collaborative robots: hot market, getting hotter

in rethinking robotics by Jim Lawton

Every month, I see another report from analysts – both investment and industry – wrestling with the estimated size and annual growth of the collaborative robotics market. $4B in 2022? 60% 5-year CAGR? It’s a heady feeling, being as I am in this market – seeing the predictions of rapid growth for this disruptive segment of automation.

But why? What is at the heart of this exponential growth? Beyond the financial reward, there are truly exciting things happening in the field with transformative potential for manufacturers. When we look more closely at the catalysts for adoption, the numbers aren’t just aspirations – they are grounded in good old-fashioned values and results.

manufacturers are hard pressed to fill the jobs they have today. That's where collaborative robots come in.

Overcoming Manufacturers’ #1 Problem

Every conversation we have with manufacturers inevitably circles around to what’s really their #1 problem: sustaining a reliable, productive workforce. Whether it’s the oncoming retirement of nearly half of the current labor force; the opioid epidemic that’s been estimated to affect nearly 25 percent of the target demographic for manufacturing jobs (men ages 25-54), or the skills gap, the reality is that manufacturers are hard pressed to fill the jobs they have today.

kollaborative Roboter können ohne Käfige neben Menschen eingesetzt, kinderleicht trainiert und einfacher von Produktionsstätte zu Produktionsstätte und von Aufgabe zu Aufgabe verlegt werden.

Collaborative robots are now able to tackle a much broader portfolio of tasks. They are safer, which means they can work right in work cells with people. They are able to handle work that requires sensitivity to force and alignment. These robots can adjust to the inherent variability in manufacturing – reacting to less-than-perfect conditions and correcting actions to keep things moving along.

Smart, collaborative robots are able to handle work that requires sensitivity to force and alignment.

These advances mean that manufacturers can automate more, scale up and down as demand requires and focus on the opportunities that come when operations become more efficient.

Data, yes. Insight, well…

Manufacturers love to measure every aspect of operational performance. Cycle time. Productivity. Scrap rates. Rework percentages. The list of metrics used to evaluate performance goes on and on. The amount of data collected is massive, and it lives in many different places. One appealing aspect of the vision for Industry 4.0 is the idea that in the connected factory, the data will be transformed into actionable insight – as machines “talk” with one another and share information with a central source for analysis and data-driven decision making.

Collaborative robots, such as Sawyer, provide data directly on the robot's screen.

The investment in building these integrated operations is huge. While manufacturers see the potential, they tend to be reticent about wholesale change – preferring to test, measure and then expand.

Software-driven robots are the ideal middle ground for balancing the enthusiasm for the factory of the future and the need to prove it, first. These robots are able to collect critical metrics at the work station and work cell levels, provide on-board analysis and reports for decision-making. Advances in cloud robotics will enable robots to share information with other robots and ultimately learn and act based on libraries of shared knowledge about tasks, equipment and requirements.

Software-driven smart, collaborative robots are able to collect critical metrics at the work station and work cell levels.

Starting with one initiative, achieving success and rolling the investment out with confidence gives manufacturers a common-sense approach to disruptive change. We see this approach today with many of our smaller customers who are quick to see opportunity and act on it. It’s only a matter of time before the larger industry gets on board.

So then, what’s the bottom line?  Whatever research report you read, in 12-24 months, the market size for collaborative robots will be bigger than all other segments. There’s good reason for it and we’re excited to be a part of making it happen with our customers.

Next, subscribe above for blog alerts sent directly to your inbox. Then take a look at the Rethink video gallery for examples of how manufacturers around the world are leveraging easy-to-use, software-driven, collaborative robots.


About the Author

Jim Lawton

Jim had a choice upon graduating from Tufts University – chase a dream as a concert pianist or become part of the inaugural Leaders for Manufacturing Program at MIT. He chose the latter– dedicating his career to developing and delivering innovative solutions that improve the business of manufacturing. Internally at HP, and then at breakthrough start-ups in e-commerce, inventory optimization and supply chain risk management, Jim’s never once looked back. His charter today: capture the power of data and analytics to push the standard for world-class manufacturing higher—once again.

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