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  • Subject area(s): Marketing
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  • Published on: 14th September 2019
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Robotic Systems and Autonomous Platforms in Manufacturing

Bill Gates once said, “We're changing the world with technology,” and he is absolutely correct. This world is becoming more technology based, which can be seen as a good or a bad thing; it is just how people look at it. One place technology is really booming is in the manufacturing industry. Robotic systems and autonomous platforms are becoming big in manufacturing. These robots help produce items easier and quicker than a human could. The robots can also lower the labor number, reduce production cost, and save construction time all while still producing good products.

Robots in manufacturing have come a long way since they were first started to be produced. Robots started out with just doing simple task, like moving items, to programing these machines to make and assemble almost any item that company may need. These machines run tasks that require high precision, speed, and endurance (Robinson, 2014). Early robotic manufacturing machines were limited in intelligence, and the freedom of how they operated in certain degrees. They could only perform a few tasks compared to what machines can to today. The first industry robots were called the Unimation; it was designed by George Devol in 1954 (Robinson, 2014). Soon, robots were more durable and inventors started to think of different task these robots could do. In the 1980s, companies spent billions of dollars to make basic tasks more automotive in their assembly plants to help speed up the making of their products (Robotics Online Marketing Team, 2017). Today, robots are much smarter than ever before. They can do more than a few tasks at a time. Many are becoming semi-autonomous and some are even working side-by-side with humans (Robotics Online Marketing Team, 2017).

There is processes when it comes to designing a robot. There is much thought and work that goes into it. First, the designer needs to find the problem that they want to be solved (How to Design a Robot 81001, 2015). Second, they need to come up with ideas on what they want the robot to do (How to Design a Robot 81001, 2015). They also need to brainstorm different drawings and ideas on how the robot will be built. Third, there needs to be a prototype of the design (How to Design a Robot 81001, 2015). The prototype will determine if the robot will work for what it is designed for. Fourth, it is time to build the robot (How to Design a Robot 81001, 2015). This is where the designer determines materials, procedure, construction limitations, and cost of the project (How to Design a Robot 81001, 2015). Finally, the designer needs to test the robot to see if it does what it was planned to do, and change anything that is not working to the job description (How to Design a Robot 81001, 2015). Designers will make different versions of the prototype to improve the robot, which it will make it better in solving the problem.

When building a robot, materials are an import part of the process. Each part needs a specific type of material to make sure it is durable and works efficiently. An article, that talks about the different types of material for different parts, states:

Steel, cast iron, and aluminum are most often used for the arms and bases of robots. If the robot is mobile, they usually equip them with rubber tires for quiet operation and a positive grip on the floor. Robots contain a significant amount of electronics and wiring, and some are radio or laser controlled. The cylinders and other motion-generating mechanisms contain hydraulic oil or pressurized air. Hoses of silicone, rubber, and braided stainless steel connect these mechanisms to their control valves. …some exposed areas are covered with flexible neoprene shields and collapsible bellows. Electric motors and linear drives are purchased from automation suppliers… (Industrial Robot, n.d.)

It is just according to the designer on what type of metal they want for the arms or bases, what type of tires need to be put on the robot, or even type or size wiring they want to use. The material is picked according to what will fit the design the best.

(8)Amazon is one of many different companies that have converted their warehouses to using robots to help their company more efficient. In 2014, Amazon started out with 15,000 robots in 10 different fulfillment warehouses, and by 2016, the number grew to 45,000 robots in 20 different fulfillment warehouses (Shead, 2017). In just two years, Amazon tripled their numbers of robots. One robot that is used in the warehouse is called “Chuck”.  “Chuck” is an autonomous robot that works alongside people to find and pack inventory for purchases that are made (CNBC, 2017). The robot has different sensors and software to help know what aisle to drive down and to stop itself from bumping into items (CNBC, 2017). It also shows what goes into each box for the purchases to help the workers keep up with what they need and what they have boxed (CNBC, 2017).

Another robot that is highly used in the warehouses is called the Kiva robot. In 2012, Amazon bought the Kiva Systems company that built this robot for $775 million (Shead, 2017). They are like a Roomba, but a Kiva is about four times the size. They are about 320 pounds, can hold about 750 pounds, and can reach a speed of about four miles per hour (CNET, 2014; Shead, 2017). Kivas are used in the warehouse to pick up shelves, which holds inventory, and bring them to the workers to retrieve inventory needed for purchases (Shead, 2017). These robots work almost like an assembly line to help Amazon speed up the process of packing boxes to fulfill orders. They have motion sensors to keep them from bumping into items while driving around the warehouse (CNET, 2014). These robots are so small, Amazon was able to add about half the inventory that is in the warehouses now (CNET, 2014).

(6)One problem people are worried about is that this new technology is starting to take away jobs from people. That is not technically true. Many companies only added in robotic systems to help speed up the process of what is going on in the company. This helps a company save time and make more money all at once by getting purchases out of the door much quicker. People are still there to work alongside the robots to make sure they are working properly. There are still jobs that some robots cannot fulfill, so workers are still needed. David Clark, Senior Vice President of Worldwide Operations at Amazon, says that the robots are not there to take peoples jobs; they are there to help workers do their job efficiently (CNET, 2014).

Another problem companies may have with robotic systems is the maintenance needs (Davids, 2017). If something becomes broken on one of the robots, that stops the from working, which will waste time and money for a company. During that downtime, they would need to find and purchase parts to fix the robots. This is where companies should consider purchasing some type of predictive maintenance machines. The company Paccar has robotic machines that have lights on the outside of the machine. These lights turn green, yellow, and red, which indicate whether parts on the machine are working great, need to be changed, or are broken. This can help the company get ahead of them problem before it occurs.

Cost of technology can be another issue in getting or building robotic systems (Davids, 2017). These robotic systems are very expensive, even when purchasing smaller robots.  Some companies are not ready to spend the money and make the big leap into the technology world. To help with this problem, these companies could rent out robots instead of buying them outright (Davids, 2017). By renting robots, this will help the companies determine if the robotic systems will help them succeed in the future. Building a robot can get expensive, as well. Between materials, software, and labor cost, money can add up quickly.

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