Navigating today’s manufacturing landscape has never been more challenging. On one hand, organizations are experiencing significant labor shortages as baby boomers age into retirement and exit the workforce, taking their skills with them. In fact, Deloitte predicts that a skills gap may leave an estimated 2.4 million positions unfilled between 2018 and 2028. On the other hand, consumers are demanding more than ever from manufacturers, including real time availability, better quality and fair working conditions – at a lower cost. Adding to these challenges is an extremely volatile and unpredictable global economy. Considering these competitive pressures, how can manufacturers still run a profitable production line? By accelerating automation.
We’re not suggesting you add another industrial robot to the factory floor, which cost millions to install, can only be used for specific tasks and require enormous infrastructure to ensure worker safety. Instead, we’re talking about the next generation of collaborative robots (cobots), designed to overcome the constrains of traditional automation and make automation more accessible and effective for all manufactures.
While cobots have been enabling manufactures to run agile operations and increase performance for a decade, today’s cobots are built to do even more. Recent advancements have made it possible for cobots to lift as much as 16 kg, apply the ideal force sensing required for sensitive applications such as screw- and nut-driving, and easily and safely handle heavy-duty applications, including machine tending, heavy-part handling and palletizing.
Here are five ways today’s cobots enable manufacturers to stay competitive and unlock more value:
Repetitive, mundane and ergonomically challenging tasks are ripe for boredom or injury, which also means they’re good options for cobot deployment. In almost any kind of production environment, cobots can significantly increase productivity levels. Cobots work alongside humans, taking on dull, repetitive tasks, reducing human error and allowing humans to be more productive with other more valuable tasks.
Of course, the goal of any business is to be as profitable as possible. When cobots are on the job, manufacturers lower the cost of production at scale and in turn, increase profitability. In fact, a 2019 study done by UK-based research firm Smither Pira found that a 1% decrease in production cost delivers a 34% increase in profit. Humans can leverage cobots as a tool to ensure accuracy and consistency so a plant doesn’t experience any unnecessary downtime – which can be quite costly for any organization – reduce cycle times, enabling manufacturers to deliver the high-quality goods consumers demand at lower production costs.
At first, employees may be skeptical about the addition of cobots to the factory floor, but cobots won’t – and shouldn’t – replace human workers. Instead, they are designed to work alongside humans, taking on the more monotonous, error-prone tasks, and positioning workers to handle the tasks that require more cognition, dexterity and reason. When employees are free from tackling dull and dangerous work, they can take on more rewarding work. In a 2019 report on the consumer packaged goods industry, McKinsey found that extensive automation can ease recruitment and retention by creating new technical roles with better pay, opportunities and working conditions.
As I’ve mentioned, consumers are demanding higher quality goods at lower costs. Cobots play a big role in improving product quality by eliminating human error, ensuring consistency and accuracy, enhancing the ability to create more complex goods, while identifying errors along the way.
Economic uncertainty and unpredictable consumer behavior make it hard for manufacturers to know what to produce, how much, when and where. With cobots, however, manufacturers can scale production up and down as demand requires and expand into new markets more quickly. They can preform any task from metal stamping and testing, and quality inspection, to machine tending. And now, the best cobots have even evolved to be able to automate heavy-duty and multi-part material handling, without compromising on precision. The best part is, a singular cobot can be programmed and redeployed on multiple tasks on the factory floor.
The value companies can reap from cobots is very real. We are well past the hype stage – cobots have been adding significant value across the factory for 10 years now, and today, they are built to do more than ever. We’ve entered the stage where increased automation in manufacturing is no longer a nice to have, it’s a necessity. Organizations that avoid making the investment in cobots are not only missing out on extra value, they are setting themselves up to fail. For manufacturers wanting to survive and win in this highly competitive landscape, cobots are the answer.