Dutch manufacturers could certainly benefit from a helping hand in an economy with an ageing workforce and increasing demand for one-piece production. Because how can you quickly deliver new custom-made product concepts at relatively low prices? Flexible Manufacturing is one option, and is based on using advanced robotics
“In terms of Flexible Manufacturing, a lot more ‘collaborated robotics’ will be implemented in the future, whereby people and robots will work together in safe environments”, says Willem Endhoven, managing director at High Tech NL (initiator of Holland Robotics, a national robotics community that promotes collaboration between organizations in the field of science, industry and robotics).
Dirk de Man, speaker at Holland Robotics:
“Companies must be innovative in the coming four years, and this not only means examining how machines and robots fit within existing production processes, but also seeing how production processes can be made more flexible. Otherwise your production process will soon become obsolete again and you will be unable to meet rapidly changing demand for production.”
Both gentlemen also point to the changing role of employees. As Endhoven says “Robots can no longer be cordoned off by themselves, but must be able to interact with personnel. In the end, everyone will buy the same robots and companies will lose their competitive edge. Therefore, success will be determined by your personnel and how your process is designed.”
De Man: “Many robot constructors supply separate modules for programming robots, with each robot brand having its own programming language. So if a company wants to incorporate a new machine, it has to learn a new programming language. To prevent this, applications must be developed to make sure robots can be operated in an easy and universal manner.”
The fact that many traditional robot constructors are unable to keep pace with the above mentioned innovation has also created a dilemma. If robots were easier to programme, then more companies would have robotized their production processes. But robots are difficult to operate, which means manufacturers are afraid and unwilling to invest. And this obstacle is hindering Flexible Manufacturing, while it is actually the future. It makes work more challenging for employees and allows them to adopt greater responsibility. Whereas operators are now responsible for one line, they could later take care of three production lines and four robots. In addition, by optimizing Flexible Manufacturing, you can realize 24/7 production, reduce staff shortages, achieve reliable quality and ensure shorter processes. De Man: “Because you can assign dangerous, intensive, dirty and repetitive work to robots, so people can use their creative spirit to run the whole operation.” Although this situation applies to many companies, they still see it as something for the future because it demands a new mindset. Endhoven: “Robot constructors, system integrators and robot buyers must be encouraged to consider robot applications and integrations within production processes. In the coming five years, this will allow us to achieve things in the field of robot technology that people can only dream of at this moment in time.”