Most Popular Industrial Robotic Applications for 2021 and Projections

Jun 1, 2021

Explore the most popular application trends of 2021 and what to expect in the future.

Automa­tion solu­tion providers encoun­tered a major shift in the mar­ket in 2021. The covid-19 pan­dem­ic cre­at­ed a demand for automa­tion in var­i­ous busi­ness sec­tors, includ­ing those out­side indus­tri­al man­u­fac­tur­ing. Sta­tis­tics pub­lished by the Asso­ci­a­tion for Advanc­ing Automa­tion (A3) show that North Amer­i­can robot­ic sales increased by 3.5% in 2020 and are con­tin­u­ing to see pos­i­tive growth. The pan­dem­ic brought many chal­lenges to busi­ness­es like sup­ply short­ages, new safe­ty pre­cau­tions, and a major employ­ment gap. Com­pa­nies had to redesign busi­ness mod­els and sup­ply chain man­age­ment to devel­op lean pro­duc­tion process­es with high­er out­put to over­come these chal­lenges. With many prod­ucts fac­ing sup­ply short­ages, indus­tries such as man­u­fac­tur­ing, life sci­ence, food pro­cess­ing, retail, and delivery/​fulfillment have looked to automa­tion as the solu­tion. This has led to the automa­tion of new appli­ca­tions and advance­ments to com­mon applications.

Sort­ing Applications

Sort­ing and orga­niz­ing tech­nol­o­gy have seen a sharp increase in sales due to the med­ical and food sup­ply short­ages result­ing from the Covid-19 pan­dem­ic. The sud­den changes in con­sumer buy­ing habits increased the val­ue of automa­tion for com­pa­nies across indus­tries. Automa­tion for sort­ing appli­ca­tions offers a long-term solu­tion for labor short­ages, social dis­tanc­ing require­ments, and sup­ply chain over­haul for busi­ness­es. The increased robot­ic mar­ket rev­enue from sort­ing appli­ca­tions brought forth com­plex and inno­v­a­tive solu­tions such as vision-based sort­ing and clean­room robot­ics. Com­pa­nies are using vision and machine learn­ing with indus­tri­al robots to exe­cute sort­ing tasks that involve vision-based deci­sions. Robot­ic com­pa­nies released clean­room robots for envi­ron­ments requir­ing san­i­ta­tion tasks such as prepar­ing syringes for coat­ing, plac­ing pills into bot­tles and cap­ping them, and han­dling food pack­ag­ing. Sort­ing robots con­tin­ue to gain vis­i­bil­i­ty and expand capa­bil­i­ties for sig­nif­i­cant improve­ments to pro­duc­tion oper­a­tions and prod­uct output.

Qual­i­ty Inspec­tion Applications

Qual­i­ty con­trol is used to elim­i­nate defects and ensure cus­tomers receive prod­ucts that meet their expec­ta­tions. This appli­ca­tion is pushed across all man­u­fac­tur­ing indus­tries to improve prod­uct qual­i­ty. Cut­ting-edge vision tech­nol­o­gy has opened the door for automa­tion to take over and improve this task. Oper­a­tions can now imple­ment qual­i­ty con­trol in new areas, elim­i­nat­ing defects that are not vis­i­ble to the naked eye. An exam­ple of this tech­nol­o­gy is spec­tral imag­ing which detects col­or spec­trums that human work­ers can­not per­ceive. These cam­eras are used in fresh-pro­duce inspec­tions to detect areas that are spoiled or for­eign objects with­in the goods. Errors result­ing from inad­e­quate qual­i­ty inspec­tions can be dan­ger­ous, cost­ly, and detri­men­tal to a com­pa­ny’s image. Vision tech­nol­o­gy gives an extra lay­er of secu­ri­ty in ensur­ing all prod­ucts leav­ing pro­duc­tion are of the high­est qual­i­ty to consumers. 

