Cobot Trends for 2024

Four predictions for 2024: AI is set to supercharge robotic automation

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We’ve reached that point in time when we can reflect upon the trends from the past 12 months, while looking ahead at what 2024 has in store for the world of robotics and automation.

2023 was an exciting year for innovation. The emergence of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies, such as generative AI, captured global attention and dominated headlines. However, the adoption of generative AI for businesses is still very much in its early stages and questions around how best to harness this technology remain at the forefront of many minds.

Digital transformation is an ongoing process, so we can expect to see this year’s breakthrough trends continue to shape society into next year. But how will these trends impact robotics and automation and what can the manufacturing industry expect to see next year?

3D Infotech is a Universal Robots’ UR+ partner developing software to run deep learning applications. This embedded solution helps customers solve assembly verification and defect detection applications that are often too difficult to deploy with traditional, rule-based machine vision tools.

1. AI will set a new pace

AI will set a new pace of development in robotics and automation. AI is transforming the world of software development, making it cheaper, faster and more effective. Software is a key component of automation, and with AI, software developers will be able to create more customized and optimized solutions for various tasks and challenges. If software development has sometimes felt like digging with a shovel, the introduction of AI is like bringing two horses and a plough to the process. However, automation expertise will remain a scarce and valuable resource in the process of AI revolutionizing manufacturing.

It has been interesting and perhaps surprising to see AI changing the lives of office workers before it touches working practices in most factories. We look forward to seeing the benefits of machine learning reach more manufacturers in 2024. After all, the technology is already there – we have many partners developing applications using AI to allow our robots to perform more complex and diverse functions.

For example, AI allows robots to have human-like perception, handle variation, move parts precisely, adapt to changing environments and learn from their own experience. With time, these capabilities will lead to unprecedented flexibility, quality and reliability in manufacturing.

Go Fast Campers in Montana used the UR cobot’s scripting capabilities and Autodesk’s UR+-certified Fusion 360 application to develop a programming approach that allows any cell to make any part within a maximum cell volume using any standard stock size.

2. Software will enable more sharing

Developments in robotics software will enable more sharing and reusing. Robotics software is the glue that binds users to their mechanical counterparts – a digital connectivity that transcends physical interaction.

Software developments enable a new dimension of collaboration, connecting the people that use robots. 2024 will see software developments leading to new levels of sharing and reusability. Imagine a world where, instead of reinventing the wheel, we leverage existing software assets – components, interfaces, algorithms – across multiple applications. It’s a principle that already underpins our UR+ partner ecosystem, streamlining innovation and reducing time to market. Its evolution is anticipated in the upcoming year.

Knowing how a cobot performs at all times enables quick responses to issues and continuous improvement. With apps like the one from UR partner Hirebotics’ users can monitor a welding cobot’s production to see how long the arc was on, how much gas and wire was used, etc.

3. Companies will fuse IT and OT

Companies will fuse informational technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) using data to improve operations. The future of manufacturing is intricately linked to IT and OT integration, as data will underpin innovation and efficiency. Research shows that the manufacturing industry has been at the forefront of adopting cloud-based software services, and we are already seeing some customers use these to enhance quality, cost efficiency and predictability. That makes me confident that 2024 will see the growth of data-driven logistics and manufacturing systems.

Many still have an outdated view of the cloud merely being a data collector and backup function, as we know from our private lives. But the real potential and power doesn’t lie in storing data or even in linking machines. The real transformative leap comes when cloud-based software services connect humans and machines and, thus, help manufacturers simplify complex processes and make smarter decisions.

The benefits of this digital evolution are significant. Remote access to manufacturing data enables quick responses to issues and continuous automation improvement. With dynamic systems now essential, trusted cloud technologies offer the latest in security and state-of-the-art services. Industrial Internet of Things companies highlight this progression, promising improved efficiency and reduced downtime through overall equipment effectiveness visualization and predictive maintenance.

As we approach 2024, manufacturers stand to gain from these advancements, achieving higher quality, reduced downtime, better predictability and cost optimization. This transition is a strategic necessity, supporting the shift toward high-volume, high-mix production, resilient supply chains, competitive data utilization and sustainability goals.

Logistics is one of the industries expected to see a 46 percent growth in cobot shipments for 2023 to 2027. DCL Logistics in California deployed the UR10e cobot and realized a 500 percent efficiency increase, 50 percent labor savings, three-month ROI and 100 percent order accuracy.

4. Logistics will be a focus

Logistics will be a focus area for robotics. Earlier this year, Interact Analysis looked at projected growth rates in robot shipments across industries. The stand-out projected growth area? Logistics, where Interact Analysis put the projected CAGR for collaborative robot (cobot) shipments at 46 percent for 2023 to 2027. And it’s not necessarily surprising as the market for non-industrial applications is growing fast.

Like manufacturing, many logistics companies face serious labor shortages while pressure is increasing as a result of globalization, e-commerce and complex, multi-channel supply chains. More logistics, warehouse and distribution centers will turn to automation next year to provide services faster and with greater accuracy.

Take facing the challenge of surging e-commerce demands as an example. One logistics company we worked with revolutionized its fulfilment center with cobots, resulting in a 500 percent surge in efficiency and order accuracy. The automation system, adept at processing thousands of orders daily, particularly excelled during peak periods, like Black Friday where a robot managed up to 4,400 orders in one day with just a small crew for replenishment.

Robots and the smart use of data are poised to revolutionize logistics businesses across the whole value chain from incoming packages to outbound logistics. The pace of development in robotics remains impressive. With great anticipation, to another exciting year of progress.

Universal Robots

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