By Bobby Carlton
Robots are seen as the solution as more automakers aim to increase electric vehicle production.
According to the Association of Advanced Automation (A3), the North American market for robotics set new records in terms of both the number of robots and their value in 2022. It reported that the orders placed by companies in the region increased by 18% and 11% respectively.
The automotive sector was the main contributor to the growth of the robotics industry in North America. It reportedly ordered over 24,000 robots in 2022. That equates to more than 50% of sales coming directly from the automotive industry.
“Although labor-shortage and supply chain issues impact nearly all industries in North America, automakers’ public commitment to move to electric vehicles (EVs) has set in motion a resurgence of robot orders in this market,” stated Jeff Burnstein, president of A3 in a company post.
He noted that the increasing number of automotive component suppliers and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) who are investing in robots has helped to accelerate the development of EVs.
In 2022, A3 noted that the number of robots ordered by North American companies increased by 24% during the first nine months of the year. Even though the fourth-quarter orders dropped, the total for the year was 11% higher than in 2021.
The automotive industry is a major manufacturing sector in the US, employing around 9 million people and generating over a trillion dollars annually. It’s natural that the industry would adopt robotics to improve its efficiency and productivity.
Robots are commonly used in car manufacturing facilities to perform various tasks, such as welding, assembly, painting, and material handling. They can be found in every part of a plant, though their specific functions vary depending on the location.
Outside of car plants, robots are also commonly used to carry out other tasks. These include moving materials, inspecting parts, and spraying paint on vehicles. It’s widely believed that by 2025, around 75% of new vehicles will be made using robots on production lines
However, the increasing popularity of e-commerce and the shift in consumer demand caused some companies to delay their purchases of robots in late last year. According to Burnstein, Amazon’s decision to build fewer warehouses might have caused some companies to rethink their plans to adopt automation.
Despite the improving labor market, Burnstein noted that the shortage of workers still persists. This is why many companies are still looking to automate their operations to increase their workforces to help in very specific areas.
HOW A ROBOT CAN THE AUTO INDUSTRY
During the production of cars, welding is a common process. In the past, it was mainly done by humans. Today, it’s being given more to robots.
There are various types of robots that are used to perform the welding process on the assembly line. For instance, large industrial robots are known to spot weld on various parts of vehicles. On the other hand, smaller collaborative robots are commonly used to fix small parts.
Compared to humans, robots are more efficient when it comes to welding. They can precisely and repetitively work on parts on the assembly line, which eliminates the need for tiring or distracted workers.
Aside from being more efficient, robots are also safer when it comes to welding due to the sudden exposure to dangerous conditions.
Painting, Coating, Sanding, and Sealing
Getting the job done properly on a car is a challenging task, especially since it involves doing it over and over again as vehicles are brought from the assembly lines.
While there are still people working in the painting department at car factories, robots are starting to take over. With the help of robotic arms, painters can now get the job done without error and without exposing themselves to toxic substances.
The robots follow carefully programmed paths, which helps them to be more efficient and reduce waste.
Material handling robots are commonly used in the manufacturing process to move various materials. They can carry out the task over and over again, keeping the assembly line moving. Moving materials can also be done by robots, which can be used to transport them from one place to another.
The safety and efficiency of logistics robots are some of the most important factors that contribute to their usefulness. While working with heavy loads can be very dangerous, robots can safely carry out the task over multiple times.
Advantages of Robotics
Aside from these, robots also have other advantages that make them an ideal asset for the car manufacturing industry. One of the most important factors that contributes to the efficiency and quality of assembly line work is the use of robotic vision. This technology allows machines to perform more precise work by using a camera and laser array.
Industrial robots are also very productive, as they can work on a continuous basis and without tiring. They can precisely carry out repetitive tasks with minimal errors and no interruptions.
After all of these advantages, it seems like it’s only a matter of time before robots completely replace workers in the car manufacturing industry. Contrary to popular belief, robots are not replacing people in the car manufacturing industry.
Robots Still Need Humans
In addition to their efficiency and procedural advantages, robots require the support of humans to operate properly. This requires work through robotic simulations, being programmed and controlled. Also, robots will need regular maintenance and repairs. They must be designed and installed properly, and they have to be reprogrammed when a new product is introduced.
As robots continue to take over dangerous and repetitive tasks in the car industry, the need for people with the necessary skills continues to grow. Part of that will come from increased robot adoption in multiple industries and the evolution of easier to use robotics.
The growth of the robotics industry and how a robot is used was also supported by the increasing number of applications in various industries, such as agriculture and food services.
These include tasks such as picking and cooking food, and installing drywall. Despite the slow growth of the non-automotive sector’s robot orders, Burnstein noted that it is clear that companies are still looking to adopt automation as a key component of their operations.
“We look forward to seeing more unique and increasingly easy-to-use robots that all industries can benefit from,” said Burnstein.