Asia Pacific Metalworking Equipment News is pleased to conduct an interview with Dr Zhang Jing Bing, Research Director for IDC Worldwide Robotics at IDC Asia Pacific.
Q: What, in your opinion, sets IDC apart from other market research firms?
Zhang Jing Bing (ZJB): IDC is the premier global provider of market intelligence, advisory services, and events for the information technology, telecommunications, and consumer technology markets. With more than 1,100 analysts worldwide, IDC offers global, regional, and local expertise on technology and industry opportunities and trends in over 110 countries. By combining global perspectives with greater in-depth understanding of local context, IDC is in a unique and ideal position to help IT professionals, business executives, and the investment community make fact-based decisions on technology purchases and business strategy.
IDC’s research scope covers both horizontal technologies and vertical insights of all key industry sectors, including manufacturing, retail, healthcare, financial, government, energy, telecommunications, and so on.
Q: What are the most innovative applications you have seen in robotics in the past 12 months?
ZJB: Robotics technology and its applications are constantly developing at fast pace. We are seeing innovation in both robotic systems and their applications in almost all industries including, for example, manufacturing, logistics, healthcare, retail, hospitality, construction, and so on. Early successes have been demonstrated recently where artificial intelligence techniques are used to interpret the product configuration and automatically generate programs that control multiple robots to accomplish tasks for product assembly.
Q: Controversially, collaborative robots (cobots) have often been seen as the replacement of human workers. Could you enlighten us about the role cobots play in building an industry of the future?
ZJB: There will always be concerns that applications of new automation technologies such as robotics will take jobs away from human workers. However, it should be understood that robots, including traditional industrial robots and cobots, are used to automate tasks that are typically dangerous, hazardous, or repetitive in nature, which are not desirable for human being to undertake.
Dangerous and/or hazardous tasks (e.g., welding, painting, heavy load lifting) should not be executed by humans as they are harmful to the human body. Repetitive tasks are mundane tasks that human workers in general do not enjoy doing, as they are dull, tedious, and less fulfilling. These are the areas that robot can help liberate human workers, create better jobs, and allow them to focus on jobs that require creativity and innovation, jobs that humans take pride to do.
Cobots refer to a type of robots that can be deployed in industrial and commercial applications without the need for safety fences/cages typically seen in the automotive industry. Cobots by definition can work safely alongside human workers. They allow human workers and robots to coexist in the same working space, whereby enabling the combination of the best of both worlds: the high dexterity and flexibility inherent in human, and the high precision and repeatability inherent in robots, plus the ability of robots to work tirelessly 24/7. Driven by customer demands for product quality, delivery, and mass customisation cobots are taking off in industrial applications, especially for high mix, low volume, and short cycle time manufacturing environment. Small and medium enterprise stand a high chance of benefitting from the adoption of cobots.
Q: Despite their versatility and adaptability, do cobots have any limitations?
ZJB: Compared to traditional industrial robots, cobots are easier to program, deploy and re-deploy to adopt to the changing production environment, but they lose out in terms of speed, repeatability and maximum payload. Cobots are mostly suited for applications such as light-weight product assembly, pick and place, sorting, packaging, and so on. While traditional industrial robots can have a payload of more than 1,000 kg, the majority of the current generation cobots have a payload of less than 15 kg, albeit a few models can extend the payload to slightly beyond 100 kg, with special safety features.
Q: In the coming five years, what areas of our life will be most impacted by artificial intelligence or robotics?
ZJB: The application of third platform technologies such as robotics, artificial intelligence, IoT, 3D printing, etc., will definitely improve product quality, manufacturing flexibility, and service delivery. As a result, we as individual consumers can expect better products and services that are more customised to our personal needs and at more affordable prices in the coming years.