A roadmap for robotics uptake in Australia
As industries that have always prioritised innovation as a way to make processes more efficient and cost-effective, manufacturing and robotics have a long and illustrious history.
The manufacturing sector was the first to recognise the potential of robotics, with industrial robots appearing on the factory floor of automotive manufacturer General Motors as early as 1961. Fast forward to the present day and the controlled manufacturing environment is seen as the ideal testing ground for new robotics and automation systems. Here, highly skilled workers are on hand to oversee these systems and ensure their high performance.
“Robotics represents the peak of new technologies and is hugely valued by manufacturers for its ability to incorporate both automation and artificial intelligence,” said Marie Kinsella, CEO of the International Exhibition & Conference (IEC) Group. “That’s why we’re thrilled to have the prestigious industry body Robotics Australia Group onboard as a Supporting Partner of the 2023 Modern Manufacturing Expo.”
The free-to-attend Modern Manufacturing Expo takes place from 20–21 September 2023 at the Sydney Showground in Sydney Olympic Park. The organisers say it will showcase the latest in manufacturing processes and technologies needed to power up operations and boost the speed at which new concepts and products are brought to market.
Much like the collaboration-focused Modern Manufacturing Expo, Robotics Australia Group is designed to instil a focused, collaborative approach between industry, research, government, startups, investment and education to build a robust and world-class robotics ecosystem within Australia.
In 2022, the Group released a detailed Robotics Roadmap for Australia publication to raise the profile of robotics in Australia and to identify the challenges and opportunities available for robotics in the country. It includes a detailed analysis of the role of robotics in 13 of Australia’s most essential industries, including manufacturing, and the sector-specific challenges and opportunities needed to develop robotic capabilities.
“Reshoring manufacturing has long been a priority for both Australia’s public and private sectors but high operational costs and an over-reliance on overseas imports have proven to be a difficult challenge to overcome,” Kinsella said. “Increased adoption of robotic technologies may be what’s needed to compete on a global scale and strengthen our sovereign capabilities, and this will be a prominent topic of discussion at the Modern Manufacturing Expo in September.”
Unfortunately, while the manufacturing sector has been quick to embrace the potential of robotics, Australia as a whole has lagged behind other developed countries.
The roadmap observes that not only does Australia not develop its own industrial robots, but that the number of installed industrial robots has declined since 2014 by 14%, compared to an increase of 60% worldwide. This has caused Australia to drop from a ranking of 18th to 35th (of 37) in the world in robot density in the manufacturing industry.
Another factor contributing to low robot population density is the lack of uptake from SMEs, who find that large-scale automation solutions are either unsuitable for their operations or too costly.
“This trend is not limited to robotics, as we have heard time and time again that while small manufacturers are enthusiastic about the potential of Industry 4.0 technologies, they simply cannot afford the upfront investment,” Kinsella said.
A core purpose of the expo is therefore to connect manufacturers with industry advocacy groups like Robotics Australia Group.
“We want to make manufacturers aware of the resources and financial grants available through government-backed schemes like the National Reconstruction Fund (NRF), which has made a substantial provision for increasing the uptake of robotics in Australia,” she said.
The manufacturing section of the roadmap concludes with the finding that Australia has a specific need for robotics to act as a force multiplier — augmenting and extending world-class, skilled human capability while reducing human exposure to dirty, dull and dangerous processes. To achieve this, the roadmap outlines the following achievable five-year goals:
- Educate local suppliers in ‘skill-multiplying’ robotics, so they can best allocate human, robotic or shared operations in the completion of tasks.
- Enhance automation simulation capabilities (humans and machines) allowing for the application of synthetic data to ensure successful and sustained process improvement.
- Development of more capable cobots.
- Design and prototype a $2000 ‘skill-multiplying’ robot through modern sustainable technologies.
“It is clear that intelligent robotic systems that can easily and rapidly adapt to new product lines based on demands and real-time needs are key to removing Australia’s reliance on global supply chains and overcoming our skilled labour shortage,” Kinsella said. “We look forward to the thought-provoking discussions and innovative solutions that will be showcased at the 2023 Modern Manufacturing Expo through our exciting partnership with Robotics Australia Group.”
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