ABB Robotics President Predicts Automation and Robotics Trends for 2022

Marc Segura, ABB’s new Robotics Division president, identifies three key commercial robotics trends for this year.

ABB Robotics

ABB's dual-arm YuMi cobot.
ABB new Robotics Division president notes that electric vehicles, collaborative robots, e-commerce acceleration, and the need for retraining will all be trending this year.

With demand for robots growing as companies in multiple sectors look for new ways to enhance their productivity and competitiveness post-pandemic, ABB has compiled a set of growth predictions, looking at key trends driving demand for robots in the coming year.

“The pandemic accelerated far-reaching global mega trends – from labor shortages and supply chain uncertainty, to the individualized consumer and growing pressure to operate sustainably and resiliently – leading new businesses to look to robotic automation,” says Marc Segura, ABB's newly appointed Robotics Division president. “As technology opens new opportunities for meeting customer demands, new trends will continue to emerge that will further drive demand in areas where robots have traditionally not been used.”  

Based on customer conversations, market research, and a global survey of 250 companies across multiple industries, ABB has identified three key trends that will shape the demand for robots in 2022.

Trend 1: The EV revolution is bringing changes for automaking

With many countries restricting and phasing out the production of internal combustion engine (ICE) cars over the next decade, the race to electric vehicles (EVs) has accelerated, said Segura. Automotive manufacturers and their supply chains must tackle the complexity of diversifying into EVs alongside ICE vehicles, to meet varying regulatory frameworks governing EV adoption across the globe.

The speed and added flexibility needed will see new and established manufacturers move away from traditional linear manufacturing toward modular, flexible production, according to ABB.

“EV is not about a change only in the powertrain, but a larger transformation to a digitized car,” Segura said. “This transition will also see the growing uptake of robots in combination with other technologies, including autonomous mobile robots [AMRs].

“This will enable manufacturers to optimize the delivery of components across facilities and enable integrated scalable, modular production cells – methods traditionally associated with e-commerce and consumer goods, but now required in automotive to ensure the necessary flexibility to meet varying levels of demand,” he said.

Another major shift will see battery manufacturing brought closer to vehicle assembly, to meet sustainability and regional requirements, which in most cases requires all-new facilities.

Trend 2: The e-commerce boom will accelerate

Consumer behavior and expectations are driving companies to find new ways to satisfy demand, developing new channels through omnichannel retailing and adapting their production lines and distribution processes to enable personalization of both products and delivery, said ABB.

Fulfilling these requirements has seen thousands of robots installed worldwide where they were not used just five years ago, and this rapid rate of automation will continue in 2022 driven by a combination of consumer trends and a growing shortage of labor. 

“This trend will see the growth of lighter, smaller robotic applications, enabling the expansion of automation into new areas of warehousing and distribution operations,” said Segura. “As artificial intelligence in robotics matures and learning robots become mainstream, expect to see these technologies deployed alongside AMR technologies, orchestrated and managed by intelligent software to provide enhanced flexibility, speed and efficiency.”

Trend 3: Robots will appear in more places, and workers will need new skills

Smaller, more affordable, and easy-to-use robots, such as ABB’s YuMi, GoFa, and SWIFTI collaborative robots, are helping to remove many of the barriers previously preventing companies from investing in robots. This is seeing an acceleration of robots in general industry and small and medium-sized enterprises as companies seek new ways to automate different tasks. 

“As we look beyond 2022, we see an ever-greater emphasis on connectivity and data acquisition as key enablers of future manufacturing,” Segura said. “Data collected from intelligently automated processes will be analyzed by producers to make more informed decisions.”

“At the same time, more advanced and responsive simulation and programming software tools, such as those in ABB’s RobotStudio, will cover the entire life cycle of robotic applications – from commissioning to onstream productivity – using AR and VR [augmented and virtual reality] tools to simplify automation for customers,” he added.

The enhanced ability of robots to work directly alongside humans, share tasks and learn through AI is also making it easier for companies to adopt intelligent automation in new environments, such as construction, healthcare, laboratories, restaurants, and retail

In a future with a high prevalence of robots in workplaces, engineers and staff will need to be retrained and more robot training will be demanded in schools, colleges and universities, for the skills to program, operate and maintain robots for an automated future.

2022 part of a decade of change

The trends outlined for 2022 are the latest chapter in the ongoing transformation of robotic automation which is seeing a rapid acceleration and adoption of robots across industry, said ABB.

“While automation has always been about productivity and quality – scaling up, doing more – the shifts we’re witnessing today, the greatest in a generation, mean that flexibility and simplicity are key to success,” Segura said. “Today, flexibility is essential. It is a strategic need, essential across the entire value chain: from manufacturing and logistics through to the point of consumption. Robotic automation is a vital enabler of this flexibility.

“ABB’s goal is to help our customers achieve this flexibility and add value to their businesses by driving innovation to create new possibilities with robotics, mobile robotics and machine automation, supported by the digital services and training they need to get the most from their investment,” he added. 

ABB says new technologies are unlocking new opportunities for the logistics industry.

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ABB's dual-arm YuMi cobot.

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