Robotic automation has been a hot topic for the Sycor team in the past because of its popularity and the overall effectiveness of the installations. With 2020 being one of the most unpredictable years to date and having the economy balancing on what feels like a terrifying high rope, robotic automation had seen a serious decline in demand compared to 2018 when The World Robotics recorded the highest number of new installations ever. In this breakdown, we'll be going over the automation industry's changes over the last few years, the "new" industry's normal and how the pandemic has drastically changed the future of automation.
The Future of Automation
Before diving into the major trends taking place during the 2020 pandemic, let's go over the trends that took place these past few years to better understand where the market may be going. At first glance, it looks as if the market, in general, would continue to fall until a vaccine is discovered, but recent research has shown that this may not be the case, at least for the near future.
2018 - 2020 Robotic Automation
In 2018 as mentioned above, the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) recorded more industrial robots operating in factories worldwide than ever before. The current number was recorded at 2.7 million, which was a 12% increase. This is still currently still the largest increase to date, but experts predict 2021 and 2022 may surpass pre-pandemic levels.
In 2019 the numbers consistently fluctuated over the four quarters. The World Robotics Report proclaimed that 373,000 new robot units would be shipped globally in 2019. This would have been an excellent sign in past years as it's still the third-highest ever recorded increase within a 12-month period. Although 2019 was the third-highest ever recorded, it was still a 12% decrease from the booming 2018.
The above image is a good example of a potential robotic automation replacement. Instead of having multiple individuals working in close proximity to one another, one employee can manage multiple production lines. Only having to stop for maintenance, tabletop robotics is a new trending type of robotics that's quickly replacing traditional means of production.
In the last decade, we've seen one of the largest increases in robotic automation applications than ever before. The question still remains: will 2020 continue this increase in overall production, or has the pandemic caused a large enough economic crisis around the world to reduce the number of new automation applications?
The IFR echoed that it won't be able to predict the market during the pandemic, but the early recorded sales for 2020 have indicated a 12 percent reduction in sales, specifically in the electronics and automotive manufacturing industry. At first glance, it's blatantly obvious that numbers are down, but the IFR stated, "The remaining months of 2020 will be shaped by the new normal. Robotic suppliers adjust to the demand for new applications and will adjust varying solutions accordingly". The new normals can be very difficult to plan for as top priority has been put on minimizing contact with multiple individuals. This can make simple automation solutions significantly more complex, and this "new normal" the IFR continues to preach may take until 2021 for any significant recovery. Even then, certain industries may take as late as 2022 or 2023 to reach the previous pre-pandemic level.
North America's Automation 2020
The U.S is the largest industrial robot users in the west, with 293,200 units, followed by Mexico with 40,300 units and then Canada with 28,600 units. These are some of the world's highest numbers, yet Japan, with a population of 126.5 million (less than half of the U.S.), has 355,000 units. This is important to note as the U.S is an absolute economic behemoth, yet a country significantly smaller in population is leading the way. Japan has become one of the technological giants in the world and has been for a while. Major industry specialists believe that with what COVID-19 has brought to light, many of the world's stronger economies will begin to implement increased automation tasks where ever possible. Not only will these newly implemented changes be significantly more autonomous, but they'll also significantly reduce the labour costs required.
We've seen some major changes brought about from this challenging period, but even with these costly adjustments, organizations are still able to reap the major benefits:
- Rapid production
- Delivery of customized products
- Keep production in developed countries
As the foundation to major manufacturers in the first world countries (developed countries), the ability to overcome these new set of challenges is essential for the future of manufacturing.
Automation & COVID-19
Automation has replaced a number of different key labour jobs, specifically across more developed countries. The only true means of automation replacement is using key labourers, which is a step in the completely wrong direction. This alternative is also worse in terms of fighting the virus as the more labourers you have at the workplace, the higher chance you have a contracting the virus. This fact is one of the reasons why robotic automation organizations are confident that even if the vaccine doesn't come in the estimated time frame, automation sales will pick back up, as all other alternatives would significantly increase the risk of COVID. Experts believe that the pandemic offers a chance for modernization and digitalization of production. For many major manufacturers to stay competitive, they'll be looking to invest in new technologies that'll increase the overall production, efficiency and help with social distancing.
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The pandemic has made many different industries adapt to the "new normal" that is social distancing. This new normal is consistently requiring applications to adapt in completely new ways. Whether it's taking over specific jobs to help implement social distancing, combining multiple tasks to cut down on the number of people that come in contact with one another, or even if it's replacing your staff with a fully implemented manufacturing line. Each organization will have to adapt in different ways as we may never return to the pre-pandemic period, even with the potential vaccine on the way. Overall, automation has slowed down significantly in the new year, but as the world continues to learn to adapt, new innovative automation solutions will begin to arise.
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