What is the future for the robotics industry?

It is 2020 and the future looks promising for the robotics industry. As robotics becomes mire technologically advanced with its incorporation of more complex aspects of Artificial Intelligence (AI), it has become a useful and indispensable cost-cutting tool for enterprises seeking efficiency in all aspects of their production process. 

According to a McKinsey study in 2019, the market for industrial robotics has increased by double digits since 2012 and is expected to continue like this at least through 2021. The main reasons for this growth are a desire to improve quality, increase productivity while decreasing costs, as well as looking for a safer environment for employees while overcoming the lack of high-skilled workers.

This rising current of integrating robots in companies has a wide span of applications, from medicine, retail and mass production. This is a list of the main trends to expect in 2020 and further.

Logistics and supply chain increase in productivity

The use of robotic technologies implies a simplification of processes in warehouses apart from reducing costs and increasing productivity and quality in the products. 

Companies that do not invest in robotic automation will see a future reduction of opportunities. Since these technologies improve fulfilment and delivery times, it is now expected by the customers to receive their products faster, that is the reason global retailers including Alibaba and Amazon are pioneering by acquiring autonomous vehicles and drones to help streamline the delivery process and mitigate the significant costs of last mile delivery.

Better store operations

On a different front, stores are beginning to use robots in order to help coverage online and offline retail. Inventory has been a major problem for retailers such as Walmart, and usually inaccurate tracking lead to loss in revenue. Robotics in stores helps with cleaning, scanning stock, unloading trucks and managing in-store inventory by constant shelve audits and identifying stock shortage, also with the incorporation of AI they are evolving into powerful allies when it comes to analysing data to improve operations. 

Enhancing customer experience 

Online retail has proven to be a challenge for physical retailers, with an associate loss in costumer visits to local stores and their migration to online platforms, retailers are on a constant search of ways to engage with clients and provide them with a better shopping experience. 

There have been innovations by brands like Loewe, that in 11 of its stores implemented an autonomous robot with an interactive screen to help people with simple questions and navigate to certain items, it is able to assist a request in different languages. This action exemplifies the need to free employee time lost with clients who have simple needs and helps them improve their skills when people need personalised attention. 

Cobots alongside humans

Collaborative robots or Cobots were designed to work alongside humans without safety barriers in between. They have integrated advanced sensors that detect whether there is a human nearby or entering their workspace. Mainly, these types of robots are used for monotonous, tedious, or repetitive duties, leaving employees available for more value-added tasks.

4.0 Industry

This trend is about obtaining a better understanding of industrial operations. With more robots on a factory floor connected by sensors, there is a perfect layout as a result of their data being analysed.

Even though manufacturing is significantly behind industries like healthcare, financial and retail, they are starting to adapt to Industry 4.0, since it represents significant increases in productivity combined with as much as a 30% decrease in maintenance costs. The knowledge robots can provide of the value chain helps maintain a competitive edge in a global market through the power of lean initiatives, downtime reduction, and an investment in equipment efficiency.

Decrease in robot prices

It is evident that with a rising trend in industrial robotics, the demand is growing as well. Smaller, lower-cost robot applications are in high demand. Finally, lower cost of producing robots (e.g., through increasing production in lower-cost regions) leads to decreasing prices (a more than 50% drop in average robotics costs since 1990). 

Also, while labour costs are rising in every country, the return on investment for robots is much greater, thus making them even more attractive. 

Developing standards for uniform operability

Many companies have complained that robots mostly lack a homogeneous programming or interface, it is difficult to program and teach robots new tasks. Basically, each robotic developer has its own standard, also complicating the replacement of parts. 

Higher standardization would facilitate the use of robots from different manufacturers for end users. However, efforts to create a common platform for programming have been limited, even though it is a common restriction for manufacturers to acquire robotic technology. 

Robotics related upskilling and training 

People often wonder about the position for human jobs when robots take over many tasks previously handled by people. It is a worrying trend but there is no stopping it. 

The solution for companies that need to reorganise their corporate organigrams, and for people scared of losing their job, is to invest in training talent with robotics-related capabilities. A recent MGI study, for example, assumes that the total number of jobs related to developing and deploying new technologies, i.e., automation-, IT,  AI, and robotics-related applications, may grow to 20 to 50 million globally by 2030 – and that as many as 375 million workers globally will have to master fresh skills as their current jobs evolve alongside the rise of automation, robotics, AI, and the capable machines thereby enabled. 

Advances in computing power, software development techniques, and networking technologies have made assembling, installing, and maintaining robots faster and less costly than before. These trends, as well as their impact on the growth of the robotics sector, are expected to continue.

Our main source is the McKinsey & Company study, “Industrial robotics: insights into the sector’s future growth dynamics”, published on July 2019, available here.