This article reflects the opinion and analysis as well as information collated by AE Research Management Sdn Bhd, and does not constitute an investment advice or recommendation
An area of investment interest to AE Research Management is industrial productivity – robotization and smart factory.
Demand for robots remain on secular rise of 7% p.a., underpinned by global labor shortages – eg. a quarter of China’s population will be over 60 years old by 2030.
Beyond traditional manufacturing sectors such as automotive and semiconductors, robotization is broadening to other industries such as food & beverage, pharmaceutical and labor-intensive assembly & inspection of consumer electronics, as well as into services such as logistics and retail.
A new class of robots has also emerged – collaborative robots (cobots) – which are designed to work alongside human in a high safety manner. Cobots are recognized as the solution to mitigate Covid19 outbreaks in the new normal.
Important element for performance of robots
Notwithstanding the wider range of robotic applications, the most important element for the performance of a robot remains the same – the precision reduction gears embedded in the robotic joints (see graphic). These gears are produced by only a handful of companies with deep engineering capabilities in advanced motion control.
For robotics gears, the movement errors must be reduced to less than 0.1 mm with no backlash. There can be as many as 13 parts that must fit perfectly together for smooth and accurate movement control. This is achieved via precision machining & polishing, post-machining tuning and well as proprietary recipe on steel casting. Tuning, in particular, is a craftsmanship skill acquired through tireless refinement over extended period of time, representing the ultimate barrier to entry.
Industrial Automation – Evolving Dynamics
Industrial automation has also moved beyond discrete equipment, towards total/packaged solutions for smart factories.
Robots and factory equipment are transformed into intelligent assets capable of gathering and analysing wealth of real-time data for better operational decision, such as predictive maintenance (to avoid downtime), achieving zero production defects etc.
Central to achieving smart factory is the convergence of OT (operational technology) and IT (information technology) into a single unified architecture.
Globally, there is a shortage of competent system integrators, limited mainly by the OT part of the equation. The integrator requires deep domain knowledge of industrial processes, accumulated over extended period of time as primary automation contractor.
A leading-edge automation solutions provider based in Japan has skillfully merged its proprietary sensing and control technologies with artificial intelligence (AI) built onto its wealth of domain knowledge (ie SENSING + CONTROL + THINK), to offer innovative solutions for next-generation factories.
Innovative Automation – Smart Factory
Source: Omron Corporation
An example of the company’s packaged solution is a high-speed high-resolution 3D inspection system, which integrates multitude of hardware including an ultra-fast controller, servo motors and image sensors with proprietary AI software. Incorporated into this inspection solution is a unique and rapid continuous technology for capturing 3D images, through having the X-ray beam source controlled by the controller.
A revolutionary solution enabled by the company’s high-level fine tuning and alignment of various hardware, this system speeds up inspection times by 2.3 folds relative to conventional 3D testing, making it possible to inspect each and every unit in a production line, instead of current sampling method.
For system optimality and reliability, the company also fabricates core components in-house – for example, industrial grade sensors using its MEMS surface micromachining capabilities.