Automation & Robotics, the Future of Mankind?
Updated: Aug 8, 2019
Personally, I believe that robotics and AI will take us forward as a species far further than many people think. I'm not a subscriber to the James Cameron view of Skynet and mass destruction wrought by armies of robots built by other robots and all controlled by a massive AI brain.
One thing that a previous boss taught me was the value of a healthy balance between work and home life - it's something i've always tried to push people in my teams to strive for whilst not really practising it too much. Some may say that this is an inevitable result of our new connected society where all of our information is readily available 24/7, but does it have to be that way?
There are dozens of examples where automation and robotics have started to make substantial improvements to peoples lives and are starting to ease the work burden.
AI & self-controlled robotic 'suits' are enabling people who have never walked to move around freely and regain independence. Robotic false limbs also now have the ability to give fine motor function back to people who have lost a hand or arm - incredible advances which really help pockets of humanity.
Robots, or more correctly Co-Bots (Collaborative Robots) are starting to appear in work places and homes to improve accuracy, efficiency and take the burden from the human - such as repetitive lifting, detailed positioning and fastening of components. AI, as you can see in the TV ads is also helping us get more produce from our land so that we can perhaps feed all of our growing planetary population.
Barely a day goes by without Xyntek and its Partners being involved in either an Automation, Process Improvement or Robotics project. These projects are not generally about removing humans from the equation, but taking the strain from the worker and giving them time to think and thus allow them to contribute in different ways which, in turn, further improves their companies and thus their own performance.
Given a choice between packing cartons which always stop in the same place into a case that is always in the same place or being able to perform a role which requires me to think or move about whilst monitoring the robot, I know what I (and probably most people) would choose.
Some of the simplest Co-bots are on moveable trollies which are completely human guided, and the co-bot is used, almost as a kind of exoskeleton to lift 30-50lb cases and place them gently onto pallets. Other, more complex installs have in-build cameras so that they can recognize the position and orientation of the target object, pick it up exactly, rotate it to exactly where it needs to be and then join it to another piece held by a machine, or another robot.
Movements to repeated positions can be controlled to +/-0.004in (+/-0.1m) - enough for virtually all applications, so they can be used for screwing needles to syringes, or placing multiple fine machined components onto a shaft etc. Applications for automation are really only limited by the creativity (or experience) of the designer. These Co-bot devices are also remarkable because they have greatly reduced the cost of robotics, making them attractive to even smaller companies or installations of dozens of the units across pods of a machine shop, for example.
The ability to walk a process and see the opportunity for improvement, either by tweaking an existing machine or by adding some form of automation, vision system, Co-Bot or even full-sized robotics is not easy, it requires lots of experience and product knowledge. It's a rare company that can shape all aspects of its own growth and improvement without some form of outside help or investment.
Often the first step into this world is daunting for businesses. But the vast majority who have started on this journey are now leading their field in terms of productivity, quality and worker safety and work/life balance.
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Senior Director, Global Management & IS Consulting