Henry Ford might not have been the first to develop the assembly line, but he popularized it and brought it to public consciousness. He also made cars affordable for the average person. So it may not be surprising that Toyota researchers are referencing Henry Ford when they talk about making affordable robots.
Japan has a problem with population. More than a quarter of Japan’s population is 65 or older, and the number of young people available to care for the elderly continues to shrink. Economists predict that in 50 years, half of Japan’s population will be elderly.
The solution? Right now, Japan relies on foreign workers to care for the old, but the plan for the future is to have robots doing these tasks. This gives Japan an extra layer of motivation to create affordable robots for home use, just as Henry Ford made cars an ordinary possession for Americans.
Japan’s political leaders also want to grow Japan’s share of the robotics market overall. Household robots aren’t on most Americans’ wish lists, but collaborative or autonomous robots like Baxter appeal to U.S. manufacturers. At $25,000 for the first year of service, Baxter is less expensive than a human worker already. Getting prices down further would make the switch to robot workers even more appealing.
Gill Pratt, the CEO of Toyota’s research arm, announced recently that Toyota is ready to make the changes to robot production that Henry Ford made to automobile production. Toyota expects to be rolling affordable robots off the line using the same process they use for cars.
How will this change manufacturing around the world? In the U.S., it could be the piece that makes small-scale manufacturing practical, the extra push that brings manufacturing back to the U.S., or a new component of Industry 4.0.
The future of industrial automation is uncertain and exciting. In the meantime, when you need support for your Rexroth electric motion control, call us. We specialize in Rexroth electric drives, controls, and servos, and we’r ready to help you fast.