May 15, 2017
From hospitality and manufacturing to agriculture and mining, robots won’t just replace humans; they will also work alongside them.
Robots have been part of popular culture for decades—cleaning house in The Jetsons and helping the rebel forces defeat the empire in the Star Wars films. In the reality of today, robotics applications are transforming manufacturing and non-manufacturing operations through new capabilities that address the challenges of working in changing, uncertain, and uncontrolled environments. They are building cars and planes, harvesting crops, moving heavy pallets of goods inside warehouses to smooth the fulfillment process, and automating tasks that are too dangerous, monotonous, or otherwise unsuited for completion by human workers.
Instead of focusing on removing humans completely from the manufacturing process, some companies are starting to see an opportunity for humans and robots to join forces. Enter cobots (short for collaborative robots). Cobots are inexpensive, lightweight, and easy to program. They also are designed to work alongside humans and can be introduced into an existing manufacturing process without major transformation or expense. When combined with artificial intelligence and drone technologies (arguably a subset of robotics), the sky is literally the limit for robotics applications.
The global robotics market is already growing at a healthy clip. Unit sales for 2016 were expected to reach 6.69 million units, and a cumulative average growth rate of 26.5 percent is expected for the next four years, according to research from Technavio. It also forecasts that by the end of 2019, nearly 14 million robotic units will be sold every year. This uptick is echoed in PwC’s Global Digital IQ Survey: Today, 15 percent of the executives surveyed say their companies are investing in robotics; that number likely will double to 31 percent in three years.
Who is investing the most in robotics? Companies headquartered in Asia top the list today, along with airlines, automotive companies, healthcare providers, aerospace and defense firms, engineering and construction companies, and industrial manufacturers. In three years, the list will expand to energy, mining, pharmaceutical, and chemicals companies.