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Advanced Robotics Revolutionizing the Manufacturing and Construction Industries

Once used primarily in the automotive industry, advanced robotics now permeate varied industrial sectors, with their reach even extending to building construction.

Q4 2014
A report released in October from PwC in conjunction with The Manufacturing Institute reveals that industrial manufacturers across all industries are seeking to gain a competitive edge through the use of advanced robotics. Some 59 percent of the 120 manufacturers polled currently use some form of robotics technology.

Industrial robots have become smarter, faster, and more affordable, and have developed advanced capabilities, such as sensing, dexterity, memory, and trainability, says the report titled “The New Hire: How a New Generation of Robots is Transforming Manufacturing.” Currently, there are 1.5 million industrial robots working worldwide. By 2020, the global industrial robot market is expected to reach $41 billion.

“The manufacturing industry is primed for a more advanced integration of robotics and the speed of adoption continues to increase with every dollar invested in these new technologies. At PwC, we see this as the ongoing progression toward the ‘factory of the future,’ as disruptive technologies such as 3D printing and robotics have the ability to significantly improve efficiency, quality and operations,” says Bob McCutcheon, PwC’s U.S. industrial products leader.

Use Extends Beyond Automotive
Advanced industrial robotics have been chiefly pioneered and deployed by the automotive industry, particularly Japanese carmakers such as Toyota, followed closely in their wake by European and North American counterparts. According to data from the Robotic Industries Association, in 2005, 69 percent of all industrial robot orders in North America were made by automotive OEMs. By 2014, that figure had eroded to 56 percent, offset by increasing shares by other industries including food and beverage, consumer goods, life sciences/pharmaceutical/biomedical, and metals industries.

The Robotics Industries Association says there are currently 230,000 robots now in use in U.S. factories. According to the association’s President Jeff Burnstein, “There has been an explosion of new technologies introduced in the robotics field over the last several years…User interfaces are simpler; gripper technology has improved; better vision-guided systems have opened up robots to new manufacturing opportunities. Robots are now able to handle more complex and intricate tasks, which was not possible in the past.”

Burnstein also notes that robots are doing the “dirty, dangerous, and dull jobs.” He cites Marlin Steel in Baltimore as an example of this. “They used to bend wire baskets by hand, producing about 300 a day,” he says. “Once they automated, they were producing thousands a day with higher quality and no injuries to employees.”

Construction Carried Out by Robots
Not only are robotics being used in manufacturing, but they are also making their way into the construction and building industries. These latest tools have the potential to radically reduce costs, increase speed, and ease safety of construction projects. In fact, in 2012, Broad Group, a private Chinese construction company, prefabricated entire floors through the use of robotics and was thereby able to construct a 30-story hotel structure on a greenfield site in 15 days!
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