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Robots staging a comeback.

Robots staging a comeback

At the recent Robotic Industries Association (RIA) annual meeting, newly elected RIA president John O'Hara predicted a 10 to 15 percent increase in robot sales for this year. After a depressing showing in the recent past, how can O'Hara, vice chairman, Asea Brown Boveri, Inc, drive such a seemingly optimistic forecast in light of sluggish sales and industry upheaval?

The manufacturing sector is investing in new technologies, including robots, to increase productivity and reduce production costs, in an effort to regain market share and raise profitability. For example, worldwide shipments of manufacturing automation equipment and software were estimated at $41.7 billion in 1987. By 1991, the market should reach $63 billion, an 11 percent compound annual growth rate, according to David Penning at Dataquest.

Sales in the US for all types of flexible manufacturing systems (FMS) technology, were estimated to have reached about $850 million in 1987. Growth projections through 1989 reflect continuing strong sales and are predicted to reach $1.5 billion, with nearly 45 percent going to assembly applications.

Recent figures for new robot orders suggest the beginning of a robotics growth trend comparable to that forecast for automation equipment as a whole.

Caught in the cross-fire

Fiscal 1986-87 saw fierce global competition in most of the key industrial sectors, most notably the automotive and electronics industries. In response to the erosion of market share, several manufacturers attempted to solve the problem with new and emerging technologies, often overlooking the total systems approach to manufacturing. The results, in some cases, were applications of technologies that proved unreliable for use in a factory environment; unreliable because automation was applied without the ability to communicate. In general, a systems approach was not implemented in solving a systems problem.

The most significant ramification of these events, however, has been to induce the automation industry to concentrate its resources on product enhancement and development, flexible manufacturing systems, integration and applications. Now, as manufacturers are poised to implement revised competitive strategies, the automation industry--with robotics as the forerunner--is strategically positioned to not only fulfill the needs of the historic manufacturing marketplace, but also to develop new markets with the technological advancements pioneered over the past two years.

Integration is key

The industrial robot has played the key role in linking the various machine tools which comprise FMS or FMC installations. Productivity gains of as much as 30 percent have been directly attributed to robots. Such gains will increase as the application of new developments in robotic intelligence and communication are further integrated in system design.

The most significant potential gains lie in the continued integration of robots into automated systems, rather than in their use as stand-alones. Such applications opportunities will explode with the ever increasing technological advancement of vision, sensors, and communication systems. These technologies will increase robotic utilization in the assembly process, an application for which, most analysts concur, robotic systems are ideally suited. It is through this market niche that robotics will find broader applications and new customers.
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Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:excerpt from ABB Robotics Inc. report
Author:Niebruegge, Douglas
Publication:Tooling & Production
Article Type:column
Date:Mar 1, 1989
Previous Article:Caterpillar cuts part cost 40 percent.
Next Article:Wasted production hours.

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