That 10 percent utilization of robots is about to change. In fact, it already is changing.
The world market for industrial robots in the automotive and heavy industry sectors (80kg to 300+kg payloads) is slowing remarkably, with little upward growth seen between 2013 and 2016, reports IMS Research.
However, lower payload applications in the food, beverage, personal care and consumer electronics industries, by contrast, are forecast to be the two fastest growing sectors for industrial robots through 2016?growing at an average annual rate of 8.6 percent and 8.0 percent respectively.
To-date, large-payload industrial robots have typically been used for heavy applications such as welding, palletizing and heavy assembly. In recent years significant advances in machine vision, sensing and gripping, have enabled robots to start being used in new industrial applications and unfamiliar sectors.
This trend is forecast to continue and intensify.
In the U.S., claims Jeff Burnstein, president of Robotic Industries Association, only 10% of the U.S. companies that could gain advantage from using robots have any deployed, with small to medium size companies as those that could benefit the most.
That?s a whopping 90 percent of companies where robotics might well prove to be a transformative solution for a better business.
Rodney Brooks, CEO of Rethink Robotics and creator of the recently-introduced co-worker robot, Baxter, figures that the real and most ready opportunity for robotics in the U.S. is with the 320,000 SMBs out there with 500 or fewer employees. Brooks? research reveals that it is these companies that have had a hard time hiring new employees (even in a recession; even high school kids and immigrant workers shun the jobs) while, at the same time, their present workforces are headed toward retirement.
A worker robot or two may well be their next hire. Brooks seems to think so. Rethink has run test evaluations with SMBs that report favorable experiences with robots that are never late for work, never sick, never take a coffee break or lunch, and work tirelessly all day and all night, if necessary. And the price for a Baxter is doable at $20,000, which is cheaper than a delivery van.
The December issue of Food & Beverage Packaging magazine even has Baxter on its cover, which says something about these new-age robots feeling at home in the world of packaging, plus an interesting piece: The evolution of robots in packaging. Perspectives on the near-term future of robots in the food & beverage industry were offered by three experts from the global non-profit Control System Integrators Association.
Doug Taylor: Similar to IMS research, Taylor cited the evolution of helper technologies like vision systems and laser scanning. ?These imaging technologies,? he says, ?can process more information at faster speeds. The result is higher resolution images which are processed with more advanced algorithms, ultimately leading to higher accuracy delivered at the speeds required for deployment in the manufacturing environment.?
John Kowal: ?One trend that?s played out over the past decade is the use of powerful, standards-based machine controllers with mechanics-only sourced from either robot makers or designed by the machine builder itself, and integrated into the machine design. The idea is to reduce the number and footprint of control platforms and communications interfaces through use of a single unified control platform for all machine operations ? including robotic kinematics, motion, logic, vision processing, integrated safety, condition and energy monitoring, human-machine interface and data acquisition.?
Ken McLaughlin: ?The biggest factor in the evolution of robotics for food and beverage has been meeting the rigorous sanitary and speed requirements. There are now robots available on the market that meet these requirements. Regarding speed, there are now high-speed five and six-axis traditional serial link robots available. Also, there is a plethora of Delta robots on the market that are easily capable of over 100 picks per minute.?
See also: Five case histories from Packaging World: Robots address expanse of packaging needs