As labor shortages in the manufacturing industries continue to swell, the uptick in demand for robotics is expected to continue. Moreover, software intelligence is making robots more adaptable, further lowering barriers to adoption and allowing new users to begin automating more easily. The result is a world in which robotic technologies are becoming more ubiquitous than ever before.
"The pandemic accelerated far-reaching global mega trends—from labor shortages and supply chain uncertainty to the individualized consumer and growing pressures to operate sustainably and resiliently—leading new businesses to look to robotic automation,” said Marc Segura, robotics division president at ABB. “As technology opens new opportunities for meeting customer demands, new trends will continue to emerge that will further drive demand in areas where robots have traditionally not been used.”
In particular, Segura identified three key trends that ABB expects to shape demands for industrial robots in 2022.
Trend 1: Electric Vehicles Will Bring Changes to Automotive Manufacturing
As tighter emissions regulations and fuel economy standards drive automotive manufacturers to decrease the production of internal combustion engine vehicles and pivot toward electric cars instead, automotive supply chains may be thrown for a loop. This is because electric vehicles require many components that internal combustion engine vehicles do not. Most notably, automotive companies will seek to bring the manufacturing of batteries as close to vehicle assembly as possible to meet sustainability requirements. This means new facilities will need to be built. According to Segura, these new facilities will most likely make significant use of autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) to enable more modular and flexible production. Segura sees this shift occurring as automotive manufacturing attempts to become more responsive to rapidly changing demand.
Trend 2: E-Commerce Will Create More Demand for Flexible and Mobile RobotsWith mass customization continuing to sweep over the consumer goods markets, companies need to find new ways to adapt their production lines and distribution processes to enable personalization in both manufacturing and delivery. Fulfilling these needs will require the adoption of more mobile, flexible, and intelligent robotic technologies.
“This trend will see the growth of lighter, smaller robotic applications, enabling the expansion of automation into new areas of warehousing and distribution operations. As artificial intelligence in robotics matures and learning robots become mainstream, expect to see these technologies deployed alongside AMR technologies, orchestrated and managed by intelligent software to provide enhanced flexibility, speed, and efficiency,” Segura said.
Trend 3: Robots Use Will Expand Significantly, Requiring Worker Retraining
At smaller companies that are less-experienced with robot use, more affordable robots that feature collaborative functionality and intuitive programming will continue to proliferate. In particular, high-mix, low-volume manufacturers that use CNC machines to produce parts and components for other companies are drawn to collaborative robots because they can work directly alongside human employees to assist in tasks such as machine tending. Moreover, the advances in software intelligence that enable this adaptability and responsiveness could also help robots migrate into new environments such as construction, healthcare laboratories, restaurants, and retail establishments.
According to Segura, as robots become more commonplace in society, widespread education about their use and operation will be required at primary and secondary schools, as well as at colleges and universities.