Finding Robots in New Industries and Company Positions

Robert Brice
Mon, May 2, 2016
Machines now work next to employees on food production lines.
Machines now work next to employees on food production lines.

Robots continue to be a popular trend for assembly lines, but now it seems they're no longer confined to the traditional manufacturing industries. While the public is familiar with automated machines constructing large items like automobiles, modern robots can work with a variety of goods made in a multitude of sizes. Due the convenience and cost-efficiency of automation, more companies can bring innovative solutions into many parts of their enterprise. That includes production and warehouse management.

The Number Behind Robotic Proliferation
The Seattle Times shared results from a recent Deloitte and MHI survey of 900 logistics industry experts that found interest in robotic workers increased 12 percent between 2015 and 2016. The majority of company representatives said automated machines have the potential to disrupt existing best practices and give organizations a competitive advantage. Currently, robotic implementation sits at about 33 percent for the industries polled, but that number is projected to climb to 74 percent by 2016.

Many companies that once ignored robotic achievements - whether due to size or industry - adopt automated manufacturing and distribution machines into their daily settings. PricewaterhouseCoopers reported on data from the Robotics Industry Association that suggested manufacturing automation is now used for projects other than traditional assembly. In 2005, automotive clients accounted for 69 percent of robot orders in the U.S. By 2014, the number dropped to 56 percent. It's not that automotive orders have substantially declined, it's that more industries ask for automated machines.

Automated Machines in New Industries
Between 2005 and 2014, the use of robotic tools in the food and consumer good industries more than doubled. The Wall Street Journal detailed how a bakery in Switzerland implemented automated packaging tools to move freshly baked products while they were still hot. Not only do machines perform tasks that are too dangerous or harmful for human employees, but the consistency offered by automated devices and routines creates an easily maintained standard of quality. This is especially important for industries like food manufacturing and pharmaceuticals, which need meticulous data records to demonstrate safe production processes to government regulators.

As robots get smaller and offer flexible performance, they can move into more industries and business spaces. Inc. shared the story of the YuMi robot and how it works alongside human employees to help build consumer electronics. The YuMi machine can handle small and delicate mechanisms to perform precision work.

Businesses look for robots that can do a variety of tasks and that are easy to implement into existing facilities. Mobility is a key factor as more companies also utilize mobile data collection devices on factory floors to report progress by employees and manufacturing machines.

Robots Working in Warehouses
A PricewaterhouseCooper survey found manufacturing and machining were the primary jobs performed by robots in 2014. At the time, warehousing and performing dangerous tasks were the least represented duties, but that should change as warehouse management devices become more cost-efficient and practical.

Supply chains may consider using robots for particular tasks, especially ones that prove dangerous for human employees. According to Materials Handling and Logistics, businesses bring flying drones into operations to grab inventory that's too high to reach easily. Drones with automated programming can navigate tight spaces and pick items off of top shelves as easily as any other.

Instead of just using robots to pick one item at a time, ItWorld detailed how an automated machine team can grab items and carry orders to their appropriate warehouse location. Fetch and Freight are two robots that work together. Fetch picks items off of shelves and hands them off to Freight, which rolls around a space with a bin for collecting a variety of goods. There is no lack of supply chain innovations being pitched, so companies should expect to use robots in more inventory management positions.

Machines Cut Out the Middleman
One more interesting bit of news for supply chain logistics management for many industries is robots allowing consumers to perform manufacturing tasks at home. For example, Wired shared the story of an automated machine that can brew beer in the middle of a customer's kitchen. An individual just has to fill the machine with the right ingredients and program certain recipes, then the robot does all the work.

Companies may have to reexamine distribution processes to see if they want to push manufacturing supplies straight to customers using robots to bypass the production line.

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