How collaborative robotics are stimulating innovation in the manufacturing sector
Industrial robots are on the verge of revolutionizing manufacturing. As they become smarter, faster and cheaper, they are becoming used more frequently to carry out ‘human’ tasks.
Up until very recently, robotics in the sector have been used predominantly to carry out repetitive, onerous and dangerous tasks such as welding and materials handling. However technological advancements have paved the way to allow robots to take on human-like capabilities and traits such as sensing, dexterity, memory, trainability and object recognition. As a result, robots are taking over more jobs such as picking and packaging, testing and inspecting products or assembling minute electronics. In addition a new generation of collaborative robots usher in an era, which will see robots work side-by-side with human operators who train them through physical demonstration.
The viability of these robots has increased dramatically in recent years, with technological advancement making it possible from a physical standpoint and costing making it feasible from a financial perspective. The cost of robots has fallen from several thousands of dollars to several hundreds, and at the same time their applications have widened meaning industries beyond automotive and food and beverage are adding them to their ranks. One major robotics company refers to the new generation of robots as intelligent industrial work assistants.
The ‘R’ generation: The rise of robotics
As it stands, there are approximately 1.5 million robots in situ across the globe, with more than 230,000 in the US alone. According to the International Federation of Robots (IFR) in 2013 global shipments reached in the region of 180,000 – an all time high – with 200,000 forecasted for 2014. Further, robots have also attracted the attention of investors such as recent high-profile pure-play robotics investments by Google and Amazon. In fact, venture capital in robotics technology has surged in recent years, according to data from Thomson Reuters.
The maturing ‘R’ generation certainly has implications for the future of manufacturing. Wider adoption of robots comes at a time when manufacturing companies, both big and small, are under increasing pressure to squeeze even greater productivity from their workforces at reducing costs. Furthermore, wage arbitrage seems less attractive to some manufacturing hubs such as China compared to a decade ago. With this in mind, broad adoption of robotics could spur greater reshoring of manufacturing from oversees.
Is now the time to hire automated help?
The answer: possibly, yes. Automation in the sector isn’t only going to help reduce cost – the nascent age of ‘nearly human’ robots is driving greater efficiency and has the potential to reduce labor force injuries. In fact, automation is showing signals of changing the way the industrial workforce is composed – even the nature of the jobs themselves.
Manufacturers are also recognizing that being competitive means injecting greater flexibility into their production lines in order to satisfy consumer demand for products with shorter life cycles and more variety – robots can help on this front as well.
How collaborative robotics can stimulate innovation
The introduction of collaborative robotics to the sector gives manufacturers a lot more choice. For example, robots have the potential to free up and make better use of human resources, which in turn could result in greater innovation across the sector. Conversely, robots could be applied in applications that a human workforce is unable to carry out (such as those of high precision or force) which will open the door to new opportunities of faster and greater production of existing products or indeed new product development.
So the question that remains to be seen is, are robots an economically viable and realistic solution to the increasing difficulty of securing a sustainable manufacturing workforce? And if robots do displace employees, are there plans in place to move those employees to other tasks, which are more interesting and attractive to them and thus more valuable to the company? These question need to be addressed by manufacturing companies looking to implement collaborative robotics into their workforce. Doing away with human employees is not the answer, but redistributing them as a resource could pave the way for a new era of manufacturing innovation and strength.
Lion Electric to Construct US EV Manufacturing Facility
Who is Lion Electric?
Founded in 2008, is an innovative manufacturer of all-electric, zero-emissions, medium and heavy-duty urban vehicles. Lion Electric designs, manufactures, and assembles all components for its vehicles that have unique features specifically adapted to the users and their needs. “We believe that transitioning to all-electric vehicles will lead to major improvements in our society, environment and overall quality of life,” believes Lion Electric.
Lion Electric’s new Illinois Manufacturing Facility
Just two months after announcing plans to construct a battery manufacturing plant and innovation centre in Quebec, Lion Electric is expanding its locations further, selecting Joliet, Illinois for its new manufacturing facility in the US.
The new facility is said to “represent the largest dedicated production site for zero-emission medium and heavy-duty vehicles in the US,” as well as being the company’s biggest footprint in the market. The new facility will give Lion Electric the capacity to meet increasing demand for ‘Made in America’ zero-emission vehicles and bring production closer to customers.
It is expected that the first vehicles off the production line will be in the second half of 2022.
“Lion’s historic investment to bring its largest production facility to Illinois represents not only a win for our communities, but a strong step forward in our work to expand clean energy alternatives and the jobs they bring to our communities,” said Gov. J.B. Pritzker.
“The new Joliet facility will put Illinois at the forefront of a national movement to transition to zero-emission vehicle use, advancing our own goals of putting one million of these cars on the road by 2030. In Illinois, we know that a clean energy economy is about more than just vehicles – it’s about healthier communities and jobs for those who live there. We are excited to welcome Lion to the Land of Lincoln and look forward to their future success here.”
Lion Electric’s Agreement with the Government of Illinois
Over the next three years, Lion Electric will invest a minimum of US$70mn into Illinois. The new facility - totalling 900,000 square feet - is expected to create a minimum of 745 clean energy direct jobs in the next three years, and have an annual production capacity of up to 20,000 all electric buses and trucks.
Scaling electric bus production and decarbonising freight and transportation
As the US moves to electrifying its school buses, the additional production capacity at the facility will help Lion Electric to scale its electric bus production, as well as produce an increased volume of heavy-duty zero-emission trucks to help governments and operators in the US further the decarbonisation of freight and transportation fleets.
“Lion is the leader in electric school buses and has always been dedicated to the U.S. market, and our commitment to be close to our customers is one of the core values we have as a company. This significant expansion into the U.S. market will not only allow us to drastically increase our overall manufacturing capacity of electric trucks and buses but to also better serve our customers, while adding critical clean manufacturing jobs that will form the backbone of the green economy,” said Marc Bedard, CEO and Founder of Lion.
“I also want to acknowledge the crucial role that P33 and Intersect Illinois, civic groups committed to developing developing a long-term roadmap for the local tech industry, played in connecting Lion with the Chicago area’s business and civic community to help further commercial traction, as well as engagement with key workforce and supplier partners.”