Robotics and Its Effect on Manufacturing

April 7th, 2012

Who, or what, is working next to you? Sooner or later, it is likely to be a robot rather than a human. In the eyes of many, the use of robots is long overdue. In fact, even ten years ago, people in the industry were warning that people would soon be doing far less work and robots would be doing much more. Keeping that in mind, individuals may need to take into consideration how robotics will play a role in the manufacturing industry going forward.

Robotics Isn’t New

It is important to keep in mind that the use of robotics in the manufacturing industry is not something new. In fact, robots have been in the business since 1961. That’s when General Motors introduced Unimate into their production lineup. This 4,000-pound arm did a great deal of work that would have taken humans much longer to do. Dangerous and boring tasks are no problem for Unimate. These machines are not late for the job and they perform without needing to take breaks. That makes them better, you would think.

However, these systems are not always the best option. In fact, robotics is not always a good option in manufacturing. In any task requiring decision making, it takes a human brain to make it happen. This also includes tasks where creativity is important or where the need for adaptation is critical. In some situations, a simple task is just not what needs to be done. That’s where these robots become limited.

What Robotics Does Offer

Keeping in mind the limitations, there are still many situations in which robotics make sense in manufacturing.

  • Productivity is never higher than when a robot is doing the work. Program them, turn them on and let them go.
  • Quality improves as well, especially when precision in each piece needs to be spot on. There’s no mistakes made in this process.
  • For businesses that need to increase productivity and decrease costs, the hiring of these robots, instead of paying unskilled workers, makes sense. It makes these manufacturing businesses able to compete with the low cost of labor in countries like China.
  • New machines are able to learn and expand on their skills. Though they are unable to make decisions without some level of input, it is now possible to apply robotic technologies in more applications, even in more complex processes requiring decision making.

The effect of robotics on the manufacturing industry is nothing short of profound. With 60 percent or higher increase in productivity, there’s no doubt the use of robotics is here to stay. Yet, that does not mean the human’s job is on the line, at least not yet. For many businesses, there is still plenty of time to move beyond the limitations in the manufacturing process and to push forward with the aid of robots.

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