• An articulated robot palletiser. (Image: Diverseco)
    An articulated robot palletiser. (Image: Diverseco)
  • Cobots used to place bottles in cases and cases on pallets. (Image: Andrew Donald Design Engineering)
    Cobots used to place bottles in cases and cases on pallets. (Image: Andrew Donald Design Engineering)

There’s no getting away from the fact that robots are on the rise. But that’s a good thing for our industry, as machinery guru John Henry argues in a round-up of all things robotic written exclusively for PKN.

According to the International Federation of Robotics, world sales of industrial robots were more than 381,000 units in 2017, a 30 per cent increase over 2016. Robot use is growing in Australia as well. The recent survey of Australian industry by PKN found that 53 per cent of companies intended to implement robotics by 2019.

Robot density in Australia is slightly above the world average with 86 industrial robots per 10,000 employees. Not bad, though it’s way behind South Korea’s 531 robots per 10,000 employees.

There’s a reason for robots’ popularity – they get results. Robots improve quality, employee productivity and employee safety. Robots improve costs, flexibility and response to customers. Most importantly, robots make Australian industry competitive again. Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Robots may not be the magic wand that some people claim but they come close.

Australia, like many other first world countries, has lost a lot of manufacturing to China, Vietnam, Korea and other low wage countries. There is no way that Australia can ever compete on labour costs. Someone will always be cheaper. Robots are not primarily about labour costs: they are about better, faster and more flexible production of more consistent products.

Even the low wage countries are finding that they need to automate to remain competitive. As they do, their labour cost advantage disappears since robots cost about the same in Vietnam as in Australia. Robots make Australia competitive again. Companies that offshored in the past are now reshoring and bringing production back home.

That’s good for Australia, it’s great for Australian consumers and it’s terrific for Australian manufacturers and their workers. Robots make things work. Robots get results.

For more, read John Henry's article in the latest issue of PKN magazine.

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