Robotics and AI: The Life-Changing Power of Automation
HUMAN CONCERN A manufacturing-led industrial revolution is set to transform everything from human wellbeing to sustainable practices.
Manufacturing, often invisible yet indispensable, is at the heart of society today. Industrial progress underpins the cities we live in, the transportation we take and the goods we trade. One great lesson of the pandemic is that when production grinds to a halt, today’s interlinked societies can be rapidly undermined.
Today, innovation in manufacturing goes hand in hand with technology. Powered by robotics and AI, the factories of the future hold the potential to make the things we need in smarter, cheaper and safer ways that ease the burden on an over-stressed and vital environment. But are industries—and nations as a whole—ready to embrace this future?
Across the U.S., factories of all sizes are facing challenges: labor shortages, supply chain issues, operational inefficiencies, inadequate infrastructure and an inability to forecast. How can traditional factories transform to capitalize on the benefits of automation?
Transforming the industrial workplace
What will the factory of the future look like? Mark Sadie, Managing Director of OMRON Delta Tau and OMRON Microscan and Vice President for Technology and Marketing at OMRON Automation Americas has spent three decades working in the field of industrial automation. He describes a blueprint for the factory of the future today:
“First, next-level automation must be integrated,” he says. “That is to say, the factory allows individual devices to work together seamlessly utilizing artificial intelligence, or AI autonomy, so that machines can sense change and make adaptations. Furthermore, the hardware must allow for a lot of customization and flexibility to rapidly adapt to changing micro-customer and macro-market demands.”
Connectivity and effective data handling is important. “The factory of the future is smart,” Sadie explains. “It uses real-time, high-value information to help managers make critical, speedy business decisions. Examples include predictive maintenance, quality control and improving operational efficiency. Connectivity between a company’s multiple factories—and to a cloud server or the company’s internal network—must be smooth and instantly accessible.”
As high-tech automation increases, human concerns at both the micro and macro level come more sharply into focus. “Safety must always be paramount,” says Sadie. “At OMRON, how to integrate automation into a client’s factory is a very big part of what we do as an organization. So, too, is sustainability. Integrated sustainable practices, energy efficient processes, waste reduction and the use of eco-friendly materials must be inherent in future factory design.”
Let the automation take care of the repetitive, ergonomically unsafe jobs and the humans work on creativity. With that comes a sense of personal growth and accomplishment that, ultimately, improves the quality of life.
Mark Sadie, Vice President, Technology and Marketing, OMRON Automation Americas
The man-machine partnership
Talent growth, retention and training are likely to continue to be issues across manufacturing—and all industries. Experts point out that automation should be designed to assuage rather than add to those concerns.
Simon Johnson, Professor of Entrepreneurship at the MIT Sloan School of Management and the co-author, with Daron Acemoglu, of “Power and Progress: Our Thousand-Year Struggle Over Technology and Prosperity,” says: “Automation always puts an end to some jobs by replacing people with machines and algorithms. But sometimes it can be part of an innovation process that also creates a lot of well-paying new jobs. The mindset of management is very important. We need thinking that favors the development of human-complementary technologies.”
For OMRON, the purpose of an automated society is not to replace humans with machines, but rather to improve certain routines or activities to further human evolution. “Let the automation take care of the repetitive, ergonomically unsafe jobs and the humans work on creativity,” says Sadie. “With that comes a sense of personal growth and accomplishment that, ultimately, improves the quality of life.”
He goes on: “The word we often use is harmony. Humans, to us, are an integral part of our factories and always will be. We really let humans focus on decision-making, problem solving and creativity, while machines focus on the repetitive, challenging and sometimes dangerous tasks.” Sadie recalls a maxim frequently cited by OMRON’s founder, Kazuma Tateishi: “To the machine, the work of the machine. To man, the thrill of further creation.”
Automating the next industrial revolution
OMRON’s end-to-end automation capabilities are also diminishing factory workloads. Single-source solutions for sensing, control, motion, vision, robotics and safety are a great help to manufacturers in streamlining the integration of these features.
“Our strength lies not only in our providing the most comprehensive lineup of automation technologies,” Sadie adds, “but also in how sure we are that those technologies work seamlessly together. We enable customers to utilize one software package and one connection to their operations, and setup is very fast. Our total comprehensive automation supplier mentality is transforming global manufacturing.”
Over its 90-year history, OMRON has powered change across industry and society. Today, its i-BELT Data Services support meaningful partnerships that enable new levels of co-creation in digital transformation, sustainable production and energy management. Its groundbreaking AI controller technology sets companies free from cloud-based data management, enhancing productivity yield whilst ensuring in-house control.
But what sets OMRON apart philosophically? “It is our pledge to improve lives and contribute to a better society,” asserts Sadie without hesitation. “That’s our North Star and it informs everything we do, from daily decisions to long-term strategic planning.” Since its founding, the company has focused on identifying critical societal needs and using technology to address them. From SMEs to corporations, OMRON empowers businesses to