Embracing automation to build a sustainable future — Sakari Kuikka

NOVEMBER 8 — Industry 4.0 has become key to increasing competitiveness and sustainability for businesses with the emergence of advanced technologies and automation solutions. This era of increased digitisation can add an estimated US$10 billion (RM41.67 billion) to Malaysia’s gross domestic product (GDP).

This has made automation a key government focus as Malaysia seeks to improve its productivity, which still lags behind several regional economies such as China, India and the Philippines.

However, it can be daunting for local companies, especially small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to adopt automation. For one, the equipment can be costly and the technology hard to understand.

Companies also have different needs, making sourcing for the relevant solution another challenge.

Cultivating a Do-It-Yourself mindset

Employing new technology and automation will pave the way towards a progressive future for Malaysia. For this to happen, businesses must cultivate a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) mindset by learning to implement new technology into their processes. Collaborative robots (cobots), robots designed to work side-by-side with employees, are helping businesses do just that.

Cobots are widely deployed in numerous industries. They can undertake various applications including pick-and-place, machine tending, packaging and palletising as well as process tasks; gluing, dispensing, or welding. Due to their ease of programming in carrying out multiple tasks across diverse settings, Malaysia’s key industries — electronics and automotive — stand to benefit greatly from cobots.

How are they “collaborative”? Cobots have in-built safety features, making it safe for people to work in close proximity without having to install safety barriers (subject to risk assessment). Cobot’s intuitive interface simplifies programming so that even low-skilled employees can easily use them.

Safety was a key factor for PT JVC Electronics Indonesia (JEIN), a car audio-visual and navigation devices manufacturer, when deciding to install nine Universal Robots (UR) cobots. The cobots

allowed employees to work safely in close proximity with them and relieved workers from handling

high risk and hazardous tasks.

True cost of cobots

There is often a misconception that automation involves substantial costs. In reality, cobots offer manufacturers a financially less daunting way to embrace automation. They have minimal integration costs due to their ease of use, flexibility, small footprint easy programming and the ability to update and maintain technology in-house.

UR end users can easily update their cobot software by simply downloading the upgrade on UR’s support website and following a two-step guideline.

Cobots also offer flexible deployment through modular implementation. This allows businesses to implement the technology at an easy pace and process, with no major overhaul required.

Companies use metrics such as payback period and return on investment (ROI) to evaluate whether to make a business investment but they should take into consideration the long-term financial benefits of cobots which outweigh the initial investment.

The payback period looks at the amount of time (in years) it takes for the amount invested in the automation process to be repaid. Using this metric, however, does not consider future gains beyond the break-even period.

ROI, on the other hand, looks at the percentage of net profit of the investment in relation to the costs involved. Typically, firms calculate ROI based on direct labour cost savings and short-term benefits.

Using such metrics disregards more comprehensive financial benefits of automation. This could include material wastage reduction, increase in production efficiency or even a decrease in employment-related expenses. Making a holistic evaluation will help companies understand the wider, long-term financial benefits of automating with cobots.

Nurturing robotics literacy

Bodies such as the SME Association of Malaysia are helping local businesses overcome barriers to technology adoption by providing strategic council and platforms to facilitate knowledge sharing.

The Malaysia Robotics Automation Society has introduced the Global Certification Programme, an industry-academia initiative to certify professionals with qualifications in robotics and automation systems.

The private sector is also doing its bit to encourage robotics adoption. For example, UR launched the UR Academy which offers free high calibre robotics training, with nine online modules on basic programming training for UR robots. Over 20,000 users from 132 countries have signed up to date.

This training programme works in tandem with UR+, an online platform that leverages UR’s global ecosystem of third party developers. The platform offers a plethora of resources from cobot end-effectors and accessories to vision cameras and software.

Increasing competitiveness with cobots

In today’s challenging business environment, automation has become a necessity for businesses to enhance productivity and competitiveness in order to stay sustainable. By tapping on cobot technology, businesses can embrace automation easily, achieving higher productivity, lowering costs and enhancing workers’ wellbeing.

* Sakari Kuikka is regional director for Asia Pacific, Universal Robots

** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

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