The Rise of Robotics in Manufacturing
Imagine if your colleague wasn’t a human, but instead a robot. Perhaps it is not that difficult to picture as integrating Artificial Intelligence (AI) into the workforce isn’t a brand new concept. From computerised train station assistants to self-serving supermarket cashiers, the reality is that we are already interacting with ‘digital staff’ for varying services. In some instances, however, robots are operating like humans, serving us freshly ground coffee in cafes in Tokyo and in more frustrating circumstances, giving us parking tickets on the roads of Milton Keynes.
The rise of robotics is demonstrated in a new report released by the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), which highlights that robot density has accelerated globally. This may come as no surprise to some manufacturers. Industrial robots, for example, have been speeding up operations, as well as making core processes smarter and cheaper for years now. According to a recent PwC report, more than half (59%) of manufacturers are already using some form of robotics technology.
Yet, the emergence of technologies, such as Robotic Processing Automation (RPA), presents the opportunity to propel transformation in the sector further, as well as importantly improve productivity for the UK manufacturing sector.
How is robotics being used in manufacturing?
In some factories today, robots can be seen collaborating with human workers. The Tesla Gigafactory is allegedly one of the most advanced factories ever built. Robots self-navigate Autonomous Indoor Vehicles (AIVs) freely without beacons or magnets guiding them and their major responsibility is to shift goods between workstations.
The term ‘cobot’ was coined by professors at Northwestern University in America and defines robots that collaborate with humans in the workspace. The ROI behind cobots is already being realised by companies such as Cornell Dubilier – a power capacitor manufacturer in the US. The company has introduced robots to inspect capacitor installations, which has resulted in the speed of its labelling process doubling from 125 parts an hour to 250 parts an hour. A drastic reduction of wasted time throughout the supply chain means that human workers are freed up to dedicate time to tasks that require more creativity and thought.
Beyond the Spielberg-esque sci-fi scenes of physical robots in the workplace is the robotic software that mimics intelligence. RPA is an emerging technology with a growing list of use cases across multiple sectors, such as Financial Services, and new research from The Hackett Group suggests that adoption of the technology is about to grow in demand.
Unlike the physical robotic machines, RPA works behind the scenes, replicating human minds, accelerating operations and transforming business processes. The technology can act as an additional employee in various disciplines throughout the supply chain, working between IT systems and the back office functions to carry out repetitive tasks, such as invoice processing and purchase management order, at a rapid pace.
In a study carried out by Capgemini, almost all respondents (91%) said that RPA can save companies time on repetitive tasks and 84 percent of RPA users felt that robotics can help significantly reduce costs. Whilst momentum of the technology in manufacturing is slower to adopt than its physical cousins, it will only be a matter of time before implementation of the software accelerates.
The robotics opportunity
There is a huge opportunity for UK manufacturers to adopt robotics and artificial intelligence, but a key barrier to implementation is often a lack of understanding around how to effectively introduce these technologies into the business. Arguably the UK manufacturing landscape is built up of traditional organisations that adopt conservative approaches to business, as opposed to modernisation. Barclays Corporate recently found that there is still resistance from UK manufacturers when it comes to adopting the latest and greatest innovations and are falling behind other nations when it comes to adopting fourth industrial revolution technologies.
Yet, innovation in automation and robotics is happening in pockets across the UK manufacturing sector. The University of Lincoln’s National Centre for Food Manufacturing and supplier English Provender, for example, recently announced an R&D project introducing state-of-the-art robotic arms to weigh out powdered ingredients with more accuracy and with the overall goal of reducing food waste in the supply chain. These types of initiatives gain a lot of awareness and traction in the sector as the ROI is usually fruitful, yet generally across the board the UK is falling behind when it comes to robotics. In fact, the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) highlighted that the UK sits at 22nd in the world for robot density behind nations such as Slovakia and Czech Republic.
