5 Industrial Automation Predictions for 2020

Here’s our predictions on what to expect from industrial robots in the not-so-distant future

In less than three months, we will all be living in the next wave of the ‘roaring 20s’, also known as the year 2020 and beyond. While our predecessors from the 1920’s may view our present day as reminiscent of science fiction, our reality in 2019 is an evolving tapestry of technological innovation, where every year brings transformational change. In industrial manufacturing especially, the past two decades have witnessed a monumental computing and robotic revolution that has made automation an indispensable facet of factories across industries worldwide.

While it’s difficult to predict the ultimate impact of robotic automation in the coming decades, the picture of what’s to come is made more clear with new data projections from 2019. Understanding the current trends in industrial automation can offer clues on what we can expect in the industry in years to come.

Here are our top five industrial automation predictions for 2020:

1. Rise of intelligent manufacturing

We are officially living in the era of smart factories, and in 2020, we should expect to see the continued rise of intelligent manufacturing.  Intelligent manufacturing (a.k.a. smart manufacturing) refers to computer-integrated manufacturing combined with high levels of design adaptability, self-monitoring capability, automated quality assurance, and new digital information technology. Intelligent manufacturing also refers to the growth of advanced industrial robots that use artificial intelligence (AI), internet of things (IoT), and machine learning to automate processes more precisely than ever before.  With this new smart model, AI-enhanced robots will be able to report on physical processes using cloud-based monitoring and make real-time decisions; this system is also known as a “cyber-physical production system”. The benefits will include new predictive maintenance capabilities and new diverse smart sensors. With the cost of advanced robotics steadily decreasing with time, it’s not surprising that businesses of all sizes are adopting intelligent automation. According to the IDC, 20% of G2000 manufacturers will have transitioned to intelligent manufacturing by the year 2021, reducing execution times by up to 25%.

2. Increased demand for cobots

Cobots, or collaborative robots, are built and used to augment human labor,  especially for tasks that are physically demanding, dangerous, or tedious. Not only can cobots make factories safer for humans, but new generations of cobots can now also utilize AI and computer-vision to be more adaptable than ever and avoid physical hazards in real-time. Cobots only comprised 3% of the 422,000 robotic units that were shipped worldwide, according to the International Federation of Robotics. However, investment in cobots is on the rise year-over-year, signaling that companies are interested in the safety and flexibility that the machines provide over standard industrial robots. New innovations are also making cobots more affordable and safer each year, so it’s no surprise that companies of all sizes are predicted to demand more cobots in 2020 and beyond.  In fact, according to Grand View Research, the market for cobots reached $649 million in 2019 and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 44.5% from 2019 to 2025.

3. New 5G technology & hyperconnectivity

New 5G mobile network technology is expected to be available worldwide in 2020, bringing with it the new capability to not only connect people, but also interconnect robots, machines, and objects, with higher efficiency and speed than ever before. 5G download speeds are expected to reach up to 20 gigabits per second, with new latency rates as low as four milliseconds, meaning that manufacturers will be able to process vast amounts of data in real-time from anywhere. IoT sensors attached to industrial robots and AI-powered decision-making will be boosted from high-speed internet connectivity, and factory workers will be empowered with fast access to information. 5G will help elevate all internet-enabled plants to smart factories of the future.

4. Simplified robotic user experiences

With the robotics skill gap ever-present in industrial manufacturing, the need today for businesses to hire engineers who understand the complexities of robotic programming is critical in order to successfully launch automation. Even for those who do know how to code robots, the process by which an industrial robot is taught or programmed is usually a difficult process that takes significant time – often months – just to launch. The great news is that there are new robotic companies that are taking square aim at addressing poor user experiences with industrial robots. For example, our team at READY Robotics has created a revolutionary set of tools that allows virtually anyone to program virtually any robot in just minutes, via a radically user-friendly touchscreen interface. Other companies have also invented new ways of using gesture-based approaches to teach robotic arms how to pick up and place select items.  In 2020, we can expect to see more of these low-code innovations that help make it simpler and faster for all companies to deploy industrial robots as needed.

5. Influx of autonomous mobile robots

The lower costs of robots have made the adoption of autonomous, mobile robots increasingly achievable by businesses of all sizes – not just the Amazons and Alibabas of the world.  We can expect that in 2020 and beyond, all types of manufacturers and warehouses across industries will turn to advanced mobile robots for various applications. Factory applications for mobile robots include helping to keep track of inventory in real-time, helping load and unload products, inspecting production processes for quality, and more. 2020 will also mark the launch of the first self-driving lift truck, called the OTTO OMEGA, which will be another milestone step towards achieving full automation within factories and will help factories avoid the 34,000 serious injuries that occur every year due to forklifts. Autonomous industrial vehicles like these will help not only to speed up production times, but will also help to keep factories safer for human laborers.

It’s an exciting time to be on the cusp of a new decade, knowing that new innovations in industrial manufacturing are right around the corner. These are just a few of our predictions for 2020 and beyond and we should certainly expect new robotic trends to arise that were unforeseen. It will be especially interesting to understand how economic and political dynamics between counties, and especially China and U.S. relations, may impact the growth of industrial automation efforts and the timing of new robotic innovation. While not all of the above predictions may come true, it’s safe to say that the year 2020 will bring with it new technological advancements that will continue to improve industrial manufacturing in factories worldwide.