Collaborative Robots May Help Shape Smart Factories

Recently published studies all agree on the big trends that are shaping smart factories or Industry 4.0.

  • Sustainable industry that minimizes energy consumption and waste production while incorporating recycling in the value chain.
  • Integration of digital technology. Emergence of 3D printers is taking part in this transformation, though we don’t yet know exactly what their impact will be.
  • Automation and “advanced” robotics are a given, with artificially intelligent systems, collaborative robots enabling automation of new tasks and use of robots at small and medium-sized companies. Digital and robotics transformation converge in intelligent systems that are flexible, with streamlined integration, improved programming and reduced implementation costs.

This inevitably leads to the question of the role human beings will play in the factory of the future, a question sometimes oversimplified and asked strictly in terms of impact on employment. As industry drives a large share of the value creation in the European economy, Europe clearly needs to “re-industrialize”. Yet, the share of industry in the Continent’s GDP has fallen from 20% to 15% over the past 15 years.

There is no simple answer to the question of “robotics and employment”. We have to ready ourselves for a deep transformation of our society. In this case, why not adopt a more positive vision of how robotics can benefit industry?

Let us imagine a world where on factory assembly lines robots and humans work side-by-side, perfectly complementing one another. A world in which workers no longer have to carry heavy loads, and where difficult handling tasks are performed by intelligent vehicles. Originally a purely industrial solution, collaborative robots – “cobots”– are now becoming a solution for enhanced workstation ergonomics…

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