UK manufacturing is, however, on the cusp of further global recognition and RPA could be the enabler of getting Britain back on the map. Recent successes in British exports has meant that the UK manufacturing sector is set to outpace the rest of the economy this year and as such, experts are anticipating that by 2021, the UK will climb from number eight in the global manufacturing economy to fifth place. Yet, to remain competitive the UK manufacturing sector must continue to cultivate and invest in emerging technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), cloud computing and robotics, putting digital change at the beating heart of growth strategies and making operations smarter, freeing up workers’ time to focus on innovation and creativity.
Getting robot ready
Manufacturers must be bolder in how they transform, but they must also ensure that they are carefully approaching how they adopt RPA. This goes beyond simply assessing whether the solution is cohesive with other systems and includes a strategic approach to encouraging employees to embrace robotics more. As this next wave of automation continues to cement itself across the manufacturing industry, we will begin to see transformation like never before; robots will not only collaborate with humans in the workplace, but they will help to revolutionise the job roles and skillsets that humans can adopt.
Antony Bourne is the Vice President of Global Industry Solutions at IFS.
Siemens: Providing the First Industrial 5G Router
Across a number of industry sectors, there’s a growing need for both local wireless connectivity and remote access to machines and plants. In both of these cases, communication is, more often than not, over a long distance. Public wireless data networks can be used to enable this connectivity, both nationally and internationally, which makes the new 5G network mainframe an absolutely vital element of remote access and remote servicing solutions as we move into the interconnected age.
Siemens Enables 5G IIoT
The eagerly awaited Scalance MUM856-1, Siemens’ very first industrial 5G router, is officially available to organisations. The device has the ability to connect all local industrial applications to the public 5G, 4G (LTE), and 3G (UMTS) mobile wireless networks ─ allowing companies to embrace the long-awaited Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).
The router can be used to remotely monitor and service plants, machines, as well as control elements and other industrial devices via a public 5G network ─ flexibly and with high data rates. Something that has been in incredibly high demand after being teased by the leading network providers for years.
Scalance MUM856-1 at a Glance
- Scalance MUM856-1 connects local industrial applications to public 5G, 4G, and 3G mobile wireless networks
- The router supports future-oriented applications such as remote access via public 5G networks or the connection of mobile devices such as automated guided vehicles in industry
- A robust version in IP65 housing for use outside the control cabinet
- Prototypes of Siemens 5G infrastructure for private networks already in use at several sites
“To ensure the powerful connection of Ethernet-based subnetworks and automation devices, the Scalance MUM856-1 supports Release 15 of the 5G standard. The device offers high bandwidths of up to 1000 Mbps for the downlink and up to 500 Mbps for the uplink – providing high data rates for data-intensive applications such as the remote implementation of firmware updates. Thanks to IPv6 support, the devices can also be implemented in modern communication networks.
Various security functions are included to monitor data traffic and protect against unauthorised access: for example, an integrated firewall and authentication of communication devices and encryption of data transmission via VPN. If there is no available 5G network, the device switches automatically to 4G or 3G networks. The first release version of the router has an EU radio license; other versions with different licenses are in preparation. With the Sinema Remote Connect management platform for VPN connections, users can access remote plants or machines easily and securely – even if they are integrated in other networks. The software also offers easy management and autoconfiguration of the devices,” Siemens said.
Preparing for a 5G-oriented Future
Siemens has announced that the new router can also be integrated into private 5G networks. This means that the Scalance MUM856-1 is, essentially, future-proofed when it comes to 5G adaptability; it supports future-oriented applications, including ‘mobile robots in manufacturing, autonomous vehicles in logistics or augmented reality applications for service technicians.’
And, for use on sites where conditions are a little harsher, Siemens has given the router robust IP65 housing ─ it’s “dust tight”, waterproof, and immersion-proofed.
The first release version of the router has an EU radio license; other versions with different licenses are in preparation. “With the Sinema Remote Connect management platform for VPN connections, users can access remote plants or machines easily and securely – even if they are integrated in other networks. The software also offers easy management and auto-configuration of the devices,” Siemens added.