The global industrial robot market has experienced rapid growth over the past decade with no signs of slowing down.
Expected to reach a value of $73.51 billion by 2023, industrial robots are a hot commodity in industries where high speed and precision are “must-haves.” The electronics manufacturing industry, for example, is now a major consumer of modular robots. Unlike their human counterparts, modular robots are consistently accurate and can assemble parts quickly to meet the increased demand for electronic goods.
From 2016 to 2017, industrial robot sales grew 31% worldwide, and 33% in the electronics industry alone. As demand for things like batteries and chips increases, modular robots will quickly become a staple on electronics manufacturing production lines.
Here are the steps to successfully adopt modular robots into the manufacturing environment.
1. Be Selective
Prior to adding robots to the production process, manufacturers should carefully evaluate which products fit best into their ecosystem to ensure longevity and sustained productivity. When manufacturers neglect to consider the lifespan of the robot, for example, they run the risk of investing in expensive tools that are only good for five years, a relatively short lifespan in the robotics world.
Robots can offer the capability of adjusting to fit multiple manufacturing and assembly needs especially if they’re maintained properly. Variances, such as lubrication and proactive care programs can help extend the life of the robot and optimize uptime and production.
2. Think Ahead
Most electronic products have very short life cycles, with new iterations pushed out to market as soon as the first version hits the shelf. By selecting a robot that can perform a variety of applications, manufacturers can repurpose machines for second, third, and even fourth life cycles. Consider how robots can be recycled for future use cases to help maximize ROI.
Robots are changing quickly. The global robotics market is expected to grow by 60% from 2016 to 2022, and many technological advances will be made along the way. Staying ahead of growing trends and investing in new technologies, like robots, can help manufacturers prepare for these rapid changes.
3. Choose the Right Partner
Given the industry’s rapid growth, buyers will have plenty of options to choose from whether they’re looking to increase efficiencies or automate certain processes. But not every robotics vendor carries solutions representing an entire manufacturing portfolio. When vetting robotics vendors, manufacturers should assess supplier alignment at both the robotics level and the systems integration level.
Finding a vendor that can both support systems implementation and provide the technical know-how increases your chances of ensuring a seamless adoption. This also saves you valuable time and money not having to search for and select multiple solution providers for the different products and solutions that you are looking for.
4. Open Up Communications
Both the electronics and robotics industries are becoming increasingly global in their interactions with other businesses. This can produce a number of cultural and language barriers that impede business development and manufacturing coordination.
Robotics integration is a combination of both physical and intellectual resources, but the two don’t often come from the same location. Product development, for example, might occur in Silicon Valley, but the actual manufacturing of goods is completed overseas in China or Taiwan. When hundreds, if not thousands of miles, separate teams, manufacturers risk running into miscommunications that could delay the production of electronic parts.
That’s why it’s important to find a robotics supplier with a global footprint. This provides not only better communication, but it also allows you to take advantage of business relationships that they have already established, regardless of where your manufacturing takes place.
5. Factor in the Cobot Quotient
Manufacturers are choosing collaborative robots, or ‘cobots,’ more and more. In fact, more than one-third of robots sold by 2025 will feature collaborative applications, according to a recent Loup Venture research report. And for good reason. Collaborative robots can tackle the jobs that fall between the capabilities of humans and industrial robots. They also tend to be cheaper, easier to program, and save money by eliminating the need for security fencing. But there are still things to consider.
These cobots are designed to work alongside humans at a similar space without the need for hard fencing. When workers approach a cobot, the machine’s sensors tell the robot to either slow down their movements or stop them completely. Because of this, cobots tend to be slower than their non-collaborative counterparts, but that doesn’t mean that they still cannot be dangerous. Without the proper safety fences in place, the application that the robot is serving, along with its end-of-arm tooling, will determine whether it still poses a risk to the worker or workers in its area.
Understanding the long-term ROI of robotics and automation can be tricky to calculate. But without taking the time to do proper process analysis, manufacturers may end up investing in tools that are short-lived or that don’t fully meet their needs. That’s why it’s important not to treat feasibility as an afterthought.
As electronics manufacturers redefine their processes to keep up with industry advancements, modular robots will play a crucial role in helping manufacturers maintain efficiency and precision. With thorough vetting and consideration for future needs, electronics manufacturers can successfully implement modular robots to support their long-term business goals.
Florence Acuna is a technical account manager at KUKA Robotics and has expertise in the injection molding space, automotive space, and design for manufacturability practices. Before coming to KUKA, Acuna worked with Tesla for nearly six years in numerous roles and departments such as a senior controls engineer.