Asia Pacific Metalworking Equipment News is pleased to conduct an interview with Mr. Lieu Yew Fatt, Managing Director of Omron Electronics Singapore on his views on the future of robotics technologies in Asia and its impact on manufacturing processes and supply chains.
1. In your opinion, what are the top three megatrends that are shaping the robotics industry in Asia?
Firstly, robots are becoming increasingly proactive due to intelligent features being incorporated into them today. Robots are no longer limited to menial or laborious duties. Empowered by artificial intelligence, robots can take on higher level tasks due to their ability to ‘learn’ and ‘think’.
Secondly, the use of collaborative robots or “cobots” is set to increase. Robots have yet to really work collaboratively with humans due to safety concerns and inadequate sensory information. However, we are making substantial progress in improving safety and sensing technology, increasing the potential to revolutionise the way humans work with robots in the future.
Lastly, decision makers are becoming increasingly aware of the benefits that their businesses can reap by incorporating robots. As a result, people with skills and expertise in robotics are becoming more highly sought-after.
2. What are the key challenges that prevent manufacturers in Asia from adopting robotics in their manufacturing processes and supply chains?
Manufacturers are still faced with resistance from employees who are not familiar with robotics. Unfortunately, many employees still fear that their jobs are threatened by robotics and automation.
Incorporating robotics into factories and production lines is also seen as a long-term project. Small and medium sized manufacturers, vigilant of their costs and cashflow, may not see investing in robotics as immediately beneficial or justifiable.
Successful implementation of robotics is also typically perceived as requiring major adjustments to work processes or even infrastructure. This can lead to resistance from employees who are unwilling to change or adapt.
3. How do you suggest that the above challenges be solved?
Manufacturers must understand that the implementation of robotics is not about replacing workers. When incorporated successfully in the production line, for example, robotics and automation can alleviate workers from routine and laborious tasks. These workers can move on to perform more value-added tasks in the factory, ultimately enhancing the quality and quantity of output.
The belief that robotics only provides a long-term return on investment may also be incorrect. For example, for some organisations, simple optimisations to existing manufacturing lines have resulted in significant cost savings at comparatively low costs. For instance, Omron has helped one packaging manufacturer increase output speed by 30 percent by using anti-vibration technology. The speed of the existing yoghurt packaging line was limited due to the need to stop the product from sloshing during movements. Anti-vibration technology removed this bottleneck and allowed them to perform at a much higher standard.
Training employees to pick up robotics skills and the ability to work with robots is also effective in driving adoption. Furthermore, robotics technology has evolved to the point where major infrastructure changes are no longer required in order to achieve the same goals. To explore what is possible, the industry has evolved to allow SMEs and businesses to experiment with these technologies rather than make an upfront commitment. The Omron Automation Centre, for example, provides solutions and training to companies who are looking to explore advanced technology solutions.
4. In 5 to 10 years’ time, how do you think the robotics industry and its relationship with manufacturing and supply chains will evolve in Asia?
In five to 10 years’ time, robotics and automation will be a sine qua non for the manufacturing industry. Robots are expected to take on more higher-level roles as technology continues to evolve, providing relief to manufacturers today who are typically under increasing pressure due to fast-evolving consumer trends, shorter product life cycles, increased competition and labour shortages.
On top of robotics, advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, data analytics and the Internet of Things (IoT) will continue to play key roles in production lines and instil a sense of human-free proactiveness that will continue to transform the way we work in factories.
Smart adaptive algorithms are equipping robots with the ability to analyse and process data with quick efficiency. Advanced analytics and AI software will also allow robots to arrive at programmed actions based on the intelligence they discover.
It will also no longer be a surprise that machines and robots can track a large amount of production variables through advanced analytics. This allows timely control of crucial production factors such as manufacturing accuracy and quality control that are not easily spotted by humans.
5. What are your thoughts on the Singapore International Robo Expo? Do you think the industry is ready for an event like this?
As a country that is largely thriving on a knowledge-based economy and with a strong focus on building itself into a leading smart nation, Singapore is an ideal location for events like the Singapore International Robo Expo.
The Singapore government has been a keen advocate of industries adopting robotics and other advanced technologies to digitalise operations. For instance, the government recently launched the Singapore Smart Industry Readiness Index, a whitepaper that illustrates the government’s efforts to capitalise on the Industry 4.0 trend and transform the manufacturing landscape in Singapore
This event also provides an opportunity for the different stakeholders in the robotics industry to gather and exchange ideas. For example, Omron’s booth featured its Autonomous Intelligent Vehicle that featured a mobile robot and a collaborative robot arm tightly integrated together as a “mobile robotic handler”. These demonstrations help mature Singapore’s conversations and approaches on how certain functions, such as transportation and the loading of work materials in this case, can be fully automated.
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