The Rise of Robots in Industry 4.0

Industrial robots welding in an automotive factory.

According to recent studies, approximately 2.6 million industrial robots will be active by 2019 — or one million more units than just a few short years ago. It's a record-setting pace that yields mixed reactions from the public. While some are skeptical of the role of robots in the future workplace, others are more than willing to embrace industrial robots and all the opportunities they provide in Industry 4.0.

Data Collection

Big data is just as critical to Industry 4.0 as industrial robots. Many of these next-gen, AI-powered machines utilize advanced data sets to monitor day-to-day operations, provide recommendations, and even learn from their mistakes.

Robots are especially popular in predictive maintenance. By monitoring the condition of production hardware and comparing it to recent trends, industry benchmarks, and manufacturers’ specifications, automated robots diagnose machines before they fail. This functionality gives operators and technicians the opportunity to intervene before something goes wrong.

Collaborative Robots

Robots aren't necessarily replacing the jobs of qualified professionals. While some of the more menial, monotonous, and dangerous jobs are often assigned to robots, some manufacturers find that they're more beneficial in a collaborative setting.

Cobots, as they're sometimes known, work alongside humans in all parts of the factory or warehouse. They assist with some of the more challenging jobs, like lifting an engine block to give workers a better angle for attaching parts and tightening bolts. They also transport heavy objects or hazardous materials under the watch of human supervisors.

Recent forecasts indicate that cobots will comprise more than 30% of all industrial robotics sales around the world by 2025. Considering that collaborative robots only took 3% of the market share in 2016, it's safe to say that more manufacturers — and their employees — are embracing cobots over traditional machines.

Hands-On Production

Next-gen robots aren't always relegated to passive roles like workforce monitoring. They're increasingly seen in all corners of the factory floor — including the production line. Robots have a 75% arc-on time compared to a 50% arc-on time for employees in the welding industry. Not only are they faster and more precise than their human counterparts, but they can also work extended hours and never request vacation time.

Since robots are able to work for longer periods of time, fewer people will be needed to run the shop; this is a big advantage to welding companies. Why? Industry leaders estimate that there will be a shortage of 290,000 professional welders in the coming years. One way leaders are looking to bridge this gap is through robotics.

Welding is a discipline that typically requires advanced training and extensive safety precautions; robots can eliminate the need for trained professionals while minimizing the risk of an accident on the job. At the end of the day, robots’ benefits outweigh their disadvantages.

Smaller Form Factors

While older robots are large, unwieldy, and too expensive for many manufacturers, next-gen robots are smaller, more efficient, and more affordable than past iterations. They still use the same number of sensors — sometimes even more — but everything fits within a much smaller form than just a few years ago. Not only does this change make them more accessible to startup operations and factories with limited space, but it ultimately drives down their overall costs too.

It's a trend that's among electronics of all kinds, including computer chips. According to Moore's Law, which was coined by Intel's co-founder, Gordon Moore, in the mid-80s: "The number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits has doubled every year since their invention." As a result, the devices that use these chips — including next-gen robots — become smaller and more affordable over time.

Working With Robots in Industry 4.0

Although robots will replace some manufacturing workers given their increased efficiency and operational sustainability, it's a natural part of their transition to roles of greater scope and responsibility in the workplace. But it's not all bad news for human workers, either, as Industry 4.0 still provides plenty of opportunities for qualified and experienced individuals. Workers that do remain will likely advance to higher ranks in the company or different areas of the factory floor.

 

 

Image Credit: Factory_Easy/Shutterstock.com

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