Autonomous Robots Are Probably The Next Big Leap In Manufacturing

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Ever since the 1960s, manufacturers have been trying to increase the number of robots in their operations. Vendors see them as a surefire way to cut labor costs and increase efficiency. The ultimate goal is to replace practically all human labor with robots up and down the supply chain and essentially churn out good for free. 


It all sounds hopelessly futuristic, though. Today’s robots are incredibly limited in what they can do, and they require precision programming to work correctly. Only the biggest firms can deploy them economically, which is why most of the demand is still in the automaker market. 


That status quo, however, is likely going to change over the next few years. Here’s why. 


The Price Of Robot Components Is Collapsing


Things like sensors and servos cost a lot of money twenty years ago. You had to go to a specialist manufacturer to get a limited run, and so that price you paid per unit was high. 


But with the advent of miniaturization and smartphones, that’s all changing. The size of these components is coming down, which is reducing their cost. And their capacity to do the job is increasing. Thus, decking out a robot with sensors is now much more cost-effective than it ever was in the past. Lower prices mean higher uptake, more market penetration, and greater investment in the underlying technologies. 


More Companies Require Robots To Go Lean


As KUO points out, lean manufacturing is all about producing high-quality outputs while using as few resources as possible. The strategy, first developed by Toyota in the mid-twentieth century, is becoming mainstream as companies attempt to compete with each other on the global stage. 


Gains in efficiency are starting to slow as firms exhaust the available technology stack. But improvements in productivity could resume their long-term trajectory if robots go mainstream. Already, vendors are building simple robots that compete with human workers on a cost-leveled basis. And as prices for components fall, we could see this trend accelerate. 


Robots Are Becoming More Cognitive


Historically, the main issue with robots was that you had to program them to get them to do what you wanted. For instance, engineers spent hours entering code and calibrating machinery in car plants to ensure that it welded bodywork in precisely the right way. Everything had to be set up correctly. 


Robot systems, therefore, were notoriously brittle. The moment something was slightly out of place, the whole production line would come to a screeching halt. 


New robot cognitive technology, however, is changing all this. Machinery can adapt to slight changes in circumstances in real-time. The technology isn’t just following a set routine. Instead, it is responding to objectives and using its intelligence to achieve them. 


Autonomous robots are probably the next big thing for factories, and they will likely arrive ahead of autonomous cars. Most factories are controlled environments, meaning that robots should have no trouble navigating them with ease. Already we see their emergence in the e-commerce industry. We could see them roll out more widely soon. 



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