In many companies, robots are employed to complement rather than replace workers. This concept, known as “cobotics,” teams operators and machines in order to make complex parts of the assembly process faster, easier, and safer.
Some manufacturers believe that greater automation is harmful, resulting in less innovation because only people can develop ideas to improve processes and products. Consequently, robotic implementation is evolving on a different path in the U.S. and other mature economies.
Over the last decade, China emerged as an automated manufacturing powerhouse, as increased labor costs and booming industrial demand drove tremendous growth in industrial robotics.
Since 2013, the number of shipments of multipurpose industrial robots in China roughly doubled to an estimated 75,000 in 2015, with that number forecast to double yet again to 150,000 by 2018, according to the International Federation of Robotics.
Cobotics is rapidly gaining momentum, and successful implementations to date have focused largely on specific ergonomically challenging tasks within the aerospace and automotive industries. But these applications will expand as automation developers introduce more sophisticated sensors and more adaptable, highly functional robotic equipment that will let humans and machines interact deftly on the factory floor.