Robots – No Longer a Pipe Dream for Small and Medium Companies
By Shermine Gotfredsen, Business Development Manager for APAC, Universal Robots
What iPhones did to mobile phones is what robots will do to automation and manufacturing. They will revolutionise the automation of assembly lines and usher in a new era of innovation. And most importantly, make automation accessible to all businesses – large and small. Thailand, considering its strength in automation-friendly industries, can lead the way.
Robot Revolution& Thailand
Thailand continues to be an attractive destination for international manufacturing firms due to its sound infrastructure and business-friendly regulations. According to a report by the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), Thailand is one of the fastest growing robot markets in Asia – an estimated 4000 units were supplied in 2012. Clearly there is a growing consensus among business leaders that the robot revolution is gaining momentum. Companies are surging ahead by deploying user-friendly and portable co-bots in their production lines.
Entry of Co-bots
So, what are co-bots? These robots are co-workers that can be deployed in manufacturing plants, factories, F&B outlets or wherever companies require them. They are as dexterous as their human counterparts and can add value to their lives by taking over mundane tasks without the need for a salary or annual leave. These collaborative robots are revolutionising the way manufacturers are running their lines. Small and Medium Business (SMB) owners can use this easily accessible and affordable state-of-the-art technology to increase output, improve quality and consequently become more competitive.
Thailand – Automotive Hub of SEA
The IFR expects that the sale of robots worldwide will increase by about 6% on average year on year from 2014 to 2016. It has also predicted that the annual supply of industrial robots will reach more than 190,000 units in 2016. To think that global figures were around the 80,000 mark just 10 years ago, the recent boom can be attributed to the rise in production capabilities as well as the modernisation of production facilities.
The projected rise in robot numbers will have a significant and positive impact on one of Thailand’s core industries – automotive. According to a recent article by The Nation, Thailand is not only Southeast Asia’s largest automotive manufacturer but also the ninth largest in the world. As the industry serves the local and international markets in equal measure, it is critical that there are no disruptions to overall workflow.
Automated production lines are already the norm and further enhancements will ensure that Thailand continues to reaffirm its status as the automotive hub of the region. In addition to the automotive industry, SMBs are beginning to embrace automation via robotics. Let us look at some factors that SMBs in Thailand must consider when making their decisions.
Choosing the right robotic solution
It is widely reported that rising labour costs and increasing competition from within Thailand and around the region are acting as catalysts in driving automation. The equation is very simple: automation equals cost savings.
While SMBs are looking to leverage the benefits of automation using robots, they can potentially get into the “least expensive-quick returns” trap. Business owners could opt for any solution that is available in the market, perhaps even the least expensive ones. Investing in the least expensive robot without a proper analysis is a short-term approach that can impact the business negatively in the long run.
When considering automation, think long term – in three to five year terms.
Price is one of the many factors
Paying attention only to the robot’s price is not advisable. Business owners need to consider the quality of the product, background of the company, units deployed, functionality, quality of the software, technical support and the cost of future upgrades before deciding. Decisions made purely on price alone can cause problems in the future because of potential ad hoc costs– from software upgrades to hardware maintenance.
Power consumption and the use of real estate are the other factors to consider when deciding on the most optimal automation solution. Ensure that thorough calculations are done to account for the estimated amount of power the robots will consume. Similarly, prepare floor plans to ascertain how much space the robots will require. Other important tips include finding out if the robots require safety shielding and can work alongside humans in close quarters.
Finally, facilities can be designed and robots programmed to function 24/7 without much human supervision. They can be programmed to carry out specific repetitive mechanical operations throughout the night without a need for light or other gadgets that humans cannot do without.
Maximising Business Potential
There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to deploying robots in a production line. There must first be a clear understanding of what the business requires and secondly, the pertinent challenges that need to be addressed. SMBs today are blessed with a wide range of solutions to choose from. By pairing the latest technology with informed foresight, SMBs will be enhancing their processes to maximize the full potential of their businesses.
Universal Robots A/S
Universal Robots is a first mover within a new segment of collaborative robots focusing on user friendliness and flexibility. Since the first UR robot entered the market in December 2008, the company has seen substantial growth with the robotic arms now being sold in more than 50 countries worldwide. The company is headquartered in Odense, Denmark where all development and production is carried out. www.universal-robots.com