Futureproofing our local economy to bridge the gap between New Zealand and China.
Manufacturing and automation is now more top-of-mind than ever before. As Industry 4.0 takes root in businesses across the globe, the opportunity to embrace highly-advanced technology and new, forward-thinking ways of working has never been greater. From smart cities and cashless payments to autonomous vehicles, there is no shortage of buzzworthy, headline-grabbing advances in modern industry.
One innovation that has become particularly important is intelligent manufacturing or smart factories. A combination of cyber-physical systems, automation, and the Internet of Things (IoT), these facilities have the potential to rapidly transform business.
Therefore, it should come as no surprise that New Zealand has identified and embraced the benefits that this industrial wave holds. Automation adoption among local manufacturers has picked up substantially in recent years. The BusinessNZ Performance of Manufacturing Index in New Zealand jumped to 53.2 in February 2020 from an upwardly revised 49.8 in the previous month, beating market expectations of 50.3.
“According to Bloomberg, before the COVID-19 pandemic, many economists expected the fourth quarter to be the low point in the GDP growth track,” says James McKew, regional director at Universal Robots.
Used in manufacturing in New Zealand, demand for cobots should now increase as the country now looks to rapidly accelerate its economy. In addition, Universal Robots also has good traction in the education sector in New Zealand, which once again underpins the importance of increasing technical competency.
CURBING ECONOMIC CONCERNS
As close economic allies, China’s halt on production has had significant impact on the local supply chain. Here, McKew notes that advancements in AI and specifically, cobotics can be used in areas where its unsafe for humans to work or more simply workers are unwilling to do the monotonous tasks to which cobots are so well suited.
“One of the latest and most exciting robotic breakthroughs, collaborative robots or cobots – robots that work alongside human operators safely – enable businesses to improve cost efficiency, productivity, and output quality. These intelligent tools foster a more inclusive workspace, too, by relieving workers from strenuous, repetitive and sometimes dangerous tasks so they can focus on higher-value assignments,” McKew adds.
Cobots are user-friendly, flexible, compact, safe, and have a lower Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) compared to traditional industrial robots. TCO includes both direct and indirect costs, including maintenance, factory floor upgrades (including the ease a cobot can be re-deployed), employee training, and safety barriers, all of which are factors that typically apply to traditional industrial robots. Cobots are also less costly to set up, which further makes them a financially attractive option for manufacturers across industries turning to automation for the first time.
WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM THE COVID-19?
Besides finding a vaccine or a cure, automation has now also been lauded as one of the safest ways to bridge the gap between the virus and service delivery.
In light of the global COVID-19 outbreak, the opportunity exists to further understand and implement automation across the country, placing Australia in a stronger manufacturing position and improving its global competitiveness rank.
“The World Economic Forum’s 2019 Global Competitiveness Index revealed that those economies that have invested in innovation capabilities are best placed to revive productivity and weather a global slowdown,” says McKew.
INNOVATION AS A FAILSAFE
As pharmaceutical companies are gearing up towards a possible increase in production while new solutions come to the fore, robotics will become a pivotal gear in the manufacturing chain.
Robotics in the pharma industry is performing a wide range of tasks: from packaging of medical devices and implants as well as assisting in surgeries. The robot arms from Universal Robots can be used for mixing, counting, dispensing and inspection to deliver consistent results for business-critical products. They can also be used for sterile handling and assembly of the small, delicate parts that are used in prosthetics, implants and medical devices.
Robotic arms from Universal Robots can be incorporated into the processes so that engineers could easily adapt the software to the specific needs of the drugs and the required tasks. The easy programming, installation and collaborative nature of the industrial robot arms allow them to work side-by-side with the workforce for the production of efficient, high-quality medicines.
“Further, two UR5 robots now optimise the handling and sorting of blood samples for analysis at the Copenhagen university hospital in Gentofte. The solution enables the lab to uphold a target of delivering more than 90% of results within one hour despite a 20% increase in samples arriving for analysis. All this while protecting staff from contamination and providing a safer working environment for the lab technicians,” says McKew.
Utilising robotics and Industry 4.0 technologies, the pivot to intelligent manufacturing may just be the solution that helps countries in beating coronavirus now and future viruses that might arise.
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