Henry Ford implemented the moving assembly line in 1913 and, in the process, reduced the amount of time it took to build a car from 12 hours to one and a half.
Since then, manufacturers have iterated on Ford’s original idea, implementing more advanced technology in an effort to up production and bring down costs.
In manufacturing, automation is used to perform repetitive, mundane or dangerous tasks with minimal (or no) human intervention. These days, automotive manufacturers are still a top automation adopter, along with avionic, consumer goods, food and beverage, and medical instrument manufacturing organizations.
The benefits of automation in manufacturing
In an industry that’s constantly trying to up production without adding cost, automation technology is a boon. With it comes:
- Faster production
- Greater system reliability
- Safer working conditions for employees
- Higher job satisfaction among employees
- Reduced costs
- More reliable product safety
- Improved quality and consistency of products
Of course, there are always drawbacks. For instance, many companies struggle with the high startup costs of automation-related hardware, software and talent acquisition. Some manufacturers aren’t a great fit for robotics simply due to what they produce. Complex detailing such as is found in fine jewelry production may be too complicated for current robotic capabilities.
Compared to the early robotics days of the 1950s, industrial robotics systems boast higher computing power, better visual capacity and more precise movement capabilities. However, most still need to operate in a highly structure environment that’s controlled by human workers.
For small- and medium-sized production facilities, today’s robots are sometimes too inflexible to be cost-effective. They’re so specialized in their abilities that they’re usually best used in long production runs by large manufacturers.
Luckily, Robotics as a Service (RaaS) is gaining traction.
Some robotics companies are using the RaaS model to help manufacturers gain access to automation technology without having to pay huge overhead costs. These contracts can also include preventive and corrective maintenance, so the manufacturer doesn’t have to find and train the right human workers themselves.
Automation adoption is expected to rise exponentially in the next decade. Particularly, after the COVID-19 pandemic, manufacturers are looking to technology to keep their workers safe and avoid future disruption.
Other changes that will expand adoption include:
- Decreasing costs
Prices are falling for automation hardware and software, and the amount of professionals with the necessary skill set is rising.
- Easier integration
Implementing automation technology has become faster, easier and cheaper thanks to advancements in computing power and networking, especially the Internet of Things(IoT).
- New capabilities
As robots and artificial intelligence becomes more advanced, so will their ability to integrate feedback and make more complex decisions.