Future of Manufacturing Robots

 

Robots are expected to automate the manufacturing floor over the next three to five years in many countries because of the rapidly changing demographics. With increasing ageing population and low birth rates, it becomes difficult to sustain a manufacturing industry completely reliant on human workforce. This is one of the reasons that manufacturing has become a key area for robotics.

 

Epson has produced robots for its own manufacturing purposes for over 30 years, and supplies other industries with these products, securing an installed base of over 30,000 robots around the world. At International Robots Exhibition in Tokyo in early 2014, one of the products that drew attention was our autonomous dual-arm robots that we aim to have in commercial production by the end of March 2016. What makes these dual-arm robots stand out is their human-like ability to see, sense, think and react. They are able to recognize objects, modulate the amount of force applied to objects to avoid harming them, and make decisions in the course of executing their assigned tasks. These robots are expected to be able to automate manufacturing tasks that until now have had to rely on manual labor due to task difficulty or cost constraints.

 

The robots market has many segments to it, but one of the key focus areas where you see a lot of innovation is SCARA (Selective Compliance Assembly Robot Arm) robots. This is an area we have focused on since 2010, with a 31% market share. We have the number one position in Asia for IC Test Handlers (for handling information chips) and we are also growing in the small 6-axis market. This market is currently experiencing strong demand and is forecast to grow 10% year on year in the mid-term, driven by demand in advanced markets such as Japan, the US and Europe as well as expanding markets such as China.

 

Market challenges are such that in developed economies, while there is a drive for renewed manufacturing capability, competition from emerging markets remains high. Emerging markets, however, face their own challenges of increasing labor costs and a shortage of workers.

 

This is all impacted by the increased demand for high mix, low volume production and shorter product lifespans. Automated production processes that are flexible enough to handle a range of products are required, and this is what companies can provide. We can provide products that lower the barriers to automation and can be used in range of settings from transfer and assembly to inspection and packing, using precision and imaging processing and sensing technologies.

 

Our robots also offer higher value functionality such as 3D recognition, which enables a robot to recognize the position and orientation of randomly scattered objects; and force sensing, which means a robot can freely control the force it applies to a task; and flexible, passive gripping so that robots can work with soft, squashy or fragile objects.

 

We are already working on its next generation of robotics with existing examples of an autonomous, dual-armed robot that can see, sense and think. This robot, researched with Tohoku University, will enable automation in production processes where people are still needed to make decisions based on their senses. The robot will remove the need for an engineer to re-programme it in order for new tasks to be assigned.  This robot can be taught an ‘object and task’ scenario and then make decisions on process.

 

In addition, the robot will not require special, costly tools for it to do its job, it will use the tools people use. It can also be easily moved, unlike most robots today that are fixed to a location.

 

We are also currently looking at how its robotics capabilities could be combined with other product area – for example, label production and 3D printing.

The application of robotics in the manufacturing sector has many beneficial implications and more investment in research and development in this field is required for companies to produce robots that will transform the future of manufacturing which will be a collaboration between humans and robots. 

 

 

 

About Khalil El-Dalu

Khalil El-Dalu is the General Manager of Epson Europe B.V. - Middle East office. Under his leadership, Khalil has effectively increased the sales of Epson’s entire range of products across the region.

Before joining Epson in 1999 as Corporate Sales Manager, Khalil worked for US-based company Lawrence Electronics Corporation, where he served as a Senior Technical Manager and Design Engineer. He later moved to Al Sarraf Computer Services in Kuwait and was assigned as Product Manager for Epson. During his stint in Kuwait, Khalil was tasked with training sales staff and resellers on the different Epson products being launched into the market. He also took charge of all Epson marketing activities, which included product launches, presentations and exhibitions.

Khalil has a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering from Tennessee State University, US.

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