SAPVoice: The Reality Of Robots In Manufacturing


By Brian Dickinson, Solution Management Global Lead, SAP Mill Products

In 1984, James Cameron’s The Terminator blasted its way onto movie screens and created a renewed interest around sci-fi action movies and the impact of robots on society.

Sure, the topic of robots has been around for many years but lately there seems to be a Terminator-like emphasis on their use and impact on society, such as how robots affect manufacturing jobs. This very topic was recently discussed in this Chicago Tribune article ‘Why robots, not trade, are behind so many factory job losses:

Research shows that the automation of U.S. factories is a much bigger factor than foreign trade in the loss of factory jobs. A study at Ball State University‘s Center for Business and Economic Research last year found that trade accounted for just 13 percent of America’s lost factory jobs. The vast majority of the lost jobs — 88 percent — were taken by robots and other homegrown factors that reduce factories’ need for human labor.

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That’s not all. As the Chicago Tribune piece points out, since 1997, the United States has lost 265,000 jobs in the production of primary metals — a 42 percent plunge — at a time when such production in the U.S. has surged 38 percent. According to the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), for the third year in a row, robot sales are at an all-time high. By 2018, the IFR estimates that 2.3 million industrial robots will be in operation across the globe.

These eye-opening stats underscore the widespread adoption of robots and how they will interact with bleeding edge technologies like The Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (A.I.). Here is a round-up of additional proof points:

An April 2017 article Industry Week ‘GM Cuts Down Time with 7,500 Connected Robots’  says that in 2016, automotive factories installed 17,600 robots compared with 5,100 for electronics manufacturers and 1,900 for metal producers, according to the federation. Hooking robots to the internet for preventive maintenance is just the start of a spurt of new robotics technology.

Tany Anandan’s article in Robotics Online – ‘The Business of Automation, Betting on Robots’ - outlines many drivers of robotics including production, rise of China, IoT and the Smart Factory. Here’s more:

Depending on who you ask, the “big news” in automation and robotics varies from AI and the Internet of Things, to human-robot collaboration, and even commercial drones. But our contributors agree on one area in particular. All eyes are on China.

Industry 4.0 and the Smart Factory: Many recent advancements in automation and robotics have an AI component. Industry 4.0 or the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is no longer an abstract theory. Advanced sensors, sophisticated software, and autonomous actuators are raising the factory’s intelligence. The smart factory of the future is already here.

Internet of Robotic Things (IoRT): Last fall, ABI Research’s Dan Kara introduced a new concept, the Internet of Robotic Things (IoRT). He distinguishes it from IoT, which largely focuses on using connected devices with simple, passive sensors to monitor and optimize systems. IoRT, on the other hand, uses devices to fuse sensor data from a variety of sources, uses “intelligence” to determine a best course of action, and then acts to control or manipulate objects in the physical world, while in some cases, moving through that world. “We’re talking about robotic devices that actuate dynamically, that have some degree of movement in the physical world and with some degree of autonomy,” explains Kara. “That combination of sensing, communication, processing, plus actuation takes IoT to a completely different level. It can improve robotic manipulation and grasping, navigation and localization, and path planning.”

Obviously, robots are being used much more in manufacturing as applications become more sophisticated. IoT and A.I. will further spur development of robots that will work alongside humans. Companies of all shapes and sizes will embrace these changes to reduce costs and improve efficiency.

On a more positive note, technology such as A.I. and Big Data has increased the need for higher skilled jobs in the areas of data science or other positions that now can use data to improve the growth or strategy of a company.

Would love to hear more stories about experiences with robots in your industry.

This story also appeared on the SAP Community.

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