AI and Robotics are Driving Factories of the Future
Thu, April 22, 2021

AI and Robotics are Driving Factories of the Future

More factories and manufacturing companies across the world are relying on artificial intelligence and robotics to meet the customer demands. / Photo by: metamorworks via Shutterstock

 

In the age of the internet and globalization, consumer demands for unique and customized products are prompting manufacturing companies to adopt flexible practices. The need to shift from a traditional industrial automation system is important in meeting customer demands at scale and speed. Thus, more and more factories and manufacturing companies across the world are relying on artificial intelligence and robotics to meet these rising demands.

The deployment of AI and robotics in manufacturing production are increasingly being recognized and could bring more benefits as the robotics market grows. Technavio, a leading market research company, reported that the global robotics market size will grow by more than $32 billion from 2018 to 2022—a compound annual growth rate of more than 11 percent.

Among the factors expected to drive the growth of the global robotics market include the advancements in AI and machine learning, surge adoption of Internet of Things (IoT), the widespread use of wireless applications, and the rapid growth of emerging technology. Many manufacturing companies across the world are also adopting robotics in their production. A 2018 report by the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) showed that more and more countries are turning to automation to fill their manufacturing needs.

According to The Robot Report, an online site that provides robotics news, research, analysis, and investment tracking for engineers, technology, and business professionals, South Korea announced that it would spend $450 million to grow its robotics footprint in the next five years. Singapore committed an additional $450 million to its National Robotics Program for three years. This shows that many countries are realizing the need to modernize their manufacturing facilities.

Why Factories of the Future Need AI to Survive

Jim Lawton, chief product and marketing officer of Rethink Robotics, stated that inflexibility is the largest inefficiency in most manufacturers. In traditional industrial automation, companies need to reprogram the systems for hundreds of hours just to change how the task is performed. This will not meet the demands of consumers and is also costly. Additionally, many manufacturers are experiencing tons of issues including unexpected equipment failure and downtimes, poor demand forecasting and capacity planning, inefficient or unsafe workplace processes, longer production periods, and lost revenue.

AI will essentially help in quality control and predictive maintenance of the manufacturing companies. It will enable them to identify potential maintenance issues ahead of schedule and understand the performance patterns of assembly line machines. As a result, they will no longer rely on fixed maintenance schedules, which sometimes cause wasted labor and undiagnosed machine failures. Companies will be able to maintain productive manufacturing operations, improve the performance lifespan of machines, and avoid unplanned downtimes.

According to Forbes, a global media company focusing on business, investing, technology, entrepreneurship, leadership, and lifestyle, investing in AI led many distributors and manufacturers reporting better customer service (95 percent), reduced cost and increased revenue (81 percent), and error reductions and accuracy improvements (76 percent). 

Volkhard Bregulla, vice president of global manufacturing industries at Hewlett Packard Enterprise, said, “AI-enabled predictive maintenance allows manufacturers to achieve 60 percent or more reduction in unscheduled system downtime, which dramatically reduces costs that accumulate across production downtime, part replacements, and inventory.”

Also, AI makes it possible to adapt and strategize the manufacturing processes and production routines of the company. Data analytics company McKinsey's research reported that advanced machine learning algorithms can reduce stock forecasting errors and inventory by 50 percent. Manufacturing companies can remain ahead of the competition since the AI systems are the ones analyzing market data and robotics performance to make key decisions on demand and supply. This also prepares them for sudden changes in market demands.

Advanced Robotics in Factories of the Future

Many manufacturing companies are deploying advanced robotics systems in their production due to their mobility, adaptability, integrability, and superior perception. According to BCG, a global management consulting firm, this allows them for more efficient and stable operation as well as faster setup, commissioning, and reconfiguration. At the same time, robotics can take over tedious or dangerous jobs that can harm human workers. They can perform intricate movements through their precision capabilities. 

Robotics is significantly changing manufacturing production in a better way. They eliminate “microstops” that often occur in con­ventional robotics processes, which increases the productivity on the factory floor. Aside from that, they improve quality on some tasks by delivering greater reliability and precision. According to Robotics Business Review, a leading industry news source for robotics and AI, robots can be used to take on high-risk maintenance activities. This reduces workers’ exposure to dangerous situations or environments.

With both AI and robotics, manufacturing companies can significantly meet global demands leading to bigger revenues. “We will begin to see the rise of smaller production sites being established much closer to the consumers themselves, for example within densely populated cities. This means that manufacturers will be able to dramatically reduce the time from factory to consumer, putting newly developed products into the customer’s hands within minutes or hours,” Bregulla said. 

Indeed, AI and robotics are key technologies in making sure that factories of the future will be a success. However, manufacturing companies need to not only adopt these in their production but also develop a target picture for the factory of the future and identify the most promising applications. This will both meet rising demands and transform the way they make, move, and market their products.

 

Robotics can take over tedious or dangerous jobs in factories that can harm human workers. / Photo by: Jenson via Shutterstock