The evolving business climate in 2022 resulting from the continued pandemic, as well as spinoff issues such as supply chain, labor and inflationary challenges is forcing many businesses and manufacturing executives to implement automation and robotics technologies for their production, distribution and fulfillment facilities.
The ongoing economic challenges, along with continued pressure from business investors for a strong focus on the bottom line, has added pressure to companies that need to become even more efficient with their factory operations and product development teams.
Sure, many manufacturing facilities continue to rely heavily on human labor, but an increasing number of locations are now implementing automation and robotics technologies powered by Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality (AR/VR) to speed efficiencies, lower costs, and minimize human touch points to ease the pain from staffing challenges.
Larger investments in automation
Demand for workplace robots in the U.S. rose by a record 40% during the first quarter compared with the same period in 2021, according to the Association for Advancing Automation, which tracks trends in the robotics industry.
Automation-driven robotics has been widely used in the automotive sector, such as assembly lines production. But now other industries like aerospace, retail and food production, construction equipment, and pharmaceuticals are seeing gains in the use of these machines on the plant floor.
The business benefits of increased productivity and reduced costs are obviously a boon to the bottom line. However, other leading drivers show that these technologies are helping to enhance new social distancing policies enacted during the early days of the pandemic.
Increased flexibility across manufacturing facilities
The COVID-19 pandemic has illustrated the need for more operational flexibility where advanced technology and automation can be applicable. In addition, the ability to scale up or down quickly to meet project deadlines, without impacting hourly shifts, has further helped with manufacturing efficiency.
Technologies such as AR/VR-driven robotics and automation have also greatly increased across plant floors, especially as the need to adhere to tighter supply chain and logistics demands has been paramount this summer.
Doing more with less
As we move through 2022, continued disruptions to the global supply chain are becoming more of the new normal, and manufacturers continue to address the cascading events in different ways. For example, improving supply-chain visibility and increasing customer satisfaction are clearly important. Fifty-nine percent said improving supply-chain visibility was their single most important business priority in 2022, while 45% chose improving customer satisfaction. Better automation-driven technologies are paving the way for these improvements.
Cloud-based automation technologies proving pivotal
AR/VR is necessary today in automation and robotics technologies, but there are important areas to understand when leveraging such technology for manufacturing applications. The technology allows designers and manufacturers the ability to conduct real-time 3D visualization and CAD for design and manufacturing; faster training cycles; and professionals can work at drastically higher levels. In fact, some manufacturers report minimized errors using AR/VR through instructions overlay, remote assistance, and better planning and visualization. This has resulted in a more than 40% increase in productivity in some instances. AR/VR technologies provide significant time savings to the manufacturing build process through optimized decision process, which positively impacts the entire OODA Loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act).
One caveat facility managers must take into account is that not all automation technologies are created equal. It is important to pay close attention to the technology infrastructure and to choose a platform that is cloud-enabled so that projects can truly scale when needed. Manufacturers are overcoming their growth limitations by leveraging cloud-based (or remote server based) AR/VR platforms powered by distributed cloud architecture and 3D vision-based AI. These cloud platforms provide the desired performance and scalability to drive innovation in the industry at speed and scale.
The use of robotics and AR/VR-driven automation technologies requires the right speed and data for accuracy. Even though technologies like AR/VR have been in use for several years, many manufacturers have deployed virtual solutions that are built upon an on-premise environment, where all the technology data is stored locally.
On-premise AR/VR infrastructures limit the speed and scalability needed for today’s virtual designs, and it limits the ability to conduct knowledge sharing between organizations that can be critical when designing new products and understanding the best way for virtual buildouts.
Manufacturers today are overcoming these limitations by leveraging cloud-based (or remote server based) AR/VR platforms powered by distributed cloud architecture and 3D vision-based AI. These cloud platforms provide the desired performance and scalability to drive innovation in the industry at speed and scale.