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Navigating productivity challenges with cobots

Shermine Gotfredsen, General Manager at Universal Robots, SEA & Oceania | Oct. 25, 2017
Productivity remains a key challenge for many businesses in Singapore.

This vendor-written piece has been edited by Executive Networks Media to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favour the submitter's approach.

Productivity remains a key challenge for many businesses in Singapore, mainly due to labour shortage and the effects of a weak global economic outlook. Over the last five years, real productivity growth averaged only 0.4 per cent each year, against real wage growth of 1.1 per cent per year - indicating a decline in the country's economic competitiveness. This sluggish productivity growth can be largely attributed to domestic-oriented sectors, such as retail and food and beverage (F&B), which have experienced a 0.6 per cent decline each year since 2014.

Low productivity growth, combined with rising costs, will continue to weigh down profit margins if left unaddressed. To stay relevant and sustain growth, businesses - big and small - must embrace innovation and find new ways to improve their business processes to raise productivity. Leveraging robotic automation is one of the most viable ways to achieve this.

Singapore is no stranger to robotic automation, with the number of industrial robots deployed nationwide increasing 20 per cent between 2010 and 2015. In fact, the country has one of the highest adoption rates in the world, in the league of Japan, the Republic of Korea and Germany.

A new generation of robots which are designed to work alongside people have emerged, greatly enhancing the benefits of robotic automation. These collaborative robots - or cobots - have capabilities to address the productivity gap across a gamut of sectors, ranging from manufacturing to F&B, through automation.


Why cobots?

Cobots offer businesses a sustainable solution for their productivity woes. Implementing and operating cobots is very simple and cost-effective, unlike traditional robots that often require a vast amount of time and monetary investment.

Cobots can be installed without incurring high costs or the need for special infrastructure to accommodate them. They are designed with built-in safety mechanisms that eliminate the need for physical safety barriers (subject to risk assessment).

They are lightweight, compact, easy to program and can be seamlessly integrated into existing applications. They can also be easily relocated or redeployed to perform different tasks. For example, Atria, a leading European manufacturer of vegetarian and gourmet food products, deployed cobots back and forth between packaging and labelling products. This reduced the time taken to switch tasks and decreased production downtime.  

Business owners can therefore enjoy higher productivity without having to invest in several machines for different operations, reaping the benefits of the cobot for the entirety of its lifespan.

The automation of repetitive, manual processes also helps employees enhance their performance and elevate productivity. Cobots can minimise errors in these processes enabling employees to deliver consistent, high-quality output each time.


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