When implemented correctly, robotic automation can spur greater efficiency, deliver better results, lower costs and increase flexibility, according to James Taylor, General Manager, APAC, OnRobot.
Automation adoption is growing across Southeast Asia. Disruptive technology, like robotics, has the potential to automate roughly half of work in the region’s four biggest economies: Indonesia (52 percent), Malaysia (51 percent), the Philippines (48 percent) and Thailand (55 percent), according to a report by McKinsey Global Institute – “Artificial Intelligence And Southeast Asia’s Future”.
Even so, Southeast Asian manufacturers have been slow to embrace automation compared to their Western counterparts as many do not know how to get started and fear that the process can be quite complex.
When implemented correctly, robotic automation can spur greater efficiency, deliver better results, lower costs and increase flexibility – for both SMEs and larger-scale manufacturing companies. Businesses must have a sound and strategic vision of robotic automation before pursuing it, however. They should understand how it will be introduced and to which applications, outline its potential benefits and clearly understand the unique budget and operational strategies.
Once those baseline questions are answered, the next step towards automation is not selecting the robots; instead, identify the right end-effectors that can be fitted to the robots to automate collaborative applications.
The Right Tools for the Right Job
While it is understandable that businesses new to automation might assume that robots are the most important component, it is the end-of-arm tooling, or EOAT, that will in fact handle the material and products. It is the EOAT, too, that will collect data that informs robot behaviour, as well as communicate with objects, robots and humans.
There are several factors to consider while choosing robot grippers, sensors and tool changers. Since modern EOAT is often not designed for a specific industry, but rather to handle a range of applications, businesses should seek a single source that can provide a range of robot accessories curated for various production needs. Those tools require minimal installation and reinstallation times, and are equipped with greater and more complex operational features.
Businesses moving to automated production should put a premium on advanced EOAT, which will become even more essential in the coming years. The Federation of International Robotics, for instance, predicts that cobots – collaborative robots designed to work in tandem with human operators in industrial environments – will account for nearly 35 percent of global robot sales by 2025. More cobots will translate to a greater demand for versatile and flexible EOAT that can help make the cobots smarter and more autonomous, which in turn will deliver a greater return on investment.
For example, a custom-built gripper designed only to handle a specific task in a mass production environment has limited use and potential. When the task or production needs change – as is particularly common in the consumer goods sector – that gripper becomes useless and must be replaced, a reality that slows processes and increases costs.
In contrast, flexible grippers like OnRobot’s RG2/RG6 can easily manage multiple tasks and handle products of various size and material. What’s more, the RG2/RG6’s combination of seamless out-of-box installation and intuitive programming cuts deployment time by up to about 30 percent.
Smart Tools for Smart Businesses
From reducing long-term costs to creating a more efficient and dynamic production environment, automated processes can help businesses overcome existing challenges and ultimately give them an advantage over competitors. This is as true for SMEs, which, at 95 percent of businesses, are a key contributor to the region’s GDP, as it is for larger businesses.
Automation is no longer just for high-volume manufacturing. SMEs with small-batch production tasks and historical production data can and should take advantage of modern advances in robotics and EOAT, particularly with lower costs making them more feasible options for companies with tighter budgets.
Automation has many potential benefits for SMEs, including lower per-unit costs due to greater precision, as well as the ability to more easily increase or decrease production based on demand. Enhanced production capabilities could help SMEs stand apart from competitors, too, making them more marketable to new clients with more demanding production needs.
Acknowledging the vast benefits of automation, countries have introduced grants, tax concessions and loans to promote greater adoption. Singapore launched the Automation Support Package in 2016, offering businesses funding support of up to 50 percent for automation projects while Malaysia has set aside RM5 billion (US$ 1.2 billion) to help firms embrace the technology.
It’s crucial for all businesses, however, to consider their automation goals and to choose the tools that will help achieve them. The right flexible tools and new-age intelligent accessories will reduce the cost of implementing the automated solution, saving installation and redeployment time, and making the whole process more collaborative and inclusive.
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