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James McKew, Regional Director of APAC, Universal Robots, highlights how Southeast Asia can possibly become the next manufacturing powerhouse.

 

Rising trade tensions between the United States and China following President Trump’s tariff on imported metals, machinery and electronics are pushing manufacturers to shift production from China to other locations, with Southeast Asia as a strong alternative, helped by lower labour costs, growing domestic demand and improvements in infrastructure.

As Southeast Asia journeys towards becoming the next ‘factory of the world’, it must leverage Industry 4.0 technologies, such as robotics, to transform the metals industry, increasing productivity, lowering labour costs and expanding globally. These disruptive technologies could potentially create US$25 billion to US$45 billion of annual economic impact in the region by 2030, according to McKinsey Global Institute’s research.

However, many manufacturing firms are still lagging behind in applying robotics to their operations. Beyond awareness of the opportunities and benefits, work force skills gaps too appear to be an important issue.

 

Robotics Transforming The Metals Industry

Metal fabrication typically involves tasks such as tending a machine and manipulating parts to be cut, formed, welded and inspected. These jobs can be extremely tedious, dangerous and require great precision. As a result, manufacturers are increasingly turning to robotic automation to improve productivity and output quality, allowing workers to focus on higher-skilled tasks while avoiding injuries.

Collaborative robots (cobots) have become one of the most explosive trends in robotics and the fastest growing segment in industrial automation. The Robotic Industries Association expects cobot sales to jump ten-fold to 34 percent of all industrial robot sales by 2025.

Cobots – designed to work side-by-side with people safely – have in-built safety features, making it safe for people to work in close proximity without having to install safety barriers (subject to risk assessment).

Cobots often provide quicker ROI than their bulky, more dangerous industrial counterparts, making it a viable option even for small and mid-sized manufacturers. Denmark-based Universal Robots (UR)’ cobots, for example, have an average payback period of 12 months. This is because cobots have minimal integration costs due to their ease of use, small footprint and the ability to update and maintain technology in-house. They also offer flexible deployment through modular implementation, resulting in fast payback and easy redeployment, thus utilising cobots throughout their entire lifespan.

 

Boosting Metal And Machining Productivity With Cobots

Cobots improve both the quantity and quality of output for manufacturers, increasing productivity while reducing time to market. These robotic tools quickly, accurately and consistently tend machines around the clock.

UR cobots have become an invaluable addition at PT JVC Electronics Indonesia, a car audio-visual and navigation device manufacturer, improving productivity and output quality while helping them meet their 400,000 monthly production volume.

For Danish Stantræk, which designs and manufactures mechanical parts based on metal sheets and coils, cobots offer the perfect solution to address growing global competition and win job bids. With the deployment of two UR5 cobots, the company was able to expand production and nearly double revenue.

 

Easy Programming

The introduction of new technology, though advantageous, is often seen as a challenge to business owners. That is why the automated solution must be one that can be installed easily to avoid any loss of production time and quickly adopted by employees. Cobots are easily programmable and can be adapted to automate multiple applications, eliminating the need to invest in multiple machines.

Furthermore, working with cobots is easy. The user-friendly UR cobots are easily programmed by operators with little robotic experience. The cobots come with a UR teach pendant, an easy-to-use touchscreen with intuitive 3D visualisation, which enables an operator to program routines by simply moving the robot arm.

 

Building The Future Workforce

In order to reap the full potential of robotic integration, manufacturers must focus on providing the right skills to current and future workers and be well informed of the benefits of cobots.

Doing its part to foster automation and close the work force skills gap in the region, UR launched the UR Academy, an initiative offering free online learning modules to aid businesses in robotics training and adoption. It is available in various languages including English, Spanish, German, French, Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Thai. More than 45,000 users from over 130 countries have already signed up to date. The UR Collaborative Robotics Course, an in-depth and hands-on robotics course, is also available in Singapore to nurture a pipeline of talent to take on new and higher value jobs that will arise from automation.

Southeast Asia has tremendous potential to become a manufacturing powerhouse and is expected to surpass China’s metal production as the ongoing trade war between Washington and Beijing deepens. More than ever, the region must adopt new technologies such as robotics to effectively transform itself into the world’s factory.

 

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