A 2017 Forbes article about the field of robotics reported a forecast from the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) that 1.7-million new robots would be installed in factories around the world within three years. Six years later, in a Technology Magazine (TM) article in February 2023, IFR reported that 3-million industrial robots are now working in factories around the world.
The TM article described the work performed by robotic equipment as the “tedious, expensive, time-consuming, dirty, dull and dangerous jobs.” The use of robotics for unsavory jobs enables people to perform more valuable and rewarding tasks.
Although there has been conjecture and an increasing number of movies about what a future might look like where we coexist with robots, the immediate real-world outlook involves work.
It’s a given that fewer and fewer people will work at jobs that robotic equipment can do safer, faster, cheaper, with fewer errors. In addition, according to Robots Done Right, a used robots provider, industrial robots can operate for over 100,000 hours when properly maintained. Widespread estimates are that about a third of US jobs will be replaced within two decades by robotic equipment and artificial intelligence (AI). When using robotic equipment on a project saves money, time or even lives, it’s a no-brainer, so to speak.
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However, we need to be mindful of the history of other workforce changes. Industrial upheaval in the past has actually created jobs, particularly new kinds of jobs that we didn’t have the insight to envision. If the explosion in the use of AI services like ChatGPT is any indication, the field of robotics indeed has a firm hold on us as a society, with manufacturing providing the greatest and most immediate opportunity for growth.
Robotic equipment is already in use for mining activities, warehouse packing and shipping, scouting out sewer problems/breaks, disarming/detonating bombs, handling hazardous materials, security work, construction demolition, and myriad other boring, dangerous, repetitive, dirty jobs. In addition, robotic equipment has such diverse uses as toys and performing intricate surgery, space and hostile environment exploration, and food packaging.
Automation is at the center of less expensive, more efficient production of goods. While people continue to have the edge for independent thought and creative juices, there are a number of companies where work is already being shared with cobots (collaborative industrial robots). These innovative robots can share the same physical space with people without the danger of injury from collisions. According to CobotIntel.com, cobots have become commonplace in manufacturing in Canada. Examples of companies making use of cobots in other countries include:
- BMW – auto assembly in the UK;
- CATI – auto parts manufacturing in India;
- Dynamic Group – medical manufacturing in Minnesota;
- Ford – auto assembly in Germany;
- King’s College – greenhouse work in London.
Considering the manufacturing industry, the Robot Report explained in a January 2023 article that more opportunities for robotics research are developing. US government programs and funding are arising from the 2022 CHIPS Act, which directed $280 billion over ten years to strengthen US semiconductor capacity and promote research and development. That will include automation and robotics research. Further robotics research will take place at organizations like the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health.
Because automation promises less expensive, more efficient manufacturing in the long run, it seems the tenacious hold robotics has on manufacturing automation is here to stay.
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