Monday, February 25, 2013

Why Robots are a Good Thing for Automation

Robotic technology has been around since the late 70’s.  Starting in the automotive industry, spawned from aerospace, #robots were seen as a way to inject standardization in manufacturing assembly processes where it could be dangerous or costly to have people involved.  
I got involved with robots in the early 80’s.  I worked for an optical coating company, and we thought the lenses on top of the cameras would give us a new market niche to pursue.  I joined AIA ( ) and started networking with those industry suppliers, both camera manufacturers and visions systems suppliers.   

Robots were a natural for assembly, and were used in automotive, A&D, and oil fields.  High tech industries such as semiconductors/wafer processors added to the market complexity. Additionally, industries where the environment was harsh—metals, heat stamping, etc. quickly followed.   

Uptake has been slow though. In a recent press release, North American Robotics Market Sets New Records in 2012, Robotics Industry Association (RIA)  stated that a total of 22,598 robots valued at $1.48 billion were sold to companies in North America in 2012, and that there are 225,000 robots are now at use in United States factories, placing the US second only to Japan in robot use. “Many observers believe that only about 10% of the US companies that could benefit from robots have installed any so far.”  

Seems kind of low, doesn’t it?  RIA was founded in 1974, so in almost 40 years, only 225,000 robots are sold?  And it’s only 10% of their total available market? Where does the threat seem to be?

Converse to other opinions, I think robots for US manufacturing are a good thing—because it gives people the ability to do higher value-add jobs, that robots can’t do.  Visual inspection is one area that still needs people—robots and vision systems just don’t have the resolution, and color perception, to do an adequate job in a number of industries, like food.  Any position that needs iterative thinking—like process control engineering—needs people, but you can let the robots and vision systems do the mundate, repetitive tasks like material handling, packaging, or high speed on-line inspection.

So let us live, and work together in harmony, and give manufacturers incentives to invest, and build, their businesses.  And we all thrive.


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