WEF: Why cobots are the future of manufacturing
COVID-19 has had a major impact on manufacturers worldwide.
Lockdowns and travel bans caused disruption to supply chains and created problems throughout the production line. In a March 2020 survey by the National Association of Manufacturers, it was revealed that a change in operations due to the pandemic.
Despite the considerable effects of the pandemic, the manufacturing industry is under pressure like never before to respond to evolving market demands. The needs of mass customisation, higher product variability and quality expectations, as well as faster product cycles are creating complex challenges for manufacturers, whose economies are best suites to much longer product cycles and limited variability.
If manufacturers wish to compete in an evolving global market, they will need to transform the way they produce goods. Now is the time to tackle these long-standing challenges by pairing human skill and creativity with the strength and speed of robots.
The industrial robots of today can maneuver and shift heavy and dangerous workpieces efficiently and that can’t safely operate near humans. It is a key reason why most manufacturing process steps are either fully automated or fully manual. However, this black or white approach to automation introduces new problems. One, automation is expensive and time consuming to design. While, the precision robots enable is a double-edged sword as each process step requires specific coding and relies on uniform and predictable parts and tools. If anything is slightly off, the machine can’t function correctly and production must be stopped. As a result, excessive automation can scale costs and lengthen production schedules.
The idea of a fully automated “lights-out factory” with no production workers - one requiring only machine programming and maintenance - has been a dead end so far. Lots of what happens in a factory requires human ingenuity, learning and adaptability. As products have become more varied and customised to local markets and customer needs, the economies of full automation are hard to understand. WEF believes that the best choice is to combine the strength, precision and speed of industrial robots with the ingenuity, judgement and dexterity of human workers. This way, human workers can take advantage of tasks that require flexibility, while the robots handle tasks that make the best use of their strength and speed.
Manufacturing processes are and more cost-effective when humans and robots work together. Following a study by MIT’s Julie Shah, is decreased by 85% when people work collaboratively with a human-aware robot in comparison to when working with all-human teams.
Gartner: Leaders Lack Skilled Smart Manufacturing Workers
With organisations rapidly adopting industry 4.0 capabilities to increase productivity, efficiency, transparency, and quality as well as reduce cost, manufacturers “are under pressure to bring their workforce into the 21st century,” says Gartner.
While more connected factory workers are leveraging digital tools and data management techniques to improve decision accuracy, increase knowledge and lessen variability, 57% of manufacturing leaders feel that their organisations lack the skilled workers needed to support their smart manufacturing digitalisation plans.
“Our survey revealed that manufacturers are currently going through a difficult phase in their digitisation journey toward smart manufacturing,” said Simon Jacobson, Vice President analyst, Gartner Supply Chain practice.
“They accept that changing from a break-fix mentality and culture to a data-driven workforce is a must. However, intuition, efficiency and engagement cannot be sacrificed. New workers might be tech-savvy but lack access to best practices and know-how — and tenured workers might have the knowledge, but not the digital skills. A truly connected factory worker in a smart manufacturing environment needs both.”
Surveying 439 respondents from North America, Western Europe and APAC, Gartner found that “organisational complexity, integration and process reengineering are the most prevalent challenges for executing smart manufacturing initiatives.” Combined they represent “the largest change management obstacle [for manufacturers],” adds Gartner.
“It’s interesting to see that leadership commitment is frequently cited as not being a challenge. Across all respondents, 83% agree that their leadership understands and accepts the need to invest in smart manufacturing. However, it does not reflect whether or not the majority of leaders understand the magnitude of change in front of them – regarding technology, as well as talent,” added Jacobson.
Technology and People
While the value and opportunities smart manufacturing can provide an organisation is being recognised, introducing technology alone isn’t enough. Gartner emphasises the importance of evolving factory workers alongside the technology, ensuring that they are on board in order for the change to be successful.
“The most immediate action is for organisations to realize that this is more than digitisation. It requires synchronising activities for capability building, capability enablement and empowering people. Taking a ‘how to improve a day in the life’ approach will increase engagement, continuous learning and ultimately foster a pull-based approach that will attract tenured workers. They are the best points of contact to identify the best starting points for automation and the required data and digital tools for better decision-making,” said Jacobson.
Long term, “it is important to establish a data-driven culture in manufacturing operations that is rooted in governance and training - without stifling employee creativity and ingenuity,” concluded Gartner.