Col­lab­o­ra­tive Applications

Col­lab­o­ra­tive robots have made a come-back after two years of under­per­for­mance due to fac­to­ry shut­downs dur­ing the Covid-19 pan­dem­ic. As dis­cussed pre­vi­ous­ly in the sort­ing appli­ca­tion sec­tion, the recov­ery phase for com­pa­nies requires a quick and effi­cient solu­tion for sup­ply short­ages and safe­ty restric­tions. Com­pa­nies are imple­ment­ing col­lab­o­ra­tive tech­nol­o­gy in strate­gic ways to over­come employ­ment gaps, social dis­tanc­ing restric­tions, and the imme­di­ate need for lean­er pro­duc­tion process­es. Some of the more pop­u­lar uses of col­lab­o­ra­tive robots are for inspec­tions, sort­ing, and pack­ag­ing in col­lab­o­ra­tion with work­ers. Robot man­u­fac­tur­ers, like Yaskawa, recent­ly announced a new Smart Series” cobot line that reduces research process­es by pro­vid­ing investors with all the nec­es­sary acces­sories to guar­an­tee fast set­up. More indus­tries are inte­grat­ing cobots, man­u­fac­tur­ing and non-man­u­fac­tur­ing, as a quick and afford­able turnkey solution. 

Mobile Robot Applications

The most sig­nif­i­cant influ­encer of sup­ply chain indus­tries has been the tremen­dous growth of e‑commerce sales fol­low­ing the glob­al pan­dem­ic. Robots are used across all parts of the sup­ply chain, but as e‑commerce ful­fill­ment increas­es, mobile robots in ware­hous­es and dis­tri­b­u­tion cen­ters are inevitable. These robots autonomous indus­tri­al indus­tri­al­ly change routes with­out human inter­ven­tion and can oper­ate col­lab­o­ra­tive­ly with work­ers to per­form tasks. In addi­tion, tech­nolo­gies like voice-pick­ing pro­vide com­pa­nies with faster pro­duc­tion time and flex­i­bil­i­ty in work­flow. Voice Pick­ing is soft­ware that gives AMRs the capa­bil­i­ty to oper­ate by giv­ing ver­bal com­mands to the mobile robots. Com­pa­nies using voice-pick­ing AMRs report hav­ing imme­di­ate gain in pro­duc­tiv­i­ty and sav­ings with annu­al labor costs. The noto­ri­ety of mobile robots is explod­ing because of the flex­i­ble task han­dling they pro­vide that oth­er automa­tion solu­tions and man­u­al labor do not. 

What Are the Capa­bil­i­ties of Automa­tion in the Future?

The recent surge in automa­tion was a response to over­come sup­ply short­ages caused by COVID-19. The dras­tic increase in demand with­in such a short time frame made it dif­fi­cult for sup­pli­ers to keep up with­out automat­ing. Last year, in 2020, A3 report­ed robot orders from life sci­ence indus­tries increased by a momen­tous 69% com­pared to the pre­vi­ous year. Mar­ket ana­lysts project that life sci­ence indus­tries, among oth­er sec­tors, will con­tin­ue to see more com­pa­nies automat­ing with­in the next few years. With more invest­ments being put into automa­tion, advance­ments will come at a quick­er rate. Automa­tion is now blend­ing tra­di­tion­al indus­tri­al robots with IoT (Inter­net of Things) tech­nol­o­gy to cre­ate lean pro­duc­tion process­es fur­ther and col­lect data for the sys­tems to improve effi­cien­cy autonomous indus­tri­al indus­tri­al­ly. Con­verg­ing these two tech­nolo­gies into one sys­tem that phys­i­cal­ly auto­mates and dig­i­tal­ly records data that can be used for machine learn­ing and improv­ing process­es. Future automa­tion will fea­ture more of this blend­ed tech­nol­o­gy, offer­ing con­sumers cut­ting-edge automa­tion to fur­ther enhance their sup­ply chain process. 

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