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Bringing Manufacturing Activities Back Home with Collaborative Robots
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April 14, 2021 Blog


Authored by: James McKew, Regional Director Asia-Pacific Universal Robots

Reshoring is all about bringing manufacturing, assembly, and finishing operations back closer to the markets in which their end products are to be sold. Such reshoring is made possible by new ways of integrating automation and robotics with unique human skills, to dramatically increase productivity, product quality, and individualisation.

The offshoring issue

The long-standing practice of outsourcing manufacturing operations to certain parts of the world to keep manufacturing costs down has recently taken a dramatic turn with border lockdowns around the world. With rising labour costs in traditionally “low-cost” countries and the increased logistics and transportation costs especially due to the pandemic, manufacturers are now experiencing a grave erosion of the financial leverage with manufacturing overseas.

Offshoring usually involves complex logistics, added shipping times, and difficulties in reacting quickly and nimbly to changes in customer requirements. There are now reasons why many manufacturers should be looking for new ways to reduce a dependence on offshoring, and to reduce manufacturing costs and increase productivity.

From offshoring to reshoring

As the low-wage competitive edge is eroded, many countries and companies have adopted varying mixes of highly automated Industry 4.0 setups and low-cost manual procedures. When combined with the complex logistics, long transportation times, strategic and political vulnerabilities associated with offshoring, and an ongoing pandemic, many manufacturers are finding new ways to tackle issues associated with manufacturing costs and productivity.

“The COVID-19 crisis has pushed the region into a hyperdrive of technological adoption. Business owners in Asia-Pacific are exploring reshoring options to prevent business disruptions due to supply chain problems, as well as designing flexible and adaptable automation solutions for rapid changes in demand. Collaborative robots (cobots) are viable solutions in both situations,” says James McKew, Regional Director Asia-Pacific, Universal Robots.

How cobots help with reshoring

Automation using cost-effective, advanced robotics technologies is helping this shift by enabling companies of all sizes to remain cost-competitive while keeping their manufacturing operations at home.

The automated capabilities introduced by small, lightweight, and extremely versatile cobots make it possible to automate tasks and processes inconceivable with traditional industrial robots. Companies can add automation to bottleneck processes without disturbing or remodelling the rest of their workflow or machinery layouts.

The business case

California-based RSS Manufacturing and Phylrich is a case in point, with CEO Geoff Escalette declaring: “The whole premise for our company is to bring manufacturing back to this country. Our new robot fits perfectly within that masterplan.”

Faced with a need to meet a new monthly order to produce 700 valves, the company deployed a UR5 from Universal Robots as a cost-effective automation solution that could be easily moved between different CNC machines, assembly lines, and tube benders. As Escalette explains, “our CNC machine can normally do 400 valves per month with two shifts, so we would have been forced to buy another machine even if we put a third shift on. With the higher run-rate using the UR5, none of this was necessary.”

The new robotic solution thus provided greater flexibility and increased productivity, with the initial outlay recouped within just a few months. And its advanced safety features meant there were no additional costs for safety guarding.

Cobots enable companies of all sizes, located anywhere in the world, to significantly boost their levels of output, quality capabilities and commercial viability. This applies even to companies that do not have the resources or any wish to deploy traditional industrial robots in complex, integrated Industry 4.0 setups.

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