Is Your Industrial Facility Ready for the Future?
American author, inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil famously predicted that “Artificial Intelligence (AI) will drive our economy and change the way we live.” He was right. Over the past decade, we have witnessed tectonic changes to long-standing business models, especially in manufacturing. What was once seen as temporary disruptions are now long-term trends, many of them driven by emerging technologies and digitization.
Today’s rapidly evolving automation technology, combined with other global trends, means that manufacturers are forced to constantly rethink their operational models. So, what does that mean for your business?
Here are some compelling facts to consider:
- International economic trends, including rising shipping container rates and increasing labor costs in China, are causing many U.S. companies to reconsider domestic manufacturing
- Already, 40 percent of U.S. manufacturers are using robots on their production lines in some capacity
- Between 1980 and 2013, industries using manufacturing automation or robotics expanded at a rate of 5.4 percent annually — 30 percent faster than the economy as a whole
- The cost of robotics continues to decline. For example, the expense of owning and operating a robotic spot welder has tumbled from $182,000 in 2005 to $133,000 last year. It’s expected to drop to just $103,000 by 2025
- Enhanced AI and versatility have helped robotics spread beyond the heavy and automotive industries into the food, beverage, distribution and pharmaceutical sectors. All signs point to even more dramatic increases in robotics capabilities and usage which should help reduce barriers to entry for smaller competitors.
- Many young people in the U.S. today express little interest in traditional factory jobs, which they often perceive as lower-skilled than other careers. Manufacturers that use robotics are attracting more workers with a higher set of skills.
These trends, in combination with competitive pressures and customer demands, mean that more advanced robots and automation technology may be in your facility sooner than you think.
Here are some simple tips that will help save you money in the long run:
- Plan ahead for equipment selection and layout. Determine how much space you will need and how to arrange your equipment for maximum efficiency.
- Plan now for future growth. Automation generally leads to rapid growth and increased profitability. Don’t underestimate the space for the new equipment you will need when that happens.
- Give your robots plenty of elbow room. You should know your robotics and automation “envelopes” — how much space do they require to operate efficiently and safely?
- You’ll need ceiling heights of 36 to 40 feet. Most older facilities only have 14’-16’ ceilings. Take advantage of all the space you’ve got, from the floor to the ceiling — think in three dimensions.
- Think like a Zamboni operator. Automated moving equipment requires smooth and level floors. After all, you may end up with an entire fleet of robots; for example, Amazon has 15,000 of them spread over ten warehouses!.
- Plan clear flight paths inside your facility. Drones are being tested by Walmart in a massive warehouse the size of 21 football fields. It takes workers about a month to scan the inventory for the entire building, but a drone can do it in just 24 hours.
- Allocate enough time and resources for employee education. You’re going to need highly trained internal and external support, so it makes sense to set aside training areas. Robotics will augment your team so they can do things that were once impossible.
- Connect everything — your equipment, robotics, employees, suppliers, and systems — to achieve these goals:
- Increase speed. Build in fiber-optic connections and test for robust Wi-Fi (as well as Near Field Communication quite soon) to boost throughput and reduce downtime
- Improve quality. Continuously monitor the size, thickness, and strength of your parts and products
- Multi-task. Some newer robots can do several different jobs, such as welding, riveting, bonding and assembly
- Lower costs. Practice predictive maintenance through constant monitoring by your team and robotics suppliers
Will robots be running your facility soon? Don’t worry, you can still be the brains of the operation. With robotics and automation driving costs down and profits up, make sure your business and your building(s) are ready.
For discuss your facility needs, contact Denny Whitehead 937.293.0900.
(Special thanks to Yaskawa Motoman for robotics industry information.)