Print.IT - issue 47 - page 24

01732 759725
Volker Spanier
Robots have transformed the
workplace and will take industries
to new levels in the coming years
as technology, workplace practices
and industry processes become
increasingly innovative. To date,
robots have been used mainly
in large-scale production, but
advances in robotics technology
are presenting sizeable productivity
and profitability opportunities
for a wealth of industries where
more small-scale, lean and agile
operations are required.
Even though there is some way
to go until robots become the norm,
the number of industrial robots
deployed worldwide is expected to
increase to around 2.6 million units
by 2019 – that’s about one million
units more than in 2015
Sales of advanced cobots
(collaborative robots that work
alongside humans) are expected to
rise too. While they only accounted
for 5% of global robot sales in
2015, Barclays Equity Research
estimates that this $120 million
market could jump to $3.1 billion by
2020 and $12 billion by 2025. That
would mean 150,000 cobots sold
in 2020 and 700,000 in 2025
Reshoring & personalisation
This is all happening because
robotics are opening doors to more
opportunities for local production
(reshoring) and the development
of more tailored products for
consumers (personalisation).
In addition, as increased
cooperation with humans, including
physical cooperation, becomes
apparent, novel business models
and deployment strategies are
entering other industries, including
healthcare and hospitality. Smaller,
smarter and more nimble robots
are becoming clear contenders to
support the fast-paced and dynamic
requests of consumers and a
growing sense of sustainability.
At the same time, market
leaders are advancing access to
these technologies. The price of
robots is coming down as more
entry-level robots become available
for purchase directly from websites,
raising the possibility of a modular
approach to robotic solutions, as
well as robot systems that can be
sold at a low cost and adapted by
the end user.
The capacity of robots to adapt
to different needs is increasing
at breakneck speed. While they
may still be 10 or so years away
from having the dexterity to pick
strawberries as well as a human
can, developments in sensing
technology, such as Epson’s Force
Sensor, are already enabling robots
to automatically modulate the force
they apply to objects.
This is rapidly expanding their
capabilities and allowing the
automation of complex tasks that
formerly required human sensory
perception. Already, certain robots
can work at speed with incredible
precision, picking up and sorting
elements that are neither aligned
nor identically positioned.
These trends can be seen in
the reshoring activities of two
well-known European apparel
manufacturers, Adidas, which
recently set up a speed-factory near
Ansbach that can produce a shoe in
five hours from start to finish, and
Mango, which is reshoring some
parts of its production for the same
reasons. Leveraging the benefits
brought by new technologies like
robots, 3D printers and body
scanners, Mango hopes to be able
to develop new collections every
two weeks instead of three.
While large-scale production
remains elsewhere, robotics
technology is allowing both
companies to react faster to market
changes by shortening the value
chain and moving production closer
to the end-user
New robots, like the Dual Arm
from Epson, currently in the final
stages of development, aim to go
one step further and eliminate the
need for detailed programming by
allowing the robot to create its own
preferred trajectories and actions,
based on specific objectives. Easy
programming reduces the need for
a specialised skill set to manage
the robot and allows the same
machine to be relocated within a
factory and used for multiple tasks.
The future of work
The growth of robotics in Europe
continues to pose questions for
the labour market. Robots may not
yet be able to pick strawberries or
thread laces but they are learning
fast. Understandably, some view
this development with concern, as
it will enable robots to take on roles
previously occupied by humans.
Others envisage a different
scenario: yes, robots will take over
some jobs, but, as with previous
industrial revolutions, new jobs will
be created.
In a few years’ time, it is likely
we will draw parallels between
the evolution of robots and the
smartphone: consider the size of
the first mobile phones and how
they have now transformed into
essential, go-to mini-machines
smaller than our back pocket.
Robots will continue to get smaller,
smarter and more sensitive – and it
is nothing to be concerned about.
In fact, it is more a case of being
prepared for a future where our jobs
are more stimulating and creative,
where we have access to more
personalised solutions and greater
access to goods. As robots become
more nimble, we humans must too.
Volker Spanier, Head of
Robotics Solutions at Epson
Europe, explains how the
evolution of robotics will
affect you
Meet your new colleague
smarter and
more nimble
robots are
contenders to
support the
and dynamic
requests of
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