The Future of Manufacturing: Are We in the Midst of a Robot Takeover?

Robots often get a bad rap. Sci-fi novels and films have painted them as evildoers looking to take over our lives and our jobs. Pundits and politicians have largely done the same. But today’s innovative technology is proving that quite the opposite is true. Not only are robots creating jobs but they’re also making existing jobs more convenient. And, to top it all off, they work side-by-side with humans in a relatively peaceable manner.

They’re helping manufacturers turn bigger profits and making operations more efficient. They’re powerhouse machines that can work hour after hour without fatiguing to the point of needing a break. They don’t require salaries or benefits which prompts manufacturers to allocate money for other uses–such as hiring a robot operator or maintenance technician.

And because these machines can do repetitive tasks endlessly with a high degree of accuracy, they boost employees’ productivity in other areas that require a human touch.

Simply put: Robots act as a cost-effective and complementary component on the warehouse floor which makes for a higher quality product that consumers are compelled to by.

Types of Robots

While entertainment of the Sci-fi variety has conditioned us to believe that most or all robots take on human-like forms, the reality is that in manufacturing this simply isn’t true. Sure, some have arms and even “eyes” but for the most part, industrial robots are just…well, machines that help people get stuff done.

Here’s a look at some of the robot types on warehouse floors today:

  1. Cartesian Robots:  Typically used in the automotive and auto component industries, Cartesian robots are noted for their linear movement and ability to move and carry heavy loads. Manufacturers rely on them for accuracy and repeatability when cutting drilling, stamping, or welding materials. Because of their versatility, especially in metal fabrication operations, these robots are gaining popularity in the metal and food/beverage packaging industries.
  2. Articulated Robots:  Articulated robots are distinctly different than Cartesian robots in that they use rotating movement to achieve a full range of motion. They’re most often used in the automotive industry for assembling and material handling but they can also be used for welding, picking, cutting, and spraying materials.
  3. SCARA Robots:  Selective Compliance Assembly Robot Arms or SCARA robots have a parallel axis joint that acts as an arm and are used to for assembly, pick and place, and loading/unloading operations. In comparison to Cartesian robots, SCARA robots are cleaner and faster and more suited to high speed assembly. They’re often used in the automotive, electrical, and electronics industries.

Companies Making a Splash in Robotics

Many companies have happily adopted robotics as a key component in their business strategy. These are just a few:

1. Amazon Robotics LLC

Formerly known as Kiva Systems and acquired by Amazon in 2012, Amazon Robotics LLC uses robots to provide smarter, faster, and more consistent customer service. The robots, which move autonomously around the warehouse floor, are used to make warehousing operations like picking and packing quicker, easier, and more efficient all around.

While Amazon has no plans to share the technology with competitors, the Kiva Systems acquisition opened up a world of robotics possibilities for other companies to explore.

2. Kuka Robotics

Kuka Robotics produces a number of industrial robots designed specifically to aid manufacturers in production. Kuka strives to customize a manufacturer’s robotics experience by tailor-making robots to a specific need. Altogether, there are eight types of Kuka robots:

  • Six axis robots
  • Welding
  • Cleanroom
  • Shelf-mounted
  • Palletizers
  • Heat-resistant
  • Press-to-press
  • High accuracy

Each one comes equipped with a dependable, programmable PC-based system that manufacturers can use to streamline their production processes.

3. Rethink Robotics  

Rethink Robotics provides manufacturers with robots that can easily adapt to real world variability. Using embedded cameras that work as “eyes,” these robots–called Baxter and Sawyer–can change applications quickly as well as ‘feel’ their way through any task. As such, they can perform a wide variety of tasks and work around obstacles that may hinder progress on a job.

All in all, technology has advanced to the point where industrial robots can be an asset to manufacturing companies. While robots are changing the way companies do business, they are largely acting as collaborators that can work side-by-side with humans to help meet or exceed goals. This isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it should be embraced as a mark of progress that helps companies and workers alike expand their knowledge of industry and the possibilities that lie ahead.


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