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The Robots Are Here

As automation continues to proliferate in the electronics manufacturing and distribution environments, what industrial robotics will your company be buying and using this year?

Often looked upon as inanimate objects that threaten to replace the human workforce—or sensationalized in sci-fi flicks like “Robocop”—robotics is of keen interest right now to companies that want to work more efficiently and productively without having to hire more labor.

“Increase in demand for automation and rapid growth in industrialization foster the use of industrial robots,” Allied Market Research points out in a new report, noting that increased adoption of these robots is producing benefits like greater efficiency, reduced human errors, and enhanced workforce safety. “Industrial robots deliver high-quality products and services, increase the capabilities of manual labor in terms of efficiency, provide better customer service, and efficiently manage processes.”

A Growing Market

Operating in a market where unemployment rates are hovering at historic lows, and where finding skilled labor has become difficult for companies across all industries, companies are investing in more robots and deploying advanced technology that drives those machines.

Led by manufacturers like Daihen, Denso, KUKA Robotics, Epson, and Mitsubishi, the industrial robotics market is expected to reach nearly $71 billion in sales by 2023—up from $38 billion in 2016, according to Allied Market Research. The sector is on target to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 9.4% from 2017 to 2023.

Pointing to the packaging and healthcare sectors as the key users of articulated robots (i.e., those with rotary joints and powered by electric motors and other means), the firm says cylindrical and other types of robots (e.g., customized and refurbished) are expected to grow at rates of 11% and 11.6% CAGR (respectively) in the coming years. Industrial sectors of the Asia-Pacific region are particularly high users of such robots.

Used in automotive, electrical and electronics, chemical, rubber and plastics, machinery, metals, food and beverage, precision and optics, and other industries, industrial robots continue to reign in their category. For example, the automotive sector has invested significantly in the industrial robot category, while the food and beverage segment’s use of robotics is expected to grow at a CAGR of 11% over the next few years, Allied Market Research reports.

The Need to Automate Production

Both manufacturers and distributors are looking more closely at robotics right now. In 2018, for example, DHL announced that it was investing $300 million to quadruple robots in its warehouses in 2019. The robots are being used to modernize 60% of DHL’s North American warehouses with more Internet of Things (IoT) sensors and robots, Venture Beat reports.

DHL’s warehouse robots will work primarily with unit-picking operations and will be able to complete a range of tasks, from collaborative piece picking to shuttling items across a factory to following human packers, the publication notes.

Within the electrical and electronics industry, robot sales increased by 33% to a new peak of 121,300 units, accounting for a share of 32% of the total supply in 2017, the publication notes. “The rising demand for electronic products and the increasing need for batteries, chips, and displays were driving factors for the boost in sales,” IFR’s Junji Tsuda told Assembly Magazine. “The need to automate production increases demand.”

Because robots can handle very small parts at high speeds, and with varying degrees of precision, they can help electronics manufacturers ensure quality while optimizing production costs. “The expanding range of smart end-effectors and vision technologies extends the range of tasks that robots can perform in the manufacture of electronic products,” Tsuda concluded.

Smarter Robots Ahead  

The robotics field is anything but stagnate. In fact, its end-products are getting smarter and smarter every year. Advanced technology like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), the cloud, and the Internet of Things (IoT) are helping to make robots even more useful—a trend that’s prompting more manufacturers to invest in robotics. The cloud, for example, has become increasingly vital to industrial automation and helps companies gain increased computational power, storage, and communications.

These gains aren’t going unnoticed. In fact, the IFR predicts that in 2021 the annual number of robots supplied to factories around the world will reach about 630,000 units. China, Germany, Japan, South Korea, and the United States are the five major markets for robots, representing 73% of the total sales volume in 2017, the publication reports. China has expanded its position in the sector, with the strongest demand and a market share of 36% of the total supply that year.

“Industrial robots are a crucial part of the progress of the manufacturing industry,” Tsuda told the Assembly Magazine. “Robots evolve with many cutting-edge technologies such as machine vision, easy-to-use programming, skill learning, failure prediction utilizing artificial intelligence, and new concepts of man-machine collaboration.”

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