As the industry looks to emerge from the pandemic, efficient and effective processes will be increasingly important to a fast recovery. Advanced robotics will be key to streamline manufacturing, storage, and material movement.
Industrial robotics have played increasingly important roles in multiple areas—and thanks to advancing technology, these roles have featured much more complex tasks than older robotics could have handled.
The Importance of Industrial Robots
Industrial robotics are important because they provide consistency in manufacturing and efficiency to logistics. Robotic advancements have given us machines that are more adaptable to changing parameters. Self-adjusting to environmental perception allows robots to perform increasingly difficult tasks autonomously.
And with the Internet of Things and AI developments, these robots can provide real-time productivity and quality control measures that will help identify potential maintenance issues before they get bad enough to potentially shut down production.
These advanced robotics also make it possible to create and optimize three-dimensional conveyor systems that can sort and distribute materials for storage and shipment. Monitoring and managing inventory to rapidly accommodate online ordering is also a major function of this emerging tech.
From constructing projects to moving them to their final destination, industrial robots are streamlining every process in manufacturing.
An Emerging Element of Industry
Robotic innovations have been driving massive growth in the industrial robot industry. From 2017 to 2025, the industrial robot industry was projected to grow in prominence and profitability by as much as 175%—and recent numbers seem to indicate that projection was accurate.
Thanks to that industry growth, competition and innovation have only increased. But how do robots in the manufacturing industry reflect those projections? And what are the advantages of robotics in manufacturing?
Protecting Workers’ Health
There have always been certain tasks in manufacturing that could charitably be called ergonomically problematic. Often these tasks involved heavy lifting, a necessity to bend over for extended periods, or repetitive fine detail work that caused severe physical stress over time such as carpal tunnel syndrome.
Traditionally, manufacturing robots could only perform simple tasks, but as technology has improved, the tasks that robots can successfully complete are more complex and varied. Taking workers out of high-physical-stress tasks and transitioning them to other manufacturing areas or maintenance positions keeps them healthy and productive.
More Consistent Quality
Because of the increasing versatility of robotics used in manufacturing, maintaining consistent quality is much more achievable than it was even a few short years ago. As Industry 4.0 continues apace, AI-augmented robotics and self-learning machines can make adjustments in real-time to ensure quality on the production line.
Additionally, diagnostic programming can allow smaller robots to monitor larger machines for potential maintenance issues or dips in production quality and ensure those issues are addressed before they become major problems that could shut down some or all of production for who knows how long.
Industrial Robotics and Logistics
As online orders and remote delivery become more common on both a personal and industrial scale, having efficient logistical systems is more important than ever.
From palleting materials to monitoring and retrieving inventory, the growth of robotics in logistics has improved the efficiency and efficacy of nearly every process in the field.
Autonomous Mobile Robots
Transporting materials across a large workspace can be a difficult task, but with the use of automated guided vehicles and autonomous mobile robots that task becomes much simpler. Whether transporting materials for an order or bringing materials for maintenance within the workspace, these industrial robots simplify workflows within large spaces. Even intelligent conveyor systems can have gaps and a robot design built to navigate those gaps.
This ensures that everything can be moved where it needs to go. Jobs that, in the past, may have required a forklift can be accomplished with a robot that is smaller and more maneuverable in tight spaces.
These robots can haul loads as large as 1,000 kilograms. Logistics industry leaders such as FedEx have already begun incorporating AMRs into their facilities with great success.
In a post-COVID world, reducing the number of human hands needed to transport products from one area to another means reducing the number of times that the product must be cleaned to protect workers and customers.
This doesn’t mean that human workers in this situation are redundant. AI and intelligent systems are still a developing technology and those systems need to be monitored by humans to make sure they are working the way they are supposed to.
Moving materials with AMRs aren’t the only function of advanced robotics in the logistics industry. Robots have already shown a proficiency for palletizing operations, picking, sorting, and packaging. Engineers specializing in robot development have been making strides to increase the dexterity and functionality of robotic arms to improve their handling of loose and flexible materials as well.
With more advancements in intelligent sensors and machine learning, robots will be able to perform more kitting functions in addition to the tasks they already excel at.
As industrial robotics advance in function and capability, interactions with the human workforce are important to consider. Because robots can perform increasingly complex tasks, the number of employees required in the workspace will go down.
Many of those workers can be retrained to work in monitoring and maintenance roles, but some employees will be made redundant by technology.
In one international survey, industry experts in Asia, where more industrial robotics have been incorporated into manufacturing processes than in the United States, they mostly agree that improving technology will result in at least a 5% reduction in blue-collar workers.
Currently, robots in manufacturing and logistics mostly operate under the supervision of human workers. As robotics technology develops, those supervisory tasks will be under the purview of other robots. This allows the human workforce to focus on streamlining processes and increasing their productivity in jobs that require more soft skills.
Additionally, some workers may resent some of the new robots they work with for a time. Machine-learning and AI allow for intelligent robotics, but if the robots make a mistake that isn’t caught right away, it can result in more work for the people on the ground—which is the opposite of the goal of automation.
These technologies are still developing, so some growing pains are to be expected. As the software and sensory hardware of these robots improve, these already rare problems will become even more infrequent.
Into the Future
The future of the robotics industry is strong. Increased competition has driven innovations while keeping prices very manageable. Robotics development is not only driving hardware development in the form of more dextrous and versatile robotic arms but is driving software development.
Artificial intelligence is creating an industry that is more connected and efficient. Thanks to software advancements and the prevalence of intelligent robotics, dips in productivity are identified sooner and resolved quicker than they ever could have been even five years ago.
Not Just for the Big Boys
While large corporations have led the way on robotics development, the increasing capabilities of industrial robots and the competition between robotics developers have brought prices down enough that even mid-size and small organizations are finding them to be cost-effective additions to their businesses.
A focus on customization means robots can be tailored to fit a company’s needs no matter its size. And with the IoT, those robots are more efficiently connected to existing technological infrastructures than ever before.
From increasingly complex production tasks to remote visual inspection to materials transportation, robotics has become integral to manufacturing and logistics. Artificial intelligence allows for a greater level of connectivity between your machines and your intelligent conveyor system to create processes that are efficient and cost-effective. Industrial robotics are the future.
The benefits to worker safety and high-quality production and logistics make investing in advanced robotics an absolute must for any business that hopes to emerge as a leader in Industry 4.0. The future is here. Don’t allow your business to become a relic of the past.