Industrial automation is set to take on a whole new meaning as we get into the 4th industrial revolution. For a long time, automation has been the preserve of the big boys in the industry. Think big global brands like Coca-Cola, Philips, Daimler, VW group among others. However, recent developments in the automation industry are changing the landscape in ways never imagined before.
Affordable Automation: It Won’t Be Business as Usual
Imagine that hated downturn sweatshop finally being able to acquire industrial robots for their production line. A Kickstarter project transitioning from creating samples to a full-fledged manufacturing plant in less than a year. Now stop imagining, it’s already happening in China, Japan, and other manufacturing hubs across the world.
Manufacturing SMEs are making big leaps thanks to cheap and readily available industrial robots. Companies like Universal Robots are bringing these much-needed automation solutions to a sector that has been yearning for it for decades.
How will the emergence of affordable automation solutions impact the SME sector across the world? Here are four possible effects as observed from the SMEs that have already adopted affordable robotic solutions across the globe.
1. SMEs Will Find It Easier to Scale Their Production
SMEs always had challenges when it came to scaling their production to meet rising demand. There were only three options available to them: outsourcing, selling their entire business or merging with other entities. Outsourcing often led to a reduction in quality or losing control of the factors of production, while buyouts or mergers often led the other compromises.
Affordable automation solutions will make it easier for SMEs to scale their production and even diversify. Emerging players in this sector such as Universal Robots are creating highly versatile, portable and affordable robotic solutions for the SMEs as well as big industries. As an example, Universal Robot’s injection molding robots can bring affordable and reliable polymer production to smaller players.
2. Accelerated Innovation
Across the world, SMEs form the backbone of local economies and entire regions. It’s also true that much of the innovation happens in the SME sector. That new Kickstarter project everyone is talking about is most likely a small business in its early stages. Affordable automation solutions will undoubtedly accelerate innovation in the sector.
Small startups will be able to bring prototype faster with the help of cheap robotic solutions. This will allow for faster product innovation and diversification. The same product will evolve at a quicker rate thanks to the versatility of new SME-focused automation solutions.
It’s also good to note that new automation solutions like collaborative robot arms are much more versatile than traditional robots. For instance, there are new end of arm effectors being developed every other day. Some manufacturers are trying to incorporate machine learning into their robotic solutions. These and other factors will spur more innovation in the SME sector.
3. Change of Jobs and Roles in The SME Sector
While large businesses have been trimming their workforces and adopting full automation, SMEs have remained the most significant job creators around the world. Their reliance on human labor was necessitated by the out-of-reach automation solutions only large business could afford.
There is no indication that affordable automation might lead to massive job losses in the SME sector. However, there will be a lot of change with regard to jobs and roles in small businesses who adopt new automation solutions. Repetitive, hazardous, low-skill and other mundane tasks will be taken over by collaborative robots as human workers concentrate on creative tasks.
4. Increased Competition as SMEs Catch Up
One thing that automation brings to businesses is quality. Robots have, for the longest time, allowed big companies to maintain a competitive advantage by producing superior, more standardized products. This will change as SMEs start using these new affordable robotic solutions in their establishments. Will big businesses survive in the changing landscape? Only time will tell.
There is talk of an SME renaissance or revolution as automation becomes affordable. New entrants into robot manufacturing are bringing another dimension to production with their innovative solutions. The next few years will be exciting to watch in light of these developments.