Google is about to shake up the global manufacturing sector in a big way
Internet search giant, Google has signed a 60-year lease for part of a historic Navy airbase, where it plans to renovate three massive hangars and use them for projects involving robotics as well as aviation and space exploration. The news has led many manufacturing critics to question whether Google is to be the next big player in the sector worldwide.
Since 2013, Google has been acquiring a number of companies that produce robots or supporting technologies. The companies acquired include Japan-based, Schaft Inc. which makes humanoid robots; US-based, Industrial Perception, which makes robot arms and robot vision; Boston Dynamics, which makes mobile and humanoid robots; UK-based, DeepMindTechnologies, which specializes in artificial intelligence; and Titan Aerospace in the US, which produces solar-powered drones.
According to reports, Google’s goal is to develop a robot with smartphone-style characteristics, which can serve as a platform for products and services. It is thought the Google robots will have a hardware base and a connected control system that companies can personalize by downloading apps, which would enable them to perform specific tasks and collect certain data.
While Google plans to offer the hardware, intelligence, and apps to make the robots work; it’s likely that other application developers will also offer software solutions for Google robot users.
In 2013, approximately 179,000 industrial robots were sold – up almost 12 percent compared with 2012. Asia, with around 100,000 units, was the largest market, with China alone purchasing 37,000 units in 2013. That being said, companies in other regions also are increasingly using industrial robots in manufacturing.
A combination of rising wages and the need for new production capacity that can manufacture products to global standards is driving this demand. Not surprisingly, Google is targeting this booming Chinese market for industrial robots. Chinese contract electronics manufacturer, Foxconn, announced plans to cooperate with Google for industrial robots and is interested in acquiring 10,000 units.
Google industrial robots and apps are still out on the horizon, perhaps three to five years for fully functional Google industrial robot implementations. Nevertheless, this is something industrial organizations need to be aware of and continue to track.
IMF: Variants Can Still Hurt Manufacturing Recovery
After a year of on-and-off manufacturing in the US, UK, and the eurozone, demand for goods surged early last week. Factories set growth records in April and May, suppliers started to recover, and US crude hit its highest price point since pre-COVID. As vaccination efforts immunise much of the US and UK populations, manufacturers are now able to fully ramp up their supply chains. In fact, GDP growth could approach double-digits by 2022.
Now, the ISM productivity measure has surpassed the 50-point mark that separates industry expansion from contraction. Since U.S. president Biden passed his US$1.9tn stimulus package and the UK purchasing managers index (PMI) increased to 65.6, both sides of the Atlantic are facing a much-welcomed manufacturing recovery.
Lingering Concerns Over COVID
Even as Spain, France, Italy, and Germany race to catch up, and mining companies pushed the FTSE 100 index of list shares to a monthly high of 7,129, some say that UK and US markets still suffer from a lack of confidence in raw material supplies. Yes, the Dow Jones has made up its 19,173-point crash of March 2020, and MSCI’s global stock index is at an all-time high.
Yet manufacturers around the world realise that these wins will be short-lived until pandemic supply chain bottlenecks are solved. If we keep the status quo, consumers will pay the price. In April, inflation in Germany reached 2.4%, and across the EU’s 19 member countries, overall prices have increased at an unusual pace. Some ask: Is this true recovery?
IMF: Current Boom Could Falter
Even as Elon Musk tweeted about chip shortages forcing Tesla to raise its prices, UK mining demand skyrocketed; housing markets lifted; and the pound sterling gained value. The International Monetary Fund (IMF), however, cautioned that manufacturing recovery won’t last long if COVID mutates into forms our vaccinations can’t touch. Kristalina Georgieva, Washington’s IMF director, noted that fewer than 1% of African citizens have been vaccinated: “Worldwide access to vaccines offers the best hope for stopping the coronavirus pandemic, saving lives, and securing a broad-based economic recovery”.
Across the globe, manufacturing companies are keeping a watchful eye on new developments in the spread of COVID. Though US FDA officials don’t think we’ll have to “start at square one” with new vaccines, the March 2021 World Economic Outlook states that “high uncertainty” surrounds the projected 6% global growth. Continued manufacturing success will in large part depend on “the path of the pandemic, the effectiveness of policy support, and the evolution of financial conditions”.
Mathias Cormann, secretary-general of the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) concurred—without global immunisation, the estimated economic boom expected by 2025 could go kaput. “We need to...pursue an all-out effort to reach the entire world population”, Australia’s finance minister added. US$50bn to end COVID across the world, they imply, is a small investment to restart our economies.