15 January 2014

Use Connected ERP to Take Advantage of Robotics in Manufacturing

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That knock on your door may be an employee looking for more interesting work. Or it could be a mobile robot looking for something to do. Driven by recent innovation, mobile robotics is poised to take off in manufacturing and the supply chain over the next few years. If you take advantage of it, you may end up with happier workers doing more rewarding jobs, and with greater productivity overall. To-Increase ERP software tools can help you make this transition in a controlled, efficient manner.

In manufacturing, industrial robots have been busy in production and assembly lines for many years, since widespread adoption of robotics starting in the 1970s. These robots don’t fit the popular notion of a robot as a moving entity that can perform certain assignments extremely well, maybe even better than people, and displays some humanoid features. They are usually stationary, dedicated to one or a small set of tasks, and do not resemble people or other living creatures.

Mobile robotics on the upswing

But, while industrial robots kept doing their jobs, innovators continued pursuing their vision of a mobile, more versatile robot. When you look at the Gartner hype cycle for emerging technologies in 2010 and 2012, you see only minimal movement when it comes to robots. But, finally, in 2013, Gartner shows that mobile robotics has moved from the steeply rising slope of expectations prompted by innovation triggers across the line into the area they call “peak of inflated expectations,” where they are still continuing to rise. Recently, a number of developments have brought mobile robotics more into the realm of the manufacturing and supply chain elements that many business maintain. Some of these events have been covered extensively in the popular media and raised awareness for mobile robotics. As with many things that one anticipates for many years, the reality turns out to be both more mundane and more surprising than one might have thought.

Industry momentum with new products and initiatives

In response to the Sandy Hook shootings in Newtown, CT, in December 2012, technology innovator Knightscope developed a robot that could be used to monitor security in schools. The company is also marketing the product to corporate campuses and companies that maintain supply-chain operations. This device certainly corresponds more to the popular imagination’s idea of a mobile robot. Close in time to the Knightscope announcement came the news that Google acquired seven companies that pursued robotics innovation and is dedicating substantial resources to advancing the technology, with the manufacturing industry and supply chains as two of the markets that could benefit from it. This recent news also resulted in additional coverage for Rethink Robotics and its line of Baxter products. Rethink already in September of 2013 announced this portfolio of mobile robots that come with distinct humanoid features, including parts that resemble a human face and arms.

Freeing people from low-value tasks

The newest mobile robots are designed to be easy to deploy in production environments. They come with powerful learning capabilities, including surprise-based learning technology that enables them to learn and self-correct based on experience. Workers are meant to train them for tasks without needing to write code or take other complicated steps. The robots are said to be safe for the humans who work with them, and therefore do not require the cages that are customary in more traditional designs. The humanoid features of these machines may make them easier to understand and relate to for the people that train and supervise them.

As economies around the globe emerge from the recent years’ recession and manufacturing picks up again, many companies experience a shortage of skilled workers. At the same time, they want to operate economically, using skills and resources in the most productive ways. Mobile robots can perform much-needed, but low-value and numbing tasks in manufacturing and the supply chain with great reliability and efficiency. They can perform the same actions over and over without injury or burnout, and can do well in environments that are unpleasant or dangerous for people. Because they have greater versatility and learning capabilities than traditional industrial robots, they can help companies offload more work from people, who can do more rewarding and interesting jobs.

As robots sort components, prepare materials, and assemble parts in manufacturing, and unload, pick, pack, inspect, and perform other tasks in the supply chain, human workers make sure they perform to expectations for quality and productivity. Individuals will have larger responsibilities than before, for example, roaming around the factory floor training, monitoring, and performing quality assurance for robots. Analysts and robotics providers expect that the new generation of mobile robots will enable companies to automate and bring greater scalability to processes that so far were performed by people. Even with more qualified work and higher salaries for employees working around robots, expectations for cost savings and efficiencies are very high.

Using the ERP system to connect robots to company workflows and goals

Our customers need to prepare to take advantage of mobile robotics, which may well enable companies to set strong competitive distinctions. Doing so requires them to make effective use of the proper business management software tools. To-Increase aims to ready manufacturers to incorporate mobile robotics into their operations when the time is right. Our software solutions can help you conduct the solid planning and business management to make this transition successful:

  • In the mobile-robotics company, robots become another asset that needs to be managed and maintained effectively, tasks where To-Increase Asset Management can help.

  • Companies also will need to perform smart, efficient planning that enables them to make best use of their robot resources; To-Increase Advanced Project Management and Visual Project Planning can prove to be of value here.

  • To-Increase Product Engineering can help manufacturers adjust their product designs to reap greater benefits from the capabilities and productivity of mobile robots.

  • When it comes to linking robots to the ERP system, including their data stream in ERP events and ensuring they can effectively move work orders forward, To-Increase Business Integration Solutions for Microsoft Dynamics AX and NAV can help technology managers create the needed connections.

  • When organizations need to design their robot-inclusive business processes in such a way that they meet company goals with the help of the ERP system, To-Increase RapidValue is the value-driven business process management solution to make that possible.

If you are planning to bring mobile robotics into your business, we would love to hear about your planning, preparation, and the experience when you have robots working for you. Please drop us a line. Or have a robot do it!

Talk to our expert to learn more about our solutions

Luciano Cunha
Luciano Cunha,
Luciano Cunha,
Chief Executive Officer (CEO)

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