AI-powered robots in manufacturing come with many benefits, from improved safety to reduced waste and higher efficiency. Many manufacturers already use robotics today, but AI is also worth investing in. How does AI expand the capabilities of robots in manufacturing? Are these machines uniquely suited to transform factory operations?
Higher Operating Efficiency
AI-powered robotics have an incredible ability to increase efficiency and productivity in factories. This technology is ideal for the assembly line, where it can easily automate repetitive tasks. Robots have been improving efficiency in manufacturing for decades, but AI adds a whole new level of potential.
AI gives businesses more options to optimize their operations. It allows robots to sense their environment more precisely to perform tasks faster and more accurately. This results in higher throughput and lower error rates.
AI-powered robots also improve factory efficiency by allowing for more flexibility in automation. These machines are more adaptable and resolve challenges without human intervention. For example, a courier robot using AI to navigate can work out an alternate route through a factory if one pathway is blocked.
Improved Safety and Ease of Use
AI can make robots safer and easier for factory employees to use. Over the past few years, a new category of robots has sprung up called collaborative robots or “cobots.” They often use AI to enhance sensing capabilities, making it safer for employees to work nearby.
For instance, a cobot might use AI computer vision to “see” an employee walk up to it, causing it to pause operations automatically. Many autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) already feature systems like this. Early models relied on sensor data, but adding AI delivers more precise, reliable object detection performance.
Similarly, AI can help employees interact with complex machinery more intuitively. An AI chatbot with natural language processing can act as a maintenance assistant that guides workers through complex repair processes. Robots can even have built-in chatbots to answer questions about their controls or specifications.
AI-guided programming is another helpful feature found in some cobots. The user interface simplifies the coding process so anyone can program the robot, even if they do not know its programming language. An AI algorithm can ask employees questions about what they want the robot to do and then build a program accordingly. Likewise, many cobots also have preset programs or drag-and-drop visual programming interfaces.
Wider Range of Capabilities
Robots and AI expand the capabilities of automation in manufacturing. Together, they can be truly transformative. Adopting AI-powered robots enables factory owners to automate virtually any process today.
Thousands of amazing tools and end effectors can augment a robot’s capabilities. Machines can do anything now with the help of the right integration, from welding to packaging. As a result, a single robotic cell can be highly adaptable.
For example, suppose a factory owner has a few robotic arms they’re using to spray paint metal components. They might want to expand and add a second spray painting lane but don’t have the funds to purchase another set of robots. They can resolve this by simply integrating a rotary indexer unit on each robotic arm so it can rotate between dual spray-painting stations.
Similarly, factory owners can swap out a robot’s end-of-arm tooling to adapt it for a new task. Many of today’s AI-powered robots are easy to reprogram, particularly collaborative ones.
AI adds another layer of flexibility. It allows robots to act on sensor data so they can react to situations in real time. AI can even increase the types of sensors machines can utilize.
For example, AI-powered robotic quality control is one of the top ways to improve factory efficiency. AI image recognition algorithms can rapidly analyze a live video feed of units passing through the QC checkpoint. If it detects any anomalies, it autonomously flags the defective unit and removes it from the assembly line.
Sophisticated tasks like this were not possible before AI-powered robots. Today, factory owners can automate nearly every process in their operations. Many factories are pursuing 24/7 operations using AI and robotics.
Reduced Errors and Waste
AI-powered robots are an excellent tool for reducing waste in the manufacturing process. Robotics provides physical consistency in assembly line tasks, while AI adds the intelligence to ensure jobs are always performed correctly. As a result, these machines are often more accurate than human employees, creating fewer defects and errors.
Lower error rates save time and money. Factories can get more value from the raw materials they purchase since every manufacturing task is optimized to eliminate defects. This also means companies no longer need to buy excess materials to compensate for error-related waste.
Using AI-powered robots in manufacturing can also improve sustainability and help factories meet ESG goals. Sustainability is a top priority for many consumers today. Manufacturers can reduce their goods’ carbon footprints by minimizing waste and maximizing production efficiency. Robotics allows them to accomplish this in a highly cost-effective way.
Lower Costs for Labor and Repairs
Factories can leverage AI to automate maintenance inspections, resulting in lower repair costs. Many manufacturers already use IoT sensors to conduct predictive maintenance on robots and other equipment. They can automate the monitoring process by integrating sensor data with an AI hub that autonomously determines when it’s time for a repair.
Predictive maintenance can save thousands of dollars on expensive repairs and minimize downtime by catching mechanical issues early. Leveraging AI to automate diagnostic and monitoring processes can help factory owners keep up when they have dozens or hundreds of robots to manage. After all, saving time is critical in a fully automated factory.
AI-powered robots can also reduce labor needs and, by extension, costs spent on hiring, training and salaries. Research shows a severe labor shortage in the manufacturing industry, which could reach 2.1 million unfilled jobs by 2030. Understaffing can lead to lost revenue, lower productivity, increased workplace stress, higher injury rates and excessive hiring expenses.
Robots in manufacturing offer the perfect solution. AI is improving safety, so mixing employees and robotics on assembly lines is much easier today. Machines can fill in the gaps left by labor shortages so everyone can work safely and more efficiently.
The Amazing Benefits of AI-Powered Robots
Integrating AI-powered robots in manufacturing can improve safety, increase efficiency, reduce waste, resolve labor shortages and more. Machines are already delivering gains in throughput and error reduction, but AI can truly transform factory operations. Combining AI and robotics enables factory owners to maximize the value of every unit they produce and create the best possible customer experience.
Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized Magazine, an online publication that explores innovations in science and technology.