Robotics is an interdisciplinary field that integrates computer science and engineering. Robotics involves design, construction, operation, and use of robots. Robotics, design, construction, and use of machines (robots) to perform tasks done traditionally by human beings.
Overview of Industrial Robots
Stand-alone industrial robots
- The International Federation of Robotics (IFR) estimates that in 2017, there were around 2.1 million stand-alone industrial robots installed worldwide, with a shipment of 381,000 units globally
- The largest applications include materials handling operations like machine tending (178,000 units), welding and soldering (82,000 units), and assembling (47,000 units).
- Automotive, i.e., OEMs and, increasingly, automotive suppliers, is the largest industry with 126,000 units, followed by the electrical and electronics industry with 121,000 units.
- Stand-alone industrial robots require the presence of safety equipment – such as fences with gates interlocked to the system for safety – and operate exclusively without direct contact with human workers.
- They are usually fixed (i.e., stationary) and programmed for a specific application
- Collaborative robots do not need safety fences for safe operations
- Onboard safety mechanisms and a process design that enables collocation and collaboration allow these robots to operate directly and safely alongside human workers
- Collaborative robots provide an advantage wherever workers benefit from physical support – for example, by improving process ergonomics and potentially giving older workers or workers with restricted physical ability the assistance they need to be successful in manufacturing
- Also known as automated guided vehicles (AGVs) – can be used in a range of applications, including warehouses and distribution centers, manufacturing intralogistics, agriculture, and other environments (especially in logistics in hospitals or retail)
Reason for Growing Demand
- Decreasing prices: Smaller, lower-cost robot applications are in high demand. Finally, lower cost of producing robots (e.g., through increasing production in lower-cost regions) leads to decreasing prices (a more than 50% drop in average robotics costs since 1990)
- Increasing variety of models: Robots have not only become larger and can handle heavier loads (due to an exponential growth of payload from 6 kg to 1,000 kg), but they also feature more axes and require fewer controllers, as in some cases, more than 30 axes can be synchronized by one controller.
- Greater technical abilities: Greater precision, for example, enables new applications (e.g., in electronics manufacturing) and safer use (e.g., alongside humans to automate tasks that could previously not be automated). Mobility is another technical advancement, opening the area of intralogistics automation to robotics application.
- Increasing labor costs: The significant rise in labor costs itself is due not only to increasing people/worker and skills shortages but also to an increase in cost-intensive labor transience, as it is no longer uncommon for people to move from job to job
- Ease of integration: Advances in computing power, software development techniques, and networking technologies have made assembling, installing, and maintaining robots faster and less costly than before.
- IFR estimates that the total market for industrial robotics systems was already USD 48 billion8 in 2017 (see Exhibit 1). Of this revenue, the robot itself creates about 30% of the revenue, accessories make up about 25%, and service (including auxiliary hardware, software and programing, and installation) the remaining 45%
Challenges for Adoption
- Automotive players identify the cost of robots as the primary challenge to adoption. They also experience a lack of availability of fitting robotics or automated solutions into current workflows.
- Electronics players share the need for lower costs but also highlight the lack of backward compatibility/retrofitting as a primary challenge.
- Pharma companies are very similar to their electronics counterparts in their need for lower costs and better backward compatibility.
- Drones are aircraft that do not have a human pilot on board. The aircraft is either remotely controlled by a pilot on the ground or autonomously controlled by computer systems on the aircraft.
- Drones can be used in various warehouse operations, from inbound logistics in time-critical situations; carrying materials from storage to factory; transporting directly from receiving to shipping; or efficiently scanning inventory and significantly reducing labor costs
- In the telecom industry, drones are used to conduct high-quality site audits in a single pass, offering detailed panoramic and top-down views of lattice towers
- In media and photography, drones are expanding customized offerings to include aerial views and camera angles for real estate and high-end event productions
- For emergency relief operations, drones can replace expensive helicopters and arrive at difficult-toreach rural areas to send supplies and provide support
- In agricultural applications, drones provide data for smarter irrigation and more targeted application of chemicals, while removing pilots from potentially hazardous flying in tightmaneuvering spaces.
RPA (Robotic Process Automation)
- Robotic process automation is a way to automate repetitive and often rule based processes. These transactional processes are typically located within a shared services center or another part of the back office
- RPA is computed coded software, programmes that replace humans performing repetitive rule based tasks, cross functional and cross applicational macros
- Robots can be seen as a virtual workforce assigned to middle- and back-office processing centers. There are also applications for which software assists front-office staff—for instance, prompting contact center agents during customer interactions and automatically capturing call close notes, a mode; known as “attended automation”
- The integration of cognitive technologies with RPA makes it possible to extend automation to processes that require perception or judgment (e.g. Chatbots)
- Virgin Trains has deployed cognitive RPA to automatically refund customers for late running trains. As customer emails arrive, a natural language processing tool reads, understands meaning and sentiment, categorizes, and then recognizes key information in the text to service the customer quickly and cleanly
Table 1. Worldwide RPA Software Revenue (Millions of U.S. Dollars)
- Industry 1.0: Mechanization: Industrial production based on machines powered by water and steam
- Industry 2.0: Electrification: Mass production based on the assembly line
- Industry 3.0: Automation: Automation based on electronics and computers
- Industry 3.5: Globalization: Offshoring of production to low-cost economies based on lower communication and containerization costs
- Industry 4.0: Digitization: Introduction of digital technologies
- Industry 4.0—a megatrend aimed at transforming automation—has promised to catalyze significant changes in the capabilities and design of industrial robotics.
- Industry 4.0 hinges on digitalization and communication, promoting an interconnected factory that can leverage real-time analytics of collected data to optimize production
- Key companies: DJI; Parrot Drones SAS; Xiaomi; AeroVironment Inc.; 3D Robotics; INSITU; EHANG