Cobots are transforming the factory floor — but they’re not replacing humans

Combining human creativity and automation is unlocking new efficiencies.
Combining human creativity and automation is unlocking new efficiencies.
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The increased presence of robots on factory floors has been a boon to manufacturers, who have embraced automation as a way to increase efficiency and cut costs. But there’s been less optimism among human workers, who worry that the rise of robots will render human workers inessential.

In recent years, however, a new school of thought has gained ground: Rather than replace their human counterparts, the manufacturing robots of the future will work alongside them. This future can be seen in the arrival of “cobots,” robots designed to complement human workers. While humans excel at abstract thinking and problem solving, robots shine at bringing speed and accuracy to repetitive, sometimes dangerous tasks. Imagine a factory where robots do the heavy-lifting as humans focus on more meaningful work, where production lines can run unsupervised for weeks with minimal manufacturing defects. In the connected industrial workforce of the future, robots complement workers, improve productivity, and increase operational efficiency.

This future is already here. Siemens, for example, is pioneering this transformation with its manufacturing plant in Amberg, Germany, where automated production lines run continuously with near-perfect production quality. Complementing that process are the plant’s 1,150 human employees, who maintain this efficiency by focusing on programming and monitoring the factory’s machines.

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Cobots typically come at low-cost, meaning that even small-to medium-sized companies can implement them. One Indian manufacturing company, for example, has used cobots to both increase the number of products it produces each day from by 6,500 percent and significantly increase its headcount. Rather than eliminate jobs, cobots have created new ones.

This is just the beginning of a collaborative relationship between humans and robots. According to a report by Accenture Strategy, thanks to increased investments and open-source contributions, a new generation of robots will emerge to handle an increasing amount of variability and to complete tasks in less structured environments. Through a robust automation strategy, human and machine teams can leverage the intelligence, dexterity and flexibility of human workers with the autonomy, consistency and reliability of robotic systems.

So, how can manufacturers evolve their work processes and environments to include robotic systems? According to Accenture, they can start by upgrading legacy IT systems, hiring new people with interdisciplinary skills, and upskilling existing workers.

With insights on artificial intelligence and machine learning across industries such as manufacturing, healthcare, security, financial services and more, Accenture is mapping digital trends as they develop and mature. With fresh perspectives straight from thought leaders, Accenture is helping companies realize their digital competitiveness.

To continue reading about Accenture’s insights on the connected industrial workforce, click here.

This article was produced on behalf of Accenture by Quartz Creative and not by the Quartz editorial staff.