Automation is normal in manufacturing and printing now, and the use of robots in industry is rising steadily.
But there have been some factors that slow down implementation of automation in factories.
One factor was the upfront cost of automation. That number has been falling as robots get cheaper and more ubiquitous.
But it’s also getting more acceptable to factory owners when it’s compared to having to shut down or to pay the costs of social distancing and disinfecting the factory floor.
For example, recycling services were shut down all across the country to keep human beings from sorting through refuse. AI can do that job safely.
One robotics supplier says they’re hearing from their customers that all spending is frozen — except for automation.
In the past, experts have identified measures that reduced human interaction as effective ways to speed up processes and make them more efficient. People, however, have resisted the idea. UPS drivers, for example, would have been happy to drop packages on the porch or loading dock and race back to their trucks — but it turned out that customer satisfaction fell when they didn’t take the time to interact with recipients.
Now, dropping items and running away is what people want from a delivery person. So it no longer has to be a delivery person. It can be a delivery robot.
On the factory floor, sensors can read instructions from the workpiece, identify the operator’s native language from a badge, and show directions on a kiosk. This technology has been available for years — Rexroth has been showing it off in Industry 4.0 installations for a long time.
Visitors to these installations oohed and aahed, but they haven’t seen the ROI. Now, when people are increasingly trying to avoid human contact, it’s a lot more visible.
People’s suspicion of and discomfort with robots has also been a delaying factor. Reluctance to work with robots has been widespread in the United States.
But right now, there’s something scarier than a robot — and that’s a human being.
Robots are being pressed into service for long-term care facilities, hospitals, and grocery stores. Grocery store robot cleaners were being derided as “creepy” just a year ago, but things have changed.
In general, coronavirus has sped up the process of accepting and implementing automation in many industries. We’ll see what happens on the other side.