new users in a wide variety of industries.”
Digitalization is also having an impact as connected industrial robots take their place in the digital manufacturing ecosystem as part of Industry 4.0. This is improving efficiency, productivity and reliability throughout the entire production cycle from engineering and commissioning to operating and maintenance, says ABB’s Nerseth.
“Digitalization enables greater collaboration across the value chain – either horizontal collaboration between supplier, manufacturer and distributor, or vertical collaboration within a factory such as between e-commerce front ends and CRM systems, business ERP systems, production planning and logistics automation systems. Both of these types of collaboration can create better customer experiences and increase manufacturing efficiency, with greater engineering efficiency to switch with agility between products or launch new offerings faster.”
05. Smaller and Lighter Robots
The push for simplification, combined with smaller and lighter designs, is also opening up new opportunities for industrial robots, says Yang Luo – chief executive officer of Chinese robotics giant SIASUN.
“Industrial robots are getting smaller, lighter and more flexible as more cutting-edge technologies are added into industrial robots, such as Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence. SIASUN started to develop human-machine collaborative robots, or Cobots, in 2015. This kind of robot is lightweight, easily programmed and could work together with a human, enabling industrial customers to ensure quality whilst optimizing production costs.”