Manufacturing automation has gained momentum over the years, and there’s no sign of it slowing down. Now is a great time to examine some of the key manufacturing automation trends that will shape 2023. Here are four to stay mindful of as you consider how to use automation or expand current deployments this year.
1. Connecting Automation to Sustainability Goals
Most companies have a long way to go in becoming more sustainable. A November 2022 study from the Capgemini Research Institute found that 53% of business leaders felt sustainability-related costs would outweigh the benefits. However, a finding from the research contradicted that belief by showing companies that prioritized sustainability outperformed those that didn’t. Another takeaway found that 58% of organizations already use automation and artificial intelligence (AI) to reach their sustainability goals. Such actions will also become apparent in this year’s manufacturing automation trends.
A prevailing opinion is that technology makes sustainability more achievable. It allows companies to pursue additive manufacturing to reduce waste or deploy lean manufacturing methods for continuous improvement. Company leaders can also depend on automated data collection tools to gather information about whether they’re getting closer to sustainability goals.
Decision-makers should also realize that they don’t need to go all-in with automation immediately to see sustainability benefits. They can start small and increase their actions as resources allow. One example is to use reusable pallets and totes in the manufacturing process. They have standardized shapes that help automated machinery run smoothly. These options also lack flaps that could get caught in equipment and slow processes. Reusable products support sustainability and should reduce how much people spend on single-use items.
2. Relying on Automation to Address Skills Shortages
Many manufacturers faced skills shortages in 2022. That problem doesn’t have a quick fix. Consider how a 2022 study from The Workforce Institute at UKG found 87% of manufacturers experiencing this issue more than ever. Another takeaway found that front-line manufacturing facilities lacked enough staff 38% of the time.
Analysts say skills shortages will persist in 2023. Companies will handle challenges related to having the right talent in the proper places within their facilities. Many manufacturing automation trends center on boosting productivity and getting more done with fewer workers. Such efforts will continue this year.
Cobots can work next to humans, increasing their outcomes. These machines can also make factories more versatile. One food manufacturer took six hours to do product changeovers before investing in cobots.
Saitex is a Vietnam-based denim manufacturer ramping up its use of robots. The company uses robotic arms to spray the fabric during the denim-fading process. Those attachments learn the right movements with data taken from a human worker. The company has also invested in a Sewbot machine, which can add stitches to fabric, creating fully functional clothing.
Innovations like these won’t solve all skills shortages, but they’ll give manufacturers more options for overcoming them. That’s valuable, particularly since finding and onboarding new workers often takes time.
3. Using Automation as a Competitive Differentiator
A November 2022 report from the Institute for Supply Management highlighted several signs that the manufacturing sector has entered a period of economic contraction. For example, new orders fell two points from the previous month. Employment figures went down by 1.2 points, and production decreased by 0.8 points.
Professionals familiar with the matter believe the economic uncertainty will stifle some automation investments. That’s understandable, particularly if leaders have no choice but to temporarily put aside some of their former priorities. However, some manufacturing automation trends will likely emerge directly from the economic outlook.
Modular robotics is a good example. Robco is a German-based startup specializing in that option and showing what's possible. The company’s current offerings are automated machines for palletizing, laser engraving, and lathe turning. People associated with the business clarify that it doesn’t offer robots or software. Instead, Robco provides an automation service to solve a frequent problem. The costs for a Robco deployment range from $1,000 to $4,000 per month, depending on what a client needs. The company targets small and medium-sized industrial enterprises. It also provides custom machine configurations depending on a client’s intended use case. However, those implementations happen in just one to two days.
Manufacturing leaders may want to pursue automation with lower upfront costs. That’s an excellent way to carve out a competitive advantage in the marketplace. Companies can eventually use automation to stand apart from other entities providing similar services. When that happens, businesses should remain more resilient despite economic challenges.
4. Offering More Accessible Forms of Automation
Many leaders want to use automation but hesitate because they think it will require hiring robotics experts or other specialized professionals. Such individuals are sometimes necessary. However, one of the most notable manufacturing automation trends involves making technologies increasingly easy to program and deploy.
People covering industrial trends believe 2023 will be a year driven by turnkey robotics solutions. Manufacturing leaders that see that it's more straightforward than expected to use automation will be more open to taking the next steps.
Similarly, you can expect more no- and low-code automation solutions reaching the market. These options let manufacturers take advantage of automation without needing advanced programming skills. Many products in this category feature drag-and-drop interfaces that replace manual coding. People using them can deploy automated solutions faster than before and adjust them more efficiently when needed.
The higher level of adaptability provided by low- and no-code solutions is critical in a manufacturing sector where people must pay attention and respond to constantly changing conditions. A more rigid automation approach could introduce preventable slowdowns and prevent manufacturers from reacting with the necessary nimbleness.
Stay Aware of These Manufacturing Automation Trends
Manufacturers increasingly want to use automation, but many still need to figure out how to get started or what goals to set. These four trends reveal broader industry patterns that encourage people to use automated technologies. Paying attention to them could help company leaders develop their automation plans and boost the chances of getting a strong return on investment after their efforts. Relatedly, as manufacturers see more peers using automation, they’ll realize they should become open to deploying it, too.