How robots are helping future proof manufacturing. By Michel Spruijt
As the manufacturing sector recovers after a year of major disruption, the cleanliness of shop floors is being subjected to the greatest level of scrutiny in living memory. According to a recent McKinsey Report, hygiene is currently one of the key concerns among manufacturers in the midst of a mass reopenings, with an emphasis on substantial and long-lasting standards of cleanliness in warehouses and factories.
The report stresses that worker health and safety ought to be a critical objective for warehouse managers aiming to recover from the coronavirus and resume effective operations into the future. In the report, the authors clearly outline what’s needed, including “enhanced health surveillance, restrictions on the use of communal tools and areas and regular sanitization of equipment along with periodic deep cleans of whole workplaces.” In short, cleanliness has become an increasing and essential priority.
As factory spaces see their teams move back into position, and with the pandemic likely to linger in the background for some time to come, the reassurance that comes from a verifiable cleaning performance looks set to become a significant long-term demand.
The state of manufacturing
With employees tackling a growing volume of tasks, in environments dogged by safety concerns and diminished revenue, the need for maximized efficiency has never been more critical.
The rollout of autonomous cleaning robots effectively gives precious time back to teams so they can prioritize tasks only humans can carry out, such as cleaning high-contact surfaces, managing traffic flow and operating production lines.
Robotic floor care solutions can execute cleaning cycles multiple times a day, ensuring consistency and data-backed records of operations that can be used to verify and optimize cleaning performance. These robots can serve as frontline helpers, working alongside people, filling labor gaps and providing additional hours of productivity.
Coronavirus has thrown up a host of problems for manufacturers. These include, but are not limited to, higher staff absenteeism, evolving safety regulations, and pessimistic earnings projections.
Managers need to adapt their operations in real time, whilst also making sure that shop floor conditions maintain a high level of safety. Worker fears about returning to factories made headlines several times across the course of 2020.
Indeed, essential industrial workers have been at the forefront of workplace infection fears. In this climate of grave safety risks, ensuring a heightened level of cleanliness is a key element in ensuring operations are sustainable in the longer term.
Maintaining an edge
Covid-19 has accelerated the trend towards automation. Although robotics already played a significant role within manufacturing in the run-up to 2020, the rapid onset of the pandemic has forced automation into a greater role than ever before, making the last year a game changer for robotic automation.
More precisely, autonomous cleaning robots (AMRs) have seen a surge in front line usage. Unit sales have risen exponentially, with 73 per cent of supply chain managers agreeing that robotics will play an important role in the years to come.
Autonomous machines can provide workplace hygiene and efficiency gains to factory workers. These machines can be easily programmed to make their way around shop floors, and do not need time away from work for rest or sickness leave. Unlike other types of robots, today’s AMRs can also work in crowded spaces and safely and efficiently navigate through dynamic environments.
With pre-programmed robotic cleaning routines working in the background, staff can ensure that other specialized tasks receive due care and attention. The changes brought on by this new dynamic are clear Throughout the first three quarters of 2020, cleaning robots freed up approximately 2.4 million hours of productivity for workers in retail, grocery, commercial offices, shopping centers, and other high-traffic public locations. This is an increase from 331,000 hours during the same period last year according to Brain Corp network data.
Moreover, cloud-based reporting allows robots to provide detailed data relating to cleaning programs in the form of reports on coverage area and routes run, as well as coverage heat maps. This type of reporting ensures that cleaning activities are accurately tracked giving factory owners greater confidence in the face of an ongoing invisible viral threat.
Clean as brand value
Having a clean factory space will not be enough in the near future; factories must be recognized as demonstrably clean. Covid-19 will persist throughout 2021, and a survey of British industry has discovered that the majority of managers believe it will take more than a year to return to anything resembling a previous normal. There is a need, therefore, for solutions that can offer long-term protection.
Brain Corp, the AI software company powering the world’s largest fleet of over 14,000 cleaning robots, has seen usage across every single business sector rise steeply. In the first three quarters of 2020, median usage of robotic scrubbers at U.S. retail locations was up 14.5 per cent compared to 2019.
Around a quarter (24.6 per cent) of the usage came from operation during daytime hours, in comparison to only 10.5 per cent the previous year, according to Brain Corp data. These figures demonstrate a clear shift toward verifiable, round-the-clock cleaning.
A demonstrable standard of clean offers reassurance to an anxious workforce. Furthermore, companies increasingly stand to gain by cultivating a brand image associated with exceptional standards of cleanliness.
Michel Spruijt is GM & VP at Brain Corp Europe. Brain Corp is an AI software leader that powers the world’s largest fleet of autonomous mobile robots operating in public spaces. The BrainOS® platform and its cloud-connected autonomy service are used by global manufacturing partners to successfully build, deploy, and support commercial robots at scale across industries and applications. Through intuitive software and controls, BrainOS also enables end customers to easily leverage the power of robotics to offload repetitive, labor-intensive tasks related to floor care, in-store inventory delivery, and shelf-scanning, freeing employees’ time to focus on higher-value responsibilities