While Industry 4.0 solutions have become increasingly popular, there are still many misconceptions surrounding this technology – particularly on the subject of robotics.
“Industry 4.0 is largely about digitisation, which entails bringing together the physical and virtual (computing) systems, and unlocking the potential of robots and automation through better visualisation of data, increased flexibility, and decision making,” explains Wade Leslie, Country Sales Manager of KUKA Robotics Australia.
Wade is a member of Open IIoT, an initiative of some of Australia’s most prominent automation brands – including SMC, KUKA, Beckhoff Automation, Balluff, NORD Drivesystems and ZI-Argus that aims to demystify Industry 4.0 and related concepts.
“Another philosophy of Industry 4.0 is Batch Size One and ‘mass customisation’. It was conceived that software and to some extent, mobility, would facilitate the automated production of customised products,” he adds.
This understanding of Industry 4.0 as a concept focusing on high-level digitisation and mass customisation is at the core of Wade’s argument that robots, and ‘cobots’ in particular, are part of Industry 3.0 – not Industry 4.0 as is commonly believed.
“There’s a common misconception that Industry 3.0 means outdated technology and an assumption that because cobots are relatively new, they must be part of Industry 4.0. However, Industry 3.0 is when robotics became mainstream due to the emphasis on automation during this period. Industry 3.0 is still very much the backbone of manufacturing technology,” says Wade.
Industrial robots in the spotlight
He believes that there is currently so much emphasis on adopting the latest technologies such as cobots that many manufacturers are failing to recognise the important role that industrial robots have to play.
“2023 marks 50 years since KUKA introduced the world’s first six-axis fully electric robot and the technology has consistently evolved since then to provide the robustness needed for demanding production environments like the automation industry,” Wade explains.
Industrial robots provide a distinct advantage due to their built-in flexibility as a result of their multi-axis dexterity and their ability to be reprogrammed for different tasks.
In comparison to cobots, industrial robots offer a wide range of benefits including higher speeds, higher payloads, lower cost and models built for custom environments.
Historically, a significant drawback of industrial robots is that, when built into a system, they were constrained to a limited range of tasks due to the fixtures and hardware mounted around them.
Today, enabling technologies like high-quality and affordable vision systems, combined with improved computing power has allowed users to realise the full flexible potential of industrial robots and help retain some of their freedom.
“Cobots do offer manufacturers some advantages due to the ease of programming and the fact that they usually don’t require safety fences. But the majority of manufacturers program their cobots only once and often their operations still require an external safety system – so these advantages are negligible when compared to industrial robots in most cases,” says Wade.
Exceptions to the Industry 3.0 rule
Wade concedes that a cobot or robot could be seen as fitting the aforementioned definition of Industry 4.0 when integrated with external systems or using a high level of data visualisation and decision-making.
“An example of this would be an IoT solution where data monitoring of the robot’s performance is captured by a factory-wide dashboard which also provides insights into the robot and the plant’s performance. This allows managers to optimise energy use and predict maintenance requirements. Looking to our own cohort, the Open IIoT demo unit showcases this capability with KUKA’s LBR iiwa Cobot connected to a ZI-Argus Symbian.”
A final scenario where robots and cobots are classified as Industry 4.0 technologu, is in instances where Batch Size One is needed as the robot or cobot allows for high-quality production of very small batches thanks to their ease of programming.
Insight into the future of robotics
Wade is optimistic about the future of robotics in Australia, citing advancements in the development of mobile robots.
“By mobile robots I’m not just referring to a mobile platform like AGV or AMR but an actual six-axis robot integrated with an autonomous mobile platform. This technology will really transform what we consider possible and will lead to companies designing factories in new ways so that large workpieces can be transported to the required processing station, on demand.”
He adds that automated production no longer means ‘production line’ and that advancements in robotics will accelerate the shift towards efficient mass customisation.
“When thinking about cobots, think about what functions are needed, don’t get caught up in the hype and don’t jump straight to the specific technology – you may be surprised to find a more traditional robot will perfectly fit your needs. Make sure you talk to a robotics provider that can provide a complete range of different types of technology, to explore what’s right for your specific circumstances,” Wade concludes.
Notes to editors:
These topics are discussed in detail on the new Industry 4.0 and Beyond Podcast by Open IIoT. Find all episodes of the Industry 4.0 and Beyond podcast on our website at https://openiiot.com.au/open-iiot-podcast/ or on your preferred streaming platform.
Contact us at: email@example.com
Podcast produced by Tim Allan – podcastcentral.com.au
Content Production by Positiv Pty Ltd – www.positivltd.com
About the Open IIoT Group: Open IIoT is an initiative of some of Australia’s most prominent automation brands – SMC Corporation ANZ, Beckhoff Automation, NORD DRIVESYSTEMS, Balluff, ZI-Argus and our newest addition, KUKA Robot Automation. It was founded with the mission of delivering valuable, efficient and easy-to-understand information on Industry 4.0, IIoT and other related topics to end-users and the broader manufacturing industry. Our Industry experts break down the jargon and tackle real-world automation concerns to help customers unlock IIoT opportunities for commercial value – and ultimately advance Australia’s economy through smart manufacturing.
Since 2019, AMI4.0 Hub has provided over 500 manufacturing businesses with accessible and actionable content to help them on their I4.0 journey, and worked closely with more than 30 businesses to provide tailored assessments and recommendations for successful I4.0 technology adoption. AMI4.0 Hub has catalysed multimillion direct and in-direct I4.0 investment in Australian manufacturing, contributed to onshoring of work, increased employment in manufacturing sector and established I4.0 as a key enabler to any manufacturing transformation program.