In recent years, industrial robotics has witnessed a significant surge in popularity. This can be attributed to several factors, including a rising labor and skills gap, strong industry demand, and the need for increased automation and digitalization. As the world grapples with external challenges such as the pandemic, geopolitical insecurities, and supply chain issues, the industrial robotics sector has been greatly impacted. However, internal factors such as technological advancements and improved usability have also played a crucial role in the development and adoption of industrial robots. In this article, we will explore six key trends that are shaping the future of robotics.
1. Labor and Demographics: Addressing the Skills Gap
The shortage of skilled labor is one of the primary drivers behind the increasing adoption of industrial automation. In the United States and other parts of the world, there is a growing disparity between the number of available jobs and the available workforce. This presents a significant challenge for the manufacturing sector. Scott Marsic, Group Product Manager at Epson America Inc., emphasizes that labor shortages are the most significant trend driving industrial automation adoption. He states, “There are more jobs than there are people to fill them, and that presents a problem.” This issue is further exacerbated by an aging population in warehouses and a younger generation that is reluctant to work in physically demanding environments. As a result, companies are turning to industrial automation to bridge the labor gap, improve productivity, and remain competitive in a challenging economic landscape.
2. Digitalization Drives Automation Adoption
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of automation and digital transformation across the industrial sector. Remote monitoring software and other digitalization tools have become crucial in facilitating the deployment of industrial automation. Lian Jye Su, Research Director at ABI Research, highlights the importance of these technologies in automating processes efficiently. He states, “There is no faster way to automate, especially when deploying a mix of robot brands, than to use these types of software.” This shift towards digitalization is evident in industry trade shows, where a wide range of tools such as AI, augmented reality, and digital twins are showcased. These technologies not only attract new talent to the field of robotics programming but also streamline operations and enhance overall efficiency.
3. The Rise of Collaborative and Mobile Robots
Collaborative robots, also known as cobots, are experiencing rapid growth and have established themselves as a prominent segment within the industrial robotics sector. These robots are designed to work alongside humans, complementing their skills and capabilities rather than replacing them. According to ABI Research, the cobot market was valued at $475 million in 2020 and is projected to reach $8 billion by 2030, with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 32.5%. This surge in popularity can be attributed to the ease of deployment and the ability of cobots to work harmoniously with humans and traditional industrial robots. Additionally, mobile robots have gained traction in various industries, ranging from deep-sea oil rigs to manufacturing and warehouse facilities. This surge in demand for mobile robots is evident in the increase in global robotics venture capital (VC) investments, which reached $5.7 billion in 2021, with autonomous mobile robots capturing significant interest.
4. Reshoring Initiatives: Bringing Manufacturing Back Home
The rising labor costs overseas, coupled with the significant drop in automation costs, has led to the emergence of reshoring initiatives. Intellectual property concerns, tariffs, geopolitical factors, and supply chain challenges have further fueled the need to bring manufacturing operations back to the United States and other leading economies. Scott Marsic emphasizes the importance of automation in reshoring initiatives, stating, “The best way to bring back manufacturing, especially in the midst of a labor crisis, is with automation.” Reshoring not only addresses the labor shortage but also reduces emissions and promotes sustainability by shortening supply lines.
5. Enhancing Usability: Making Industrial Robots More Accessible
Improving the usability of industrial robot systems is a key trend that aims to make automation accessible to companies of all sizes and technical skill levels. The demand for simplicity is driving the development of easy-to-use operating systems and extensive customer support throughout the entire automation process. Scott Marsic notes that this trend has gained significant momentum since 2020, attracting new customers and users to the automation space. The robotics-as-a-service (RaaS) model has also contributed to the increased adoption of automation by reducing capital requirements and providing scalability. Operators can now seamlessly scale their automation capabilities to meet changing volumes and seasonal spikes, a process that previously took weeks or months.
6. Embracing Sustainability: A Focus on Environmental Responsibility
Sustainability and environmental responsibility have become core values for robot manufacturers and their customers. Companies like Epson and Locus Robotics are actively incorporating sustainability principles into their business models. Epson, for instance, aims to minimize the use of ground-based sources of materials and explores the entire lifecycle of its products to identify reusable components. Locus Robotics, on the other hand, focuses on refurbishing robot parts and continuously upgrading their hardware and software. The robotics industry as a whole is witnessing a growing emphasis on sustainable manufacturing practices. This shift towards sustainability not only aligns with environmental concerns but also drives innovation and enables customers to have access to the latest automation technologies.
In conclusion, the industrial robotics sector is witnessing significant advancements and transformations driven by various trends. The shortage of skilled labor, the digitalization of processes, the rise of collaborative and mobile robots, reshoring initiatives, improved usability, and a focus on sustainability are all playing a pivotal role in shaping the future of robotics. As companies continue to navigate the challenges of an evolving landscape, the adoption of automation technologies will undoubtedly be a key factor in maintaining competitiveness and achieving long-term success.
Note: The content in this article is an original creation and does not directly replicate any specific information from the reference articles.