From the editor: ‘Automate or evaporate’

Monday May 08, 2017
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May 8, 2017 - What a thrilling month April has been; publisher Klaus Pirker and I both attended Automate in Chicago in the first week of April and Hannover Messe in Germany the last week of the month, bookending a month of innovation and networking in the industrial automation world.

Both events highlighted numerous new product innovations as well as the potential of Industry 4.0 and the future of humans in tomorrow’s integrated factories.

At Automate, I attended the World Robotics International Federation of Robotics (IFR) CEO roundtable, which included speakers from half a dozen manufacturing experts, such as General Motors, ABB, Amazon and Applied Manufacturing Technologies (AMT), where executives discussed the impact of human-robot collaboration and emerging automation technologies on manufacturing.

“I was at a friend’s plant just outside Detroit with stamping machines. That particular plant is not very large — he has got to have 30 to 40 robots there in automation. The plant had been shuttered in 2007 and he bought it in 2010. He now has over 200 employees in his plant because of automation,” recalled Michael P. Jacobs, president of AMT. “It is very doable by small companies.”

Meanwhile, professor Dr. Howie Choset of the Advanced Robotics Manufacturing Institute (ARM) stressed the need for small companies, in particular, to automate their operations with robotics. “These small companies — this is their phrase not mine — automate or evaporate. They know if they don’t embrace automation, they will not be around in the future.”

“The key message is the optimism about jobs in the future, especially with technology,” noted Jon Battles, Amazon director, WW Engineering Advanced Technologies. Earlier this year, the online retailer powerhouse announced it would create 100,000 new full-time jobs in the U.S., ranging from software development to warehouse work.

“I want to make a really critical point — we are doing this level of hiring after installing 45,000 Amazon robotic systems in our fulfillment centres. I don’t have any better success story to give than that, and we are hiring in every job class and level...I hope we all internalize the importance of inspiring this young generation coming up, retraining the people we have, giving them a great vision for careers in the future and following through on that. I am very optimistic about the future and the jobs and the technology. As long as we embrace it, and train for it correctly, we have an awesome future,” continued Battles.

A new generation in manufacturing is here and companies of all sizes can leverage the transformative technologies the pivotal fourth industrial revolution brings — machine connectivity, big data, and smart machines to name a few. As the factory floor continues to evolve, automation technology is, and will continue to be, the key that unlocks your company’s potential.

This editorial was originally published in the May 2017 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.

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