As the world gradually recovers from the shock to the economic and health sectors caused by the pandemic, other aspects of this extraordinary situation that could catalyze long-term change are becoming clearer. One of these is the potential of robotisation highlighted by the global health crisis. Research shows that companies with a large proportion of their operations roboticized and automated have weathered the pandemic much more easily.
This press release originally appeared on Lietuvos Rytas, 8th of March, 2021. Find the full original version in Lithuanian here.
Automation helps during the crisis
Last year, McKinsey&Company, an international management consulting firm, conducted a survey of 400 companies about the impact of the pandemic on their operations and future prospects. 94 percent of respondents said that automation of activities helped them to continue working during the crisis, 56 percent identified the technology as very important.
The International Robotics Federation, which publishes data on robotization processes from around the world every year, says the number of robots working in the industrial and manufacturing sectors is growing every year – according to the latest data, in the five years from 2014 to 2019, a number of robots grew by almost 85 percent. There is no doubt that the pandemic has become an accelerator for robot racing, which has been going on for some time now – signs of growing demand are also seen in sectors that have been cautious about this in the past.
The largest SBA-owned furniture group in the Baltics, despite the challenges of the pandemic, has installed 10 new robots in 2020 only, next to 50 already installed before and this is probably one of the largest numbers in the country. Member company of the Lithuanian robotics association, Robotex has installed 20 robotic systems in various industries last year, and it sees room for much more untapped potential in the future.
Choosing between “now” and “later”
The pandemic forced some companies in our country to choose between two “now” and “later” directions. Companies had to focus on the “now” – keeping people, supplying raw materials, selling products. Investing in process automation has become a “later on” decision. It is difficult to see the benefits of robotics without employing any robots. However, it is the robots making it easier for companies to make development decisions. During the pandemic, companies that had at least partially robotized their work found that automated sectors were less affected.
The number of robotized areas is growing
In many cases, the more active interest in robotization in our country is hindered not so much by the issue of funds as by a conservative approach to innovation or lack of information. The focus on robotics should be more visible at the state level as well – after all, modern technologies grow not only companies, but also the country’s economy.
CEO of Robotex highlighted that, “The pandemic will stimulate a wave of robotization in Lithuania and in the world. It is common for everyone to see robots in the furniture, wood, food or medical industries, but I would increasingly assume that they are moving into sectors other than those where they are established. Robotic solutions are expected to take root in agriculture soon, with self-propelled tractors and drones irrigating crops. Robots are used even in areas such as psychotherapy.”
“During the pandemic, companies that had at least partially robotized their work noticed that automated sectors suffered less. The number of robots working in the industrial and manufacturing sectors is increasing every year – in the five years from 2014 to 2019, it has risen by almost 85 % worldwide. Although there are five robots per 10 000 employees in Lithuania, in 2017 this number increased by as much as 150 %! The pandemic has become an accelerator of robotics racing for some time – signs of growing demand are also being monitored in sectors that have been cautious about this issue in the past. Soon, robotic solutions will be visible not only in the furniture or wood industry but will also take root in agriculture – self-propelled tractors and crop-watering drones will appear here. Robots are used even in areas such as psychotherapy”Vytautas Kazlauskas, Board member of the Lithuanian Robotics Association
However, robots will never replace humans. Technology does not crowd out people but encourages them to acquire new skills or reorient their functions. This is evidenced by the examples of many companies, which show that even with the introduction of robots in production, the number of people working in companies continues to increase. Robots are controlled by none other than humans, who can also do less monotonous or physically strenuous work thanks to robotic “co-workers”. Therefore, the question must not be “whether” to automate processes, but “when”, and to do so as soon as possible.