Point of View

Crucial new robotics segments to watch: collaborative bots will reign in the socially distant era

November 20, 2020

Industrial robotics has come a long way from fixed physical positioning to flexible operations across industries. The advancement of technologies like AI has enabled robots to perform more precise operations. Several new robotics segments have also opened up, and usage of collaborative robotics, or “cobot” applications (i.e., human-robot interaction within a shared space or closed proximity), has increased. The pandemic also accelerated robotics adoption as governments and enterprises enforced social distancing. This PoV explores the changing market dynamics in the industrial robotics domain and describes how service providers can leverage this opportunity to expand their technology consulting and engineering services portfolios.

Cobots are the next wave of industrial robotics

According to the World Robotics 2020 Report, Asian countries dominate the industrial robotics installation base market, and typically manufacturing is the key industry for this. As per the report released by the International Federation of Robotics, “Sales of new robots remain on a high level with 373,000 units shipped globally in 2019. This is 12% less compared to 2018, but still, the 3rd highest sales volume ever recorded.” The report also mentioned that though the collaborative robot segment is still in its infancy, the market has significant growth potential.

Robotics applications pose tremendous opportunities beyond their heritage roots in manufacturing

In years past, manufacturers primarily installed robots on the manufacturing floor, where they had limited or no interaction with humans. Thanks to technological advancement, robots are capable of more complex applications and those that require advanced human collaboration. We can find robots in the industrial manufacturing landscape and in healthcare, logistics, and consumer-facing industries as described in Exhibit 1. Recent robotics announcements and M&A activities include various robotics application examples, such as surgical robots and marine robots.

Exhibit 1: Enterprises across industries are exploring robotics applications

Type of robots and applicationsDescription
Surgical roboticsJohnson & Johnson completed the acquisition of Auris Health in April 2019. J&J will expand its digital surgery portfolio across multiple surgical specialties using Auris Health’s robotic platform technology.
Robotic-assisted healthcare platformSiemens Healthineers acquired Corindus Vascular Robotics in October 2019. Corindus specializes in robotic-assisted intervention, allowing physicians to precisely control guide catheters, guide wires, balloons, or stent implants via integrated imaging.
Collaborative warehouse fulfillment solutionsIn September 2019, Shopify acquired 6 River Systems, a firm focused on fulfillment automation for e-commerce and retail operations. The acquisition will help Shopify ensure timely deliveries, offer lower shipping costs, and provide a superb customer experience for merchants and their customers.
Marine roboticsIn March 2020, Huntington Ingalls Industries acquired Hydroid, an advanced marine robotics provider for the defense and maritime markets. The Hydroid acquisition should expand HII’s capabilities in the rapidly growing autonomous and unmanned maritime systems market.
Robotics solution for industrial operatorsComau presented the MATE exoskeleton and interesting application cases for Industry 4.0 at A&T 2020 in February 2020.
High-speed industrial robotsIn October 2020, ABB acquired Codian Robotics, a leading provider of delta robots, which are used primarily for high-precision pick and place applications. This acquisition will help ABB provide its customers with a broader range of delta robots and integrated solutions.
Industry 4.0 applicationsDoosan Robotics launched six new Cobots in July 2020 to meet Industry 4.0 demands, increasing the speed of operations and performance level of the robots.

Source: HFS Research



Service providers take note: here are the key segments to watch

Based on the recent initiatives and announcements, we identified the emerging robotics segments that service providers should focus on to develop capabilities and target clients in industrial robotics. Some of the use-cases are also highlighted for the segments.

  • Robots for healthcare: Robot usage has been rapidly growing in the modern healthcare landscape. Medical providers use robots in surgery and patient support; for example, Diligent Robotics.
  • Mobile robots (automated and remote-controlled): Mobile robots have a vast range of applications, including the warehouse and distribution center environment. Warehousing and distribution enterprises use robots for order picking, flexible sortation solutions, and increasing inventory visibility, such as the Amazon Kiva system.
  • Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and autonomous underwater vehicles (AUV): UAVs are used for aerial inspection, defense applications, and similar applications; AUVs help perform ocean exploration missions.
  • Exoskeletons: Exoskeleton suits assist their wearers by making lifted objects feel much lighter (sometimes even weightless) and reducing injuries among others; for example, Ekso Bionics.
  • Social robot: Social robots are specifically designed to interact with humans. Social robots have the potential to take over job functions, such as greetings and basic customer service.
  • Autonomous vehicles: Here, autonomous vehicles refer to irrigators, tractors, and mining vehicles that can be used for hazardous operations or to save human labor, for example.

Typically, service providers provide both advisory services (e.g., specifications identifications based on manufacturing needs, robot selection) and engineering services (e.g., manufacturing engineering, embedded engineering, value engineering, integration, testing, and document support) to clients. As different types of robotics segments emerge, clients need a comprehensive strategy and technical direction for enterprise robotics operations. We believe that there are more opportunities for technical landscape analysis, including aligning robotics as a part of overall automation, robotics capability improvement, more comprehensive ROI, exploring new applications, and necessary support services to realize the robotics vision, such as process engineering and digital simulation. Also, the traditional engineering services related to R&D, design, testing, and documentation will be in demand due to new types of robot development and new applications.

The Bottom Line: Leverage the ecosystem to capitalize on the vast opportunities that collaborative bots represent

Service providers are already closely collaborating with industrial robotics manufacturers for new and emerging applications. There is also scope to engage with the robotics manufacturers for core robotics capability development related to tasks like object identification, motion, and gripping. But service providers need specific capabilities (both hardware-specific and software specific) for these new segments and applications. Several start-up companies focus on niche capabilities, and service providers can partner with them to accelerate the capability development rather than reinventing the wheel.

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