Production robotization: drivers and barriers

By 2035, in the leading countries in industrial robotization, labor productivity in factories will grow by 40%, and gross value added will double. And today, during a pandemic and crisis, robotic production experiences minimal losses – robots do not get sick, robotic factories can be controlled remotely. Suddenly, COVID-19 has become a driver for the development of robotics.

Production robotization drivers

The robotization of production can reduce the conversion costs of a plant by 15%, as well as save up to 40%. Robots  increases the productivity and competitiveness of industrial enterprises, and in the near future, the automation of production will lead to the personalization of consumer goods and an increase in the quality of life of people.

Today, industrial robots are available not only for large enterprises, but also for small businesses. This has become possible thanks to the development of technology and the efforts of governments. A number of financial and social factors are also driving the process of industrial automation.

Technological drivers

Increased variety of robots. Today there are seven types of industrial robots, so almost every production task has robotic solutions.

Improvements. Modern robots can withstand heavy loads, the speed and accuracy of their work have increased. Due to this, robots are successfully used not only in mechanical engineering, but in the electrical industry and pharmaceuticals. Robots have become safer – cobots are able to effectively collaborate with humans in production. Machine vision and artificial intelligence technologies allow jobs to perform more complex tasks, independently improve the quality of work, and quickly readjust to new operations. Thanks to this, robots can become an effective solution not only in mass and large-scale production, but also in enterprises producing small batches of goods.

Easy to integrate. Advances in networking technology and software development techniques have made the installation and maintenance of robots faster and cheaper than before. Developers create robots with intuitive interfaces that learn through demo or voice commands, all of which simplify their implementation and use in the enterprise.

Production updates. In countries with a high level of robotization, old robots (12-15 years old) are replaced with new, more modern ones. In our country, a specific driver is the low level of modernization of production, in some industries the percentage of equipment wear is more than 50%, based on this, industrialists logically strive to replace outdated equipment with modern ones.

In the United States, three years later, research grants were awarded $2 billion under the A Roadmap for US Robotics From Internet to Robotics program. National Robotics Initiative 2.0.

In 2018, the Intelligent Robot Industry Development Strategy program was launched in South Korea – the Korean government will allocate $ 467 million to increase the robotics and automation market to $6,150,000,000 by 2022.

Since 2006 The PRC has been implementing the “State Medium and Long-Term Plan for the Development of Science and Technology” for the period up to 2020. And in 2015, the Made in China 2025 program was released. It covers a $300 billion fund for the development of high technologies and industrial production. It is complemented by the programs “Guidelines for promoting the production of industrial robots” and “Development plan for the robotic industry” (2016-2020), according to which the Government of the PRC must allocate more than $59 billion for the formation of a complete system for the production of industrial robotics in 2017-2020.

However, despite the efforts of governments, the development of technology and a number of social and financial factors, the number of robot installations in the industry in 2019 compared to 2018 increased, and according to the forecasts of the consulting company BCG, only 25% of all tasks in the industry will be performed by robots by 2025. The pace of robotization seems inconsistent with the benefits companies can get. What prevents industrialists from introducing smart assistants to factories?

Production robotization barriers

There are a number of factors that impede the robotization of production – companies and people are not ready to use new opportunities for a number of fundamental reasons.

Technological barriers

Low-tech products. Enterprises that have been operating for many decades and which use manual labor produce products, the design features of which do not allow fully automating the production process. When developing the technology for the production of products, the possibility of using robots was not taken into account; the process of its production was designed for the use of manual labor. At such enterprises, only individual operations can be robotized, and full automation will require a revision of the parameters and various properties of the products, as well as the entire technological cycle.

The need to revise the entire production process. The introduction of a robot in one area of ​​production inevitably leads to the need to revise the entire production process. This is logical – the robot changes not only the speed, but also the rhythm of all operations in the production chain. Leaving the process unchanged will make it difficult for people in adjacent areas to keep up with the machine.

Financial barriers

Investments at the stage of implementation. The robotization of production facilities requires significant investments. Of course, you can start by automating individual operations, but this is unlikely to be enough. Modernization of production is a resource-intensive process.

Lack of “cheap long-term money”. Manufacturing companies find it difficult to find affordable loans for new equipment.

Social barriers

Staff resistance. Research by Professor Jonathan Payne at De Montfort University in Leicester (UK) has shown that most workers sabotage the introduction of robots out of discomfort. People note that it is difficult for them to perceive the presence of robots, they are used to relying on people. They are not ready to rely on statistics and managers – often experienced shift supervisors prefer to walk around the shops in the old fashioned way, talk to people and make an intuitive decision.

Fear of job cuts. In countries leading in the field of industrial robotization, people have a panic mood due to the fear of losing their jobs and being unnecessary. From 2000 to 2010, 5,600,000 jobs were lost in the United States and Canada. 85% were lost due to productivity gains associated with replacing people with machines. Experts expect that by 2030, jobs will occupy 30-38% of jobs in the US, Germany, and the UK. In these countries, whole movements are emerging against the robotization of production and job cuts.

Cheap labor. In some regions, including Ukraine, human labor is still very cheap. And it is economically more profitable for industrialists to postpone the modernization of production and use cheap labor in the old fashioned way.

Personnel hunger. While the global shortage of skilled engineers has been declining, it remains high in Ukraine. Due to the crisis in the industrial sector in the 90s – 2000s, at that time, many graduates of technical universities did not go to work at factories. And today, technical specialties still do not attract young people, therefore, there are critically few qualified engineers in Ukraine who are able to qualitatively design a robotic system and carry out its implementation.

There is no doubt that in the future there will be robots at the factories, but the question remains open in what perspective. Of course, there are more factors pushing the automation of production, but some of the barriers slowing down transformation are fundamental – the speed of adaptation of people to changes is low and only significant factors can force people to leave their usual comfort zone, however, the global stress associated with COVID-19 can become one of them.

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