July 12, 2022
In a survey of manufacturers sponsored by Veo Robotics, 57% of global manufacturers said they believe that robots are not replacing human workers in their facilities, but rather are working alongside humans to supplement their work.
This result was one of several findings in Veo’s 2022 Manufacturing Automation Outlook, which sought to explore how manufacturing organizations in the U.S., U.K., and Japan are integrating robots into their workforce, as well as the resulting impacts on facilities and human workers.
In another finding, 61% of manufacturers said human-robot interaction within their facilities has increased over the last year. Veo said this data highlights how humans increasingly work alongside robot co-workers post-pandemic as manufacturers work with inflation, ongoing supply chain issues, and other labor shortages. Nearly all manufacturers surveyed said they are looking to automate more operations, including turning to robots to handle mundane, repetitive, or overly risky tasks.
“Our findings highlight that the majority of manufacturers are increasing automation with the goal of robots working alongside human co-workers rather than directly replacing them,” said Patrick Sobalvarro, CEO and co-founder of Veo Robotics. “We find that using robots increases the productivity and the value of human workers, freeing them to use their intelligence, judgment, and dexterity in their work.”
Veo said the rise in interactions between humans and machines also necessitates new safeguarding methods that don’t hinder productivity. For example, although 63% said they were at least “moderately satisfied” with their safety when interacting with robots, 41% also said they keep their robots in fully fenced, caged environments to prevent injury or harm to human workers. This reliance on fully caged robots often hinders modern manufacturing facilities’ speed, efficiency, and flexibility, said Veo. The company’s FreeMove system is a 3D safeguarding system for industrial robots that allows for more dynamic human-robot collaboration.
In another finding, 44% of manufacturers said their workers need to enter work cells at least every one to two hours, making it unsurprising that 63% also said their current work cell safeguarding solutions pose challenges in the form of limiting flexibility, increasing human workloads, constraining space, and slowing down production time.
Additional findings from the survey include:
- More than 55% of manufacturers report having 10 or more robots in their facilities, with nearly one in three (32%) saying they have more than 30 robots;
- 81% of those surveyed said they deal with robot-led production shutdowns;
- More than one-fifth said that nuisance faults with their current robot work cell safeguarding methods cause production to shut down at least every couple of hours;
- With inflation hitting manufacturers, 33% said “reducing the cost and complexity of manufacturing” was one of their biggest challenges over the next six to 12 months;
- Other manufacturers said supply chain constraints (34%) and hiring and training of skilled workers (37%) were still their biggest problems.
“Innovation being embraced within industrial processes is a great sign,” said Sobalvarro. “But as the machine workforce evolves, so must the work environment. Modern manufacturing facilities and warehouses do not have the time to halt production in every situation where a human worker needs to enter a cage.”
Additional survey findings from the 2022 Manufacturing Automation Outlook are available here.