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Will robots change the face of manufacturing in Asia?

Zafar Anjum | Feb. 11, 2014
Enrico Krog Iversen and Shermine Gotfredsen of the Danish robotics company, Universal Robots, share their views on the impact of robots on manufacturing in Asia and worldwide

Universal Robots

Enrico Krog Iversen (right), CEO of Universal Robots and Shermine Gotfredsen, Business Development Manager, Universal Robots

Asia, the hub of world manufacturing, has some rethinking to do. There are two elements that might potentially change the face of manufacturing worldwide.

One is 3D printing which has been hogging the limelight of late. It features in Gartner's latest top 10 predictions on global IT market.

The other is a technology that might impact the manufacturing sector in a more significant and immediate way-it is the rise of small, flexible, reusable robots for industrial work.

Denmark's Universal Robots (UR) is one such company that makes these light-weight, flexible, and affordable robots. Interestingly, even though they have only recently entered Asia (their China office opened in 2011), they are expecting a phenomenal growth in the Asian market.

Impact of robotics on manufacturing

"You can say that there are certain challenges manufacturers are facing with labour and operational costs," says Shermine Gotfredsen, Business Development Manager, Universal Robots. "A lot of guidelines are being imposed on them. To look at the whole picture and to move ahead and to be competitive, they are looking at ways to be more cost competitive as well as productive, meaning to say that they want to produce more in the same given amount of time or with the same given amount of resources they have and the only way to do it is by automating. And if you look at how you can grow the businesses, it will be also in a way whereby ...if you start to automate and become productive, cost competitive and produce better quality product, then you can keep your manufacturing local. You don't have to move it to countries offshore and thereby making the people lose their jobs in the local market. In that sense, you can save jobs and be more competitive and actually create jobs in the long run but in other functions."

This could be good news for Europe or America where traditional manufacturing has been on a downslide. But how about the workers in manufacturing in populous countries such as China, India, and other South East Asian economies? What will happen to them?

We will need to move them to the skilled labour category, says Gotfredsen. So the trend will be to re-train these people who are doing repetitive tasks day in and day out (to operate machines) and equip them with other skills.

Robotics and 3D

"I don't see any direct connection between the two technologies," says Enrico Krog Iversen, CEO of Universal Robots, about robotics and 3D printing. "3D printing and that way of manufacturing offers a lot of potential. I don't think it will have a lot of impact on the robots because no matter where the parts come from, they still need to be handled and assembled and that's what we do well with the robots. I think it will be a long time before you start seeing ...you don't print a complete two wheeler with a full tank ready to go on the road. I don't see that just around the corner yet."

 

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