The Transformative Power of Collaborative Robots

Industry 5.0 is all about granting human operators the benefits of robots such as technical precision and heavy-lifting capabilities. This technology is resulting in smarter and easier-to-use robots, which often don’t require programming skills.
Image Courtesy of The Association for Advancing Automation (A3).

Packaging Companies Are Adopting 5.0 Industrial Robots at a Record Pace

By Jeff Burnstein, President of the Association for Advancing Automation (A3)

Robots designed to safely work alongside humans in a variety of situations have seen a significant rise in adoption rates in recent years. And today, the discussion around Industry 4.0 versus Industry 5.0 robotic technology is front and center. In contrast to Industry 4.0, Industry 5.0 aims to put the human touch back into development and production. Industry 5.0 is all about granting human operators the benefits of robots such as technical precision and heavy-lifting capabilities.

Packaging companies are adopting 5.0 industrial robots at a record pace for two main reasons: they are continually becoming easier to use, and they help free up human workers to focus on more complex and valuable tasks.

Packaging manufacturers are increasingly recognizing the benefits of mobile robots and collaborative robots that can safely move materials and goods within their plants. In fact, according to a recent Marketdata Report1, by 2025, it’s estimated that 50% of manufacturing tasks will be automated, and those facilities using automation could see a boost to production output of up to 15%.

Automate is the largest free robotics and automation tradeshow in North America (May 6-9, 2024, in Chicago), and attendees learn how to implement, optimize, and expand automation. Image Courtesy of The Association for Advancing Automation (A3).

How automation boosts manufacturing efficiency

Industrial robots and collaborative robot applications bring extensive benefits for manufacturers, especially when it has been difficult to hire and retain employees to do many of the tasks that are perfectly suited for robotic automation.

Robots offer several benefits for these companies:

  • Increased speed and precision: Robots can perform repetitive tasks at a faster pace than human workers and allows human workers to upskill and train the robots. This in turn leads to increased production speed and quality output.
  • Reduction of downtime: Robots can work continuously without breaks or rest, leading to reduced downtime and increased overall production output.
  • Flexibility and adaptability: Robots can be quickly and easily reprogrammed and reconfigured to perform different tasks or adapt to changing packaging production needs.
  • Improved safety: Robots can handle dangerous or hazardous tasks that may be unsafe for human workers.

Moreover, traditional industrial robots and collaborative robots can perform repetitive and dangerous tasks with high precision and efficiency, allowing for faster production turnaround times and increased flexibility in workflow planning.

Industrial robots are typically installed in one location and programmed for a single repetitive application; and collaborative robots can be moved and reprogrammed as production needs change. Both have advantages, and manufacturers need to choose which to use based on the requirements of the application, not the type of robot.

In addition, Industry 5.0’s implementation of artificial intelligence (AI) is creating more applications for robots to improve decision-making and enhance production efficiency. Using AI, these robots can learn and adapt to their environments while working alongside their human counterparts, making them more versatile and effective for any number of tasks.

Most manufacturers have a combination of robots to fit their needs, allowing them to stay competitive in an ever-changing market landscape.

Strategies for seamless integration of robots into manufacturing workflows

When considering implementing robotics into the production process, it’s important to first assess your workflows and take these steps for easier integration.

  1. First, whether planning internally or with an integrator or vendor, manufacturers need to identify tasks that can be automated. These often include dull, dirty, and dangerous tasks that are more difficult to fill with human workers.
  2. Next, assess the existing workflow to identify opportunities for automation integration, making sure to consider factors such as space limitations, production cycles, and human-robot collaboration.
  3. Then, choose the right technology. Select the appropriate robot and related technology integrations based on the specific requirements of the workflow. Consider factors such as payload capacity, reach, flexibility, and safety features.
  4. Monitor and optimize performance of robots in the workflow and adjust as needed to optimize efficiency and productivity.
  5. Finally, invest in the proper training, upskilling and education on the new technology and safety standards for employees. The integration of collaborative robots into existing workflows can maximize their potential benefits and minimize any negative impacts on human workers.

Essential skills for human-robot collaboration in manufacturing

Workers tasked with managing collaborative robots may need advanced programming skills, but Industry 5.0 technology is resulting in smarter and easier-to-use robots, which often don’t require programming skills at all. This means more organizations can automate, especially hesitant small-and medium-sized companies that are new to automation.

Since they don’t require coding, it’s easy to deploy these robots — sometimes as a pre-packaged solution — in just hours or days in-house,  without complicated programming or set-up tasks.

That doesn’t mean workers operating or working alongside robots don’t need any skills to manage them. They should learn problem-solving skills to troubleshoot minor issues before needing to contact a vendor’s service and support team. They also need to learn the robot’s key functionalities, including alert signal sounds and colors, and always follow them to ensure safety when interacting with the robots.

The International Robot Safety Conference (IRSC) (Oct 1-3, 2024 in Cincinnati) examines key issues in robot safety and provides an in-depth overview of current industry standards and best practices. Image Courtesy of The Association for Advancing Automation (A3).

Navigating workforce training in the robotic era

Overall, manufacturers are taking a proactive approach to address the need for training and upskilling their workforce to better handle the increased use of robotics. The field of robotics and automation is constantly evolving, so it’s critical to promote a culture of continuous learning and improvement among the workforce, especially when working with the next generation of Industry 5.0 technology.

By investing in training programs, collaborating with educational institutions, and providing ongoing support, manufacturers can ensure their workforce is equipped with the skills needed to succeed. Some manufacturers have created their own specialized training programs that focus on the skills needed to operate and maintain robotic automation systems, and robot vendors may often offer these programs as well.

There are also industry certifications that employers can utilize for advanced training on safety standards in robotics. Certification ensures that robot integrators who have successfully completed the program possess the capabilities at a very high level to deliver robotic products, systems and services that are safe, reliable and of good quality.

Manufacturers and employees can also improve their knowledge about robots, safety and risk assessments by attending tradeshows and conferences. Attendees can interact side-by-side with automation experts who know how to implement, optimize, and expand automation — giving participants insights to put into practice right away.

Many packaging manufacturers are taking a proactive approach, not only incorporating robotics into their everyday processes and workflows, but taking charge of training and upskilling their workforce in the era of robotic automation. This is good news, since the adoption of robots and collaborative robots in packaging will continue to grow, driven by advancements in technology, changing market dynamics and the pursuit of greater efficiency and flexibility in production processes.

About the Author

Jeff Burnstein is the President of the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), the world’s largest trade group for robotics & automation companies. He joined the association in 1983 and held a variety of senior positions before his promotion to President in 2007. Burnstein also serves on the Executive Board of the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) and is the 2023 recipient of the Engelberger Award for Leadership, widely considered the “Nobel Prize of Robotics.” Learn more at  https://www.automate.org.

Reference

  1. https://gitnux.org/automation-in-manufacturing-statistics/

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