Thursday, 1 August 2019

Automation journey can begin with cobots

Just like any other technology, automation technology has gone through the same revolution in terms of application, user-friendliness and reduced installation times, leading to cost reduction and ease of use for businesses.
For small and medium enterprises (SMEs), embarking on automation may seem a daunting task, with space limitation, skilled manpower, and investments being the top concerns.
The perception that robots are needed in the dozens and used only in large automotive assembly plants or high-precision electronics plants is long gone.
The emergence of robotic technology that can be programmed easily and saves space does not require heavy investments.
Enter the new age of collaborative robot, or cobot, a game-changing robot designed to work with humans in a shared workspace. Although the cobot was invented in 1996, the maturation of such technology was only seen in this decade.
In principle, cobots can safely work with humans, taking over repetitive tasks in the production cell while humans handle the more complex tasks where value is added.
Due to the increased accuracy of sensors and cameras, the risks of occupational hazards and human injury are almost eliminated.
With intelligent technology, cobots are easy to set up. Leading cobot manufacturers claim that the unboxing and setup experience is now reduced to half a day, where most of this focuses on the teaching process to allow the cobot to perform the intended tasks.
Cobot technology has also evolved to become more user-friendly, reducing the burden of expensive labour in small businesses. Cobots can be programmed to do more advanced tasks. If you can work with a smartphone, there is very little learning curve needed to program a cobot.
Interestingly, this is a potential solution to the issues surrounding our workforce.
Cobot technology not only increases the accuracy and productivity of businesses but also reduces barriers for careers in automation. If technology such as this can be easily learned, it will create more access for entry-level skills-based career routes, and allow business owners to eliminate menial, repetitive tasks that are highly-dependent on unskilled labour.
Perhaps the major barrier is the upfront investment for such technology. The government is working closely with financial institutions to allow businesses to embark on Industry 4.0 technologies.
By the time this article is published, the three-day Malaysia International Robotics and Automation Technology Exhibition and Conference would have entered its second day at the Setia City Convention Centre.
This would be an opportune time for businesses to explore new automation technologies, speak to experts and seek advice from the government on how they can quickly implement automation strategies.
From the government’s standpoint, automation is not designed to eliminate jobs but create opportunities to enrich businesses and talents so that they can become part of a higher value economy in the global market.

The writer is the chief executive officer of Malaysia Automotive, Robotics and IoT Institute (MARii)

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