Top 5 Industrial Automation and Robotics Trends
Robots have already integrated into many fields of our lives. Especially useful in industrial applications. But specialists still insist that this is just the start and that in the future, robots might change the industry completely. Some evident trends in automation and robotics we can already observe.
Before moving to the trends, let us clarify one important detail: automation and robotics are interconnected, but these are still different terms. Robotics is a technological field, or rather a branch, that works with robots` design, their construction, application, etc. Automation is a complex term that includes robotics, too. However, it is connected not with robotics only but with many more processes.
If you take a company, say, Progressive Automations, you will see that for successful automation, many more aspects shall be considered, not only robots and their functionality. Thus, before checking what you can expect from robotics and its participation in industrial automation, let us check what is needed to start with the automation process at all.
Things to Consider if You Decide to Automate Your Enterprise
While many people believe that automation is a panacea to all the problems in any enterprise, this is far from the truth. The automation process shall be planned properly and prepared in the most thorough way. If you want to automate either the entire factory or some processes, some things need to be considered:
- If the process is flawed, robotic process automation will not solve any problems;
- Flexibility is not the strongest point of RPA; all the instructions shall be clear and exact;
- Robots do not make decisions. Thus, all the processes shall be absolutely straightforward;
- Human intervention is still needed.
It is possible that all these flaws will be eliminated in the nearest future, especially considering the latest developments. Artificial Intelligence, the Industrial Internet of Things, an opportunity for machines to communicate and exchange information, and many more advancements are already available. We can see those changes that are happening. So, it is time to check where robots are moving and what are the main trends in industrial automation and what role robots have in it.
Machine Learning Will Be Improving
Machine learning is the keyword for the future of robotics. Right now, we can observe immense advancements in this field. Artificial Intelligence and the Industrial Internet of Things have already entered many areas of our lives, including industrial automation.
Robots can already see objects and even recognize them. Thus, operations connected with packaging, transportation, assembling, quality control can be performed by robots more efficiently now. It is because they can perceive visual information and process it.
It is expected that in the future, robots will be able to process information based on trial and error and accumulate the needed knowledge to improve the procedures and, finally, to make independent decisions in more or less standard situations. IIOT, with its overall connectivity, will allow machine-to-machine communication. It will increase efficiency levels and reduce production time. The integrated IIOT components will be able to communicate more efficiently and respond to changes faster.
AI and IIOT will allow moving research from labs to manufacturing lines. It, in turn, will greatly influence the way to run the everyday procedures, such as maintenance, repairs, and similar. These technologies will change completely some manufacturing processes, optimize the supply chain, manage bottlenecks, thus, improving productivity and eliminating downtime.
Industrial robots owe their functionality not only to software but to hardware, too. The better mechanical components are, the better opportunities a developer has. That is why manufacturers from all the world are competing to provide better, more functional, more accurate parts for robotics. The quality of such components as motors, gears, actuators, the advancements of gripper technology is improving every second. Robots now can perform extremely accurate movements. Thus, they can be used in more applications.
Improvements in components alone are not going to have any effect unless they are not affordable to most enterprises. Therefore, the leading manufacturers of components for robotics invest a lot in new technologies to reduce the costs of the components. Some companies consider such an option as investing in local facilities rather than manufacturing components in China. This reduction of the supply chain allows for more control and efficiency increase. However, we would say that the recent cybersecurity concerns provide more motivation to do so than any cost-or efficiency-related concerns.
Digital Twin Technology Will Become Widespread
A digital twin is a simulation model of a physical asset. In the industrial automation processes, it can be used in many ways. A digital twin reproduces a physical asset in a virtual space. Designers and developers can work with it as if they were working with a real object in the physical environment.
Specialists can model processes that a physical model will have to perform. The environment in which the real robot will have to work is simulated, too. By observing it, a technician can:
- Get a clearer idea about predictive maintenance;
- See the problematic aspects and eliminate them before the physical model must deal with them.
A manufacturer can model the entire supply chain with the application of a digital twin. It allows to detect and eliminate the possible bottlenecks and issues before the manufacturer faces them with the real supply chain.
Connectivity Increase Thanks to 5G and Satellite Systems
The connectivity among the systems will increase significantly. New connectivity technologies, such as 5G and mobile internet will improve the way systems and individual robots communicate and exchange information. These technologies move the connectivity to the next levels by providing some benefits:
- Satellite systems make the internet available even in remote or difficult access areas. Thus, the IIOT becomes possible where it was earlier not accessible due to the internet absence;
- The speed of the internet improves significantly. It allows for faster and errorless communication among the systems;
- The data from all the systems located in any part of the world can be uploaded in a cloud. Thus, the information becomes accessible for all the other systems to learn from it. It will increase work efficiency.
Some years ago, deploying a robot in a factory was not an easy task. Leave alone the fact that robots were not cheap, they were very demanding. The manufacturer needed to invite a specialist to integrate the robot and to train the manufacturer`s employees to work with the machine. It was a troublesome and expensive procedure.
Robots have changed since then. Now, they are highly technological machines. However, their usability increased a lot. If earlier, all the actuators, connectors, and other components needed to be assembled, now, they are offered in so-called plug-and-play versions. They come already assembled and, in most cases, programmed. The manufacturer either does not need to perform any preparational work or the amount of such work is reduced to a minimum. It encourages more enterprises to move to robotic solutions wherever it is possible rather than continue using human labor.
Industrial automation is a process that cannot be stopped. Manufacturers have noticed the benefits that come with automation. Thus, many people believe that the total automation of all the processes is just a matter of costs and time now. How true is it?
Some jobs are already performed by robots. Especially widely robots are applied in specific fields, where human labor is either less efficient or connected with some dangers to human health and life:
- Heavy labor, such as lifting and moving heavy objects, digging, and similar. In cases where many workers are needed to complete the job, just one robot can do it fast and efficiently.
- Monotonous or repetitive processes that are considered by people as boring. When performing one repetitive action for a long time, a person starts getting distracted and loses focus. It can lead to even injuries, leave alone a drop in efficiency. While for a robot, this is a perfect job.
- Working in hazardous, potentially dangerous environments or severe conditions is the priority of robots. Such an approach helps to protect people from the influence of factors that can damage a person’s health or even lead to death.
- Jobs where it is needed to handle huge work volumes within the shortest time, where a human worker is not able to be so productive, can be done by robots. Robots can work day and night with no breaks.
Thus, industrial automation has just started its way. Robots are being improved and new features are introduced. Very soon, robots will be able to work hand by hand with people. But one thing is for sure: robots will not be able to replace people completely.
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