Experts: European manufacturing breakthrough stifled by over-engineered industrial robots

Although European manufacturers wanted to increase their operational efficiency and bring production closer to national markets even before Covid, the effective adoption of automation and robotization technologies has been heartbreaking. According to the latest report from the International Federation of Robotics, the European operational fleet of industrial robots reached 580,000 units in 2019: although this is a 7% increase compared to the previous year, it was well below China’s 21%, Japan’s 12%, and just on par with the United States.

“Europe, along with the rest of the world, is heading for a new record high in operational industrial robot stock in 2020, but these raw numbers only tell half the story. In reality, I think the industry industrial robotics lives something we witnessed 20-25 years ago in the dot-com era: lots of hype coupled with low return on investment, heavy reliance on third-party integrators and, quite often, complex machines not returning the expected value. I believe that European manufacturers, first and foremost SMEs, should take a step back and rethink their robotization strategies to avoid even greater disappointments,” says T. Christensen.

According to him, the most popular reason behind disappointing robotization implementations is the complexity and over-customization of installed technologies. Therefore, these oversized solutions are not flexible enough as manufacturing processes inevitably change over time. They are also too complicated for internal employees to settle.

“I think it’s still much easier to introduce a robot into a business than to get a good return on that investment. Instead of following the hype, manufacturers should focus on ROI, value and skill building. Robots need to solve a business problem to ensure return and value. And they should be so that internal skills are easy to build. The latter is facilitated by the use of standard robots.” , explains T. Christensen.

Torsten Christensen

© Asmeninio archyvo nuotr.

He is supported by Thomas Ronlev, CEO of Factobotics, a Danish-Lithuanian manufacturer of standard industrial robotics. E. Ronlev asserts that the risk of robotization failures is further exacerbated by the very high cost of current robotic solutions. His company targets traditional industrial processes and custom situations that can be scaled across a wider range of manufacturers.

“European manufacturers often think that their production processes are unique. They are also often convinced that entire production and supply chains need to be automated. I think the truth is much more down to earth: some processes are indeed ripe for automation, but not all of them, let alone immediately.We would see a much higher degree of satisfaction if companies started with simple processes and standard robotic solutions that cost a fraction of the cost and are easy to master.Some of the factories the most successful ones use relatively simple robotics,” E. says Ronlev.

Thomas Ronlev

Thomas Ronlev

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Both Th. Ronlev and T. Christensen will share their thoughts on the state and future of industrial robotics during “Robotizing Metal Industry,” a free webinar taking place on March 18, along with a dozen other speakers from robotics and manufacturing industries.

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Mavis R. Bernier