Six industrial robotics trends for 2023
Robotics are becoming more important and manufacturers are recognizing their growing role in many different industries and applications. Six industry trends are highlighted.
Industrial robotics insights
- Robotics are being used more often in industrial manufacturing facilities due to a rising labor and skills gap and strong industry demand.
- Trends in the industrial robotics market include increased digitalization and automation and an emphasis on making robots easier to use.
- Sustainability is a growing trend throughout manufacturing and industrial robots are no exception.
External factors, from the pandemic to geopolitical insecurities and supply chain issues, have had an outsize impact on the industrial robotics sector in recent years.
At the same time, internal factors, such as technological and usability advancements also exert influence on industrial robot development and adoption.
There’s a lot of information to sift through, which makes identifying the most influential trends a real challenge. However, there are six trends industry experts are paying particular attention to.
1. Labor and demographics
Scott Marsic, group product manager – robotics, at Epson America Inc. said labor shortages are “far and away, the number one trend” driving industrial automation adoption.
“The United States’ manufacturing sector is doing great work, but there are more jobs than there are people to fill them and that presents a problem.”
Labor issues are global, said Kary Zate, senior director, marketing communications at Locus Robotics.
“You’ve got labor shortages, an aging population in the warehouse, and a younger generation that’s not really interested in working in warehouse environments, because, frankly, it’s hard work that requires people to walk 10 to 15 miles a day in a cart-based environment. It’s very taxing.”
With finding and retaining talent a major challenge for industry, a growing number of companies are turning to industrial automation to fill labor gaps, improve productivity, and stay competitive in a challenging macroeconomic landscape, Zate said.
2. Digitalization drives
The pandemic accelerated both automation adoption and the digital transformation across the industrial sector, said Lian Jye Su, research director at market analyst firm ABI Research.
“This trend includes remote monitoring software and software that enables or otherwise facilitates the adoption of industrial automation,” said Su.
“There is no faster way to automate, especially when deploying a mix of robot brands, than to use these types of software. The traditional approach – hiring engineers to commission a robotic solution—can take weeks and months and that means a missed opportunity for a lot of these manufacturers.”
Explore any industry tradeshow and you will find a wide range of digitalization tools from AI and augmented reality to digital twins geared towards manufacturing applications, Marsic said.
“It’s an exciting time in robotics and digitalization and these technologies are helping to attract new folks to robotics programming roles. For a programmer, the opportunity to work with AI and augmented reality and have their code deployed on industrial robots is pretty cool.”
3. Cobot and mobile robot use increasing
Collaborative robots remain the fastest growing segment of the industrial robotics sector, Su said.
“There’s been a lot of positive feedback in recent years about how cobots are easy to deploy and, over time, cobots have found their niche in the industrial robotics sector and it has proven to be one that can complement both human labor and traditional industrial robots. I don’t think that growth is slowing down any time soon.”
According to ABI Research, the cobot market had a global valuation of $475 million in 2020, expanded to $600 million in 2021 and is expected to reach $8 billion by 2030, at a projected CAGR of 32.5%.
At the same time, mobile robots are also seeing rapid surge in popularity, Su said. “Just ten years ago, mobile robots were a luxury, now they are found in almost every industry segment and location from deep sea oil rigs to manufacturing and warehouse facilities.”
Global robotics Venture Capital (VC) investment reached US$5.7 billion in 2021, at 38% year-on-year growth, with autonomous mobile robots attracting huge interest, according to ABI Research.
4. Reshoring initiatives
Labor costs overseas are rising quickly, while at the same time, the cost of automation is dropping significantly. These are just two of the factors that are helping to drive reshoring initiatives across the United States and other leading economies, Masic said.
“Today, there are several additional issues to contend with from intellectual property and tariffs to geopolitics, and supply chain challenges. Companies need to bring back manufacturing quickly and the best way to do that, especially in the middle of a labor crisis, is with automation.”
And by shortening supply lines, reshoring can also reduce emissions and generate environmental benefits that help to make manufacturing more sustainable.
5. Robots are becoming more usable
The increasing usability of industrial robot systems makes it easier than ever for companies of all sizes and technical skill levels to deploy automation.
“The drive for simplicity is a really important trend,” Masic said. “People want to get their automation up and running quickly. This requires an easy-to-use operating system and extensive customer support throughout the entire process. The need for simplicity is being driven by new customers and new users coming into the automation space. We saw this trend before the pandemic, but since 2020 it has really blown up.”
The rising popularity of the robotics-as-a-service model has made automation adoption easier and less capital intensive, giving operators the ability to seamlessly scale to meet changing volumes and seasonal spikes in just minutes vs. the typical time frames that can take weeks or months, Zate said.
6. Increased focus on sustainability
There is growing concern around sustainability and climate issues among robot manufacturers and their customers, Masic said.
“Sustainability and environmental responsibility are long-time core values of the Epson organization. For example, by moving away from ground-based sources of materials as much as possible and by exploring the whole lifecycle of our products to discover which parts can be reused.”
From the outset, Locus Robotics developed its business model based on sustainability principles, including widespread refurbishment of parts, Zate said.
“We like to say ‘No robot ever dies.’ Sustainability is something that we have always taken seriously and is part our DNA. Today, sustainable manufacturing is really gaining widespread traction both in the robotics industry and among our customers.”
RaaS is a key component of Locus Robotics’ sustainability mission, Zate said: “Because our robots can be refurbished, we can bring them back in, repair them, upgrade them with new types of hardware, new types of software. This means that our customers have the latest and greatest automation at all times.”
– Association for Advancing Automation (A3) is a CFE Media and Technology content partner. Edited by Chris Vavra, web content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media and Technology, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Original content can be found at A3.