The knock-on effects of rising Covid-19 infections could see a national workforce crisis spreading.
By Universal Robots Regional President Asia Pacific, James McKew.
James McKew, Universal Robots Regional President for Asia Pacific.
The recently discovered Omicron variant is responsible for some of the highest numbers of Covid-19 cases reported in a single day in Australia since the pandemic began.
Local manufacturers, forced to either shut down production or work in isolation, face ongoing production and supply chain issues, which are currently affecting key supermarkets such as Coles and Woolworths.
Can this go on?
While many experts are calling 2022 the year of economic recovery, Universal Robots Asia Pacific President James McKew argues that the economy can no longer sustain lagged supply chains and unpredictable business operations.
“Automation is the best solution for this,” he says.
“We've seen both large and small suppliers consider automation as a solution. Social distancing, isolation, and a lack of hands on the ground have all led to strong adoption of automation—and collaborative automation in particular.”
Collaborative robots (cobots) can work safely with humans, have a small footprint, and are easy and inexpensive to deploy.
“There is certainly an appetite for automation on site. While in the past many companies could not compete on price with their Asian counterparts, automation has become a solution to produce efficiently and competitively,” says McKew.
Mr. McKew identifies several trends that will be game changers in collaborative automation in 2022, as follows:
- Collaborative automation is set to increase sharply in 2022
Addressing issues related to labor shortages and supply chain and manufacturing disruptions, Mr. McKew believes cobots will gain popularity in 2022. Recent studies by Market Watch forecast that the global cobot market will grow to US$36.5 billion by 2030, registering a compound annual growth (CAGR) of 42% over the forecast period of 2022-2030.
“There is certainly an appetite for automation on site. We've seen steady adoption among cobots in 2021 and reached an exciting milestone by selling our 50,000th cobot globally,” says Mr. McKew. "This year, we anticipate increased demand from both SMBs and large enterprises to ensure they can continue to meet increasing consumer demand."
Mr. McKew adds that two key requirements from manufacturers are remote access and 24/7 operation, both of which can be met by cobots.
“The increased demand for cobots is driving our company to continually redefine automation through innovation,” he says.
Two of the biggest benefits of cobots are space savings and flexibility.
“Manufacturers looking to save space and budget will benefit greatly from using cobots on the factory floor,” says McKew. "They can be moved and reprogrammed to suit a range of tasks."
Interestingly, Mr. McKew adds that there are millions of automatable tasks that people are currently doing.
“Enabling employees to transition from boring, dirty, and even dangerous jobs into roles that encourage creativity and problem-solving will go a long way in ensuring business continuity and happier employees,” he says.
Mr. McKew believes 2022 will be one of collaboration.
“As the Covid-19 vaccinations are in full swing around the world, the global economy is opening up and it is time for cooperation. Developing strong partnerships and collaboration within your ecosystem is the most powerful value proposition a company can deliver in 2022,” he says.
“Providing value to customers is an essential part of a company's success, and in a highly competitive environment like ours, working in silos is not an option. Collaboration is in our DNA and we pride ourselves on the dependable support of a strong UR ecosystem made up of distributors, UR+ partners and integrators around the world.”
- Industry 5.0 has (officially) arrived
We are officially ringing in a new era of Industry 5.0.
“Whereas Industry 4.0 focused on intelligent, automated production facilities and real-time communication, Industry 5.0 welcomes new robotic developments and, most importantly, converging robots and highly skilled humans,” says Mr. McKew.
While experts argue that Industry 5.0 will be more of a vision than a reality in 2022, the uptick in cobots might suggest otherwise.
“Industry 4.0 remained a buzzword for a long time and initial adoption was slow. However, in an increasingly connected world, fueled largely by the uncertainty surrounding the Covid-19 lockdowns, technology adoption has accelerated rapidly,” says McKew.
- Talent retention and labor shortages
Despite all the technological advances in the world, the need for human talent in an organization cannot be denied. Mr McKew says cobots are destined to transform the way work gets done, arguing that "people should work with robots, not like robots".
“An aging workforce and changing career choices by younger generations have impacted the sector as we know it,” he says. “People question the kind of work people should do; they don’t want to do boring, dirty and dangerous jobs anymore.”
Mr. McKew debunks the myth that robots aren't there to take people's jobs, but rather to enable people to focus on meaningful tasks that create job satisfaction and benefit the bottom line.
“We now have the ability to attract employees through automation. Employees are looking for ways to be creative and problem solve, and this can be achieved by collaborating with cobots. It creates attractive jobs in manufacturing,” he says.
On the subject of labor shortages, Mr. McKew believes cobots tick all the boxes for companies looking to increase production but grappling with labor issues.
- Quality as a differentiator
In recent years there has been a notable increase in competitors for collaborative automation.
"The increased demand creates business opportunities," says Mr. McKew.
“However, we strongly advise companies to do their homework before signing a new supplier. The need for efficiency, collaboration and increased performance can only be met through quality. This remains the key differentiator for any business in 2022.”
About universal robots
Universal Robots (UR) was founded in 2005 to make robotics technology accessible to everyone by developing small, easy-to-use, affordable, flexible collaborative robots (cobots) that can safely work side-by-side with humans. Since launching the first cobot in 2008, the company has experienced significant growth with the easy-to-use cobots sold worldwide today. The company, part of Teradyne Inc., is headquartered in Odense, Denmark with regional offices in the United States, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, United Kingdom, Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Russia and Turkey, China, India, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Mexico. In 2020, Universal Robots had sales of $219 million.
Visit universal-robots.com for more information.