Manufacturers and engineers tend to have a love-hate relationship with robotics. Millennials typically favor next-gen robotics due to their efficiency and ease of use, but older generations are more skeptical about their benefits. For them, the fear of industrial automation taking over the jobs of human workers is already very tangible.
While some of these fears are legitimate concerns, increased industrial automation is generally viewed favorably by our society. As a result, next-gen technology is making its way into nearly every nook and cranny of the manufacturing industry and, in turn, throughout our daily lives.
1. Warehouse Logistics
Historically, most robotics applications were limited to assembly-line operations. As industrial robots become more sophisticated and capable of assuming more responsibility, manufacturers have begun exploring their use in the warehouse.
Automated robots navigate large storerooms and complex floor plans much more quickly, safely and efficiently than their human counterparts, so warehouse-bound robots have the potential to cut long-term costs significantly.
The aerospace industry is also exploring new and advanced applications in industrial robotics. Although human researchers and development teams are necessary to conceptualize breakthroughs, visualize new blueprints, and verify operability, the industry has delegated much of the grunt work to industrial robots.
Boeing, which began operations in 1916 as the Boeing Airplane Company, is focused on automation that will "improve employee safety by removing ergonomic risks," according to spokesperson Nate Hulings. The company was among the first to deploy robots in the aerospace sector.
3. Automotive Manufacturing
Top automotive manufacturers have used robotics for decades, and the trend is increasing as robots become more affordable and efficient. North America received more than 20,000 new units between 2011 and 2013, and a sharp uptick occurred at the beginning of 2014. Capital investments have also experienced dramatic increases in recent years.
One reason behind the increasing acceptance of robots is their versatility. Factories can easily modify or upgrade new designs to accommodate any tools or hardware they need for the job, including air compressors. As pneumatic and air-powered equipment is necessary for many stages of automotive manufacturing, it makes sense this industry is among the first to take robots away from the assembly line and into roles of greater scope and accountability.
4. Woodworking and Construction
Lumberyards and construction sites can host dozens of individual workers at any given time. Between contractors and subcontractors, skilled trade workers and general laborers, these are hectic and fast-paced work environments. To reduce some of this organized chaos, and to help cut costs, companies have moved much of the work they used to do onsite to a workshop or manufacturing facility.
Robots easily build pallets, cut lumber to size and plane wood according to exact requirements. Manufactured homes are growing in popularity, many of which next-gen robots assemble — at least, in part. In some cases, builders even bring robots to the construction site for simple framing jobs.
5. Home and Office Furniture
Consumers often save money on new furniture by purchasing it in unassembled kits. Some pieces are easier to assemble than others, and some complex designs require special tools or hardware — which may or may not come with the purchase.
But many manufacturers, including Steelcase — a manufacturer of office furniture — are capable of handling most of this work before shipping. They've recently implemented multiple computer-controlled collaborative robots (or 'cobots') in their production facility in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Instead of taking away the jobs of current workers, they work alongside them to handle the more arduous or mundane tasks — and it results in a better product in the end.
Working Alongside Robots, Cobots and Next-Gen Technology
Whether you embrace the idea or stand adamantly against it, there's no denying the widespread integration of robots is already happening. Experts in the field agree that, at least for now, robots are stuck with the monotonous, mundane jobs skilled human workers would rather pass up.
Embracing the movement and working in tandem with technology is necessary to uncover the true potential of next-gen robotics and to determine the exact role humans will play in automated manufacturing.
Kayla Matthews is an independent technology writer at Productivity Bytes.