The COVID-19 pandemic, inflation, supply chain disruptions and staffing challenges are causing manufacturers to embrace automation and robotics technologies for production, fulfillment and distribution.
To be sure, many manufacturing facilities continue to rely heavily on human labor. But an increasing number are implementing systems driven by augmented and virtual reality, in a bid to boost efficiency, lower costs and minimize human touch points. 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.
Robotics has especially caught on in automotive assembly lines. But other industries, such as aerospace, construction equipment, retail, food and pharmaceuticals, are also seeing greater use of these machines on the plant floor. Benefits include heightened productivity, as well as the ability to enact social-distancing policies during the early days of the pandemic.
COVID-19 highlighted the need for greater operational flexibility. The ability to scale production up or down quickly, without impacting hourly shifts, has become key to promoting modern-day manufacturing efficiency.
As the year progresses, sustained disruptions to the global supply chain are becoming ever more common, forcing manufacturers to address cascading events. In a recent survey of manufacturers, 59% cited improving supply chain visibility as their single most important business priority in 2022, while 45% chose improving customer satisfaction. Automation-driven technologies are paving the way for these improvements.
AR and VR technologies allow designers and manufacturers to employ real-time 3D visualization and computer-assisted design (CAD). The result is faster training cycles and the ability of professionals to work at dramatically higher levels of efficiency. Manufacturers report fewer errors through the use of instructions overlay, remote assistance and better planning and visualization. In some instances, they’ve seen productivity increases of greater than 40%. AR and VR technologies reduce the build process through optimized decision-making, which impacts the entire “OODA Loop”: Observe, Orient, Decide and Act.
Not all automation technologies are created equal. Facility managers must take into account their unique infrastructures, and to choose a platform that’s cloud-enabled so that projects can smoothly scale.
Modern-day robotics technologies come with the need for speed and data accuracy. Many manufacturers have deployed virtual systems in an on-premise environment, with data that’s stored locally. Such models lack the responsiveness and scalability necessary for today’s virtual designs. They also limit the ability to share knowledge within and across organizations — a capability that can be critical to the design of new products and creation of virtual buildouts.
Manufacturers today are overcoming these limitations by turning to AR and VR platforms, supported by distributed cloud architecture and 3D vision-based artificial intelligence. Such systems provide the desired performance and scalability to drive innovation at speed and scale.
Dijam Panigrahi is co-founder and chief operating officer of Grid Raster Inc.
Timely, incisive articles delivered directly to your inbox.