How COVID continues to drive manufacturing
COVID-19 changed so much in the world, from losing loved ones to financial distress for individuals and businesses. It also changed a lot of things in industry — fostered innovation in pharmaceutical and vaccine science, made remote working the norm for many workers, and made Zoom meetings more of a reality for everyone. And its influence continues. At a recent NFPA conference, Donna Ritson of DDR Communications shared results from an industry survey done for the Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute looking at the future of robots and cobots for automation.
Ritson explained that COVID is still driving a lot of decisions and changes in manufacturing.
“In general, it’s driving more automation. In an independent study we conducted, about a third of the people participating had already implemented robots and cobots in new technology,” she said.
Robot experts are also looking for functional improvements needed for the greater adoption of pneumatics in robots and cobots, such as the ability to move heavier objects and more seamless integration of pneumatic controls.
“We’re talking about less programming and more teachable operations, and integration of those pneumatic controls into the cobot, the regulators and the valves, the feedback loops to achieve a more plug and play compatibility,” she said. “And plug and play is something that we definitely hear about; it is desirable because that decreases the need for programming. The industry is looking for a broader range of solutions from pneumatics and cobots and robots.”
From a spending perspective, Ritson’s data shows that more than half of the companies surveyed plan to spend more in the next decade on robots, cobots, and automation than they had in the past 10 years. The spending level is increasing — they know they need this type of automation, as labor will remain difficult to find.
“Companies are expecting their suppliers to provide a solid business case,” she said. “They’re saying, ‘Give us the reasons why robots and cobots will help us improve our operations.’ You may have to conduct a plant audit, go into their facilities, and help them find the applications that they need to improve. Where is labor lacking, and how can automation be part of that?”
The main challenge for integrating robots and cobots lies in the questions of where to put them, where can productivity be improved, and where can the best efficiency be added.
While COVID has helped push us faster in this direction, we need to actively think about these issues, whether we’re building the robots and cobots — or whether we’re going to be using them in our own manufacturing facilities. Either way, the future is coming, faster and faster.
Paul J. Heney – VP, Editorial Director
Filed Under: DIGITAL ISSUES