The Impact of Robotics for the Software Environment in Industrial Processes

Manufacturing Process Management (MPM) encompasses and already uses many software solutions supporting manufacturing professionals. The increased usage of more agile RIOS (Robotics & Intelligent Operational Systems) in MPM will have a profound effect in this dedicated software environment, pushing software providers to integrate new functionalities in their solutions, but also making some obsolete.

 

Salients

 

  • Robotics only Perceived as Part of CAM (Computer-Aided Manufacturing) Processes – According to Wikipedia, Robots could be considered as a class of CNC (Computerized Numerical Control), and at the same level of other tools and machineries used in manufacturing processes. Myria Research considers this classification not entirely accurate.
  • Manufacturing Processes and Communication with other Systems are distinct – Linking manufacturing tools (the actual machines) with software systems (ERP –Enterprise Resource Planning-, PDM –Product Data Management-, HMI –Human Machine Interface-, etc), while mandatory in most cases, is viewed as a side to “pure” MPM.

 

Analysis

 

  • Computerized Numerical Control (CNC) Vs. Robotics & Intelligent Operational Systems (RIOS) – It is important to make a clear distinction between CNC and RIOS, particularly as many machine vendors use the term “robots” to define their solutions and because the term “robot” itself lacks a clear definition in many cases. Both systems are computer-controlled, but RIOS are more agile (not single task oriented) capable of custom, on-demand jobs, capable of synchronizing with virtually all elements of the value chain (from ERP to Supply Chain management systems), and even often based on mobile platforms.
  • Growing Obsolescence for ERP functionalities – The Manufacturing Execution System (MES) part of ERP Software (Enterprise Resource Planning) for manufacturing applications will have to adjust and adapt to the growing use of RIOS. For now, they generally include functionalities such as workcenter scheduling, labor costing, shopfloor management etc which will increasingly become obsolete: first because of the relative decrease of labor costs and its importance in manufacturing processes, second because agile machines used will enable a “manufacture to order” environment and multi-function machines will simplify shopfloor management (the same machine being “repurposed” on the go and according to order, not dedicated to a single task anymore). Myria expects such a shift in MES, on a large scale basis, to happen within the next 4-5 years.
    Generally speaking, we anticipate that virtually any planning tools currently used in plant management (labor resource planning, plant design optimization, et al) will drop in importance as the use of RIOS grows, making related functionalities sometime obsolete.
  • Software functionalities that make a difference – In the meantime, systems linking front office functionalities and end-user interfaces (PDM, warehouse/stock management, logistics) will increase in importance because of higher efficiency in the full PLM (product lifecycle management) made possible by RIOS: higher levels of customization of manufactured goods (flexible design processes), on-demand manufacturing (versus planning manufacturing based on demand), better traceability during manufacturing process phases, et al.
    In other words, to succeed, manufacturers will have to act as “Robot Operators”, virtually granting end-user clients the ability to “command & control” RIOS when placing custom orders. To make this possible, RIOS vendors will have to support professional manufacturers to allow a direct link between front office applications (sales and customer management, up to e-commerce platforms, etc) and outcomes (manufactured goods).
    Myria Research expects a wide spread of such a move required from manufacturers and possible for RIOS vendors in 3 to 5 years.