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Robotic Factories Marching Towards the Future

The rate of industrial automation keeps growing rapidly with enterprises of any size embracing Industry 4.0. A widespread implementation of industrial robots is one of the main driving forces of this change. According to Statista, the number of such machines supplied by 2020 will reach 521,000, which is a 71% increase compared to 2016.

More Efficient Robots Are Getting More Affordable

Robot-enabled factories and collaborative robots are changing the industry so fast due to their currently unparalleled rate of efficiency. As their popularity grows, developers of both software and hardware get pushed to improve these machines. Their aims are not only to increase their functionality and push that efficiency further. They also strive to make robotics more affordable.

It’s due to their efforts that small and medium businesses of today are able to automate their industrial processes at least in part. This particular sphere of robotized factories development ties in directly into the Internet of Things (IoT). The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) however faces some additional challenges that need to be overcome.

What hinders the increase in the number of robotized factories ?

Now in 2018 the question of energy-efficiency is more pressing than ever. It’s even more so for industrial businesses as their rate of power consumption is extreme. Robots in their current form aren’t sufficiently efficient in their use of power. This is one of the main factors that prevent smaller businesses from progressing with their automatization.

The development of energy-efficient robots and IIoT sensors is one of the main challenges of smart factories development. At the moment, researchers are actively working on the creation of energy-efficient IIoT sensors that will be able to run for extended periods of time from a single battery charge.

The most efficient solution available today is a single system-on-chip as this kind of IIoT node doesn’t draw energy to communicate off-chip, RF and analogue components. However, a multi-chip node is much easier and cheaper to assemble.

There is also the matter of wireless MCUs (Microcontroller Units) that have yet to provide equally high rates of performance, efficiency, and stability in industrial applications. The current level of wireless MCU modules already offers great opportunities for integrating them with industrial robots. However, the most promising is the fast rate of their development. Considering the dynamics, 2018 can see the launch of a new generation of MCUs, which would be essential for accomplishing the predicted growth of robot implementation in this sphere.

These parts are also designed with energy-efficiency in mind. For example, the WiSeMCU (RS14100) from Redpine is the most power efficient device of its kind. Its power consumption during ‘sleep’ is only 500nA. Yet it’s capable of providing data output rate of 90Mbit/s.

What does the future hold for industrial robots ?

The future of industrial robotics looks extremely bright. 2016 and 2017 were both record-breaking years in the number of produced and shipped robots in various countries. 2018 is very likely to continue the trend as the demand for these gadgets doesn’t go down. However, as they become more affordable, more businesses are able to start using them.

It’s true that the challenges ahead are complex. They range from lack of education and automation strategy to the absence of energy efficiency in the robots of today. However, these problems are recognized and there are teams of experts working on developing effective solutions.

Lack of cohesiveness in both research and implementation is a major but also most common issue that prevents achieving the best results. Despite it, the future of industrial robots is extremely promising. Their numbers grow by the day and the more robots there are, the further their research and improvement rates progress. So long as automation and education go hand in hand, the world can expect to see fully robotized factories as the norm in near future.

The author is a consultant at DO Supply.

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