How Have Robots Changed Manufacturing?
While the name “robot” only came to us in the early 20th century, the concept of robots dates back to ancient times. Far before the innovations brought about by harnessing electrical power or mechanical engines, humankind had dreams of autonomous creations that could work more efficiently and powerfully than any man or woman.
In ancient Greek mythology, a bronze giant crafted by Hephaestus guarded the island of Crete against danger. Jewish folklore speaks of golems, which are anthropomorphic servants created from inanimate matter like clay and mud to carry out the tasks of their creators.
Today these myths have more or less become a reality, as autonomous robots work day and night to propel the manufacturing industry into an exciting future of technology. It wasn’t old magic or ancient blacksmithing gods who brought these mechanical wonders about, however. It was pure human ingenuity and our everlasting thirst to explore the possibilities of this world and how we can shape it.
From the first robotic arm placed in a General Motors factory in New Jersey to the modern day world that finds industrial and collaborative robots in nearly any large manufacturing plant you can think of, robotics has become a powerful reality and completely changed the way we think of manufacturing.
Let’s take a look at some of the ways in which robots have changed the game and revamped the concept of industry.
How Do Robots Help in Manufacturing?
The simple answer is that robots help in every way across the board. They increase efficiency, lower costs, and greatly improve worker safety.
Let’s take a closer look at the safety aspect. We’ll preface it by saying that the introduction of powerful and often gigantic robots on the manufacturing floor presents its own potential safety issues, but they’re much more easily mitigated than the countless hazards the robots are protecting workers from.
According to this report from the CDC, workplace safety has made leaps and bounds. In a single year, from 1906 to 1907, 526 people died in “work accidents” in a single county in Pittsburgh, PA. in 1913, approximately 23,000 workers perished in “industrial deaths.”
Simply put, going to work used to be really dangerous, especially if you worked in a manufacturing plant or a steel mill.
In the more than a century that has passed since those stats, worker safety has greatly improved. Part of that is regulatory action that forced employers to take action on behalf of workers, and part of that is via changes and improvements in the workplace.
In the case of manufacturing, those “improvements” are largely the inclusion of automation and robotics on the floor. No matter which industry you’re working in, whether it’s pharmaceuticals or automobile manufacturing, there are bound to be hazardous conditions. These conditions could be things like toxic chemicals in the paint that’s being sprayed on car bodies. They could be intense heat from welding, or lifting and moving extremely heavy objects around the manufacturing plant. In all of these cases, robots are usually able to step in and take on the danger themselves.
Of course, these things aren’t really dangerous at all for robots, since they don’t bleed and are built from extremely durable materials that are impervious to heat and crushing.
So while robots help in so many ways in manufacturing, the safety benefits they bring are the real stars of the show and the reason that so many more workers get to go home at the end of the day safely to their families and loved ones.
How Do Robotics Make Manufacturing More Efficient?
People get tired. We’re even starting to feel it in the joints of our fingers while we type this article. Human bodies aren’t made for continuous, never-ending operation. We need sleep. We need breaks for grabbing a snack or using the bathroom. Sometimes those breaks are a little longer because we have to make our own peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, but that’s neither here nor there.
You’re probably getting the gist here, but let’s spell it out. Robots don’t need breaks. Robots don’t get tired. Robots can work and work, and then work some more, going on with their tasks until they’re shut down for maintenance.
You can imagine the unprecedented capabilities this affords the modern manufacturing plant. Suddenly, there’s a workforce that never stops working.
On top of that, robots don’t make mistakes. You can task a robot with a single job on an assembly line, let’s say picking up a part and moving it and then spot welding it, and that robot will do that single job flawlessly until it’s told not to.
Before robots, those tasks were all done by people. Imagine having to repeat a motion on an assembly line over and over for hours a day. How long do you think it would be before you made a mistake? How long before your attention wandered just a tad and you lost focus on what you were doing?
There’s a famous scene from the popular old show I Love Lucy where the titular character is trying to work on an assembly line at a bakery. Things quickly get out of hand, and Lucy is forced to begin stuffing the sweets into her mouth while the whole production line becomes a backed up mess. If Lucy were, say, an industrial robotic arm, that would never happen.
How Have Robots Changed How We Work?
You might be reading about all of these benefits and wondering something along the lines of “If robots are so amazing, what happens to all of the workers they’re replacing?” Well, you’re not alone. This is a sentiment that’s shared by a lot of people and a pretty common fear.
The reality is just the opposite, though. Robots aren’t displacing workers, they’re creating a need for more workers in manufacturing!
While robots are undeniably a massive boon to industry, they’re still machines. Machines need people to support them. They need maintenance. They need to be told what to do. They have to be designed, built, and then expertly integrated into the manufacturing process. They need to be monitored for faulty behavior and tweaked to maximize efficiency under changing conditions.
What that means is that more workers are needed now than ever, and these workers need to have the skills and education to work with and alongside robotics in manufacturing.
That’s where we come in.
At The ARM Institute, it’s our mission to connect people who want a career in robotics with the training and educational programs that will get them into the workforce.
Our site, RoboticsCareer.org, features a search tool that can comb through thousands of institutions and programs from around the country to find the perfect match for you. You can search by location, by program type, or even find remote learning opportunities that can be completed from the comfort of your own home.
Not only are robots incredibly helpful and exciting, but a career in working with them is more accessible than ever before. The only thing left to do is take that first step and head over to the RoboticsCareer.org search tool to begin your future today.