By Shermine Gotfredsen
CHINA has long been the world’s factory, but as labor costs rise, manufacturers in the Philippines have the opportunity to establish themselves as a larger manufacturing hub.
To seize this opportunity, the country needs to look towards automating its manufacturing sector through new technological advancements such as robotics. However, the Philippines is not adopting automation fast enough and trails behind its regional counterparts. This directly contributes to the shortage of skilled workers as employees are not exposed to automation and new technology.
The International Federation of Robotics ranked the Philippines among the lowest in the region for automation adoption in 2016, with a robot density of three industrial robots installed per 10,000 employees, behind Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia.
Leveraging on the country’s position as the fastest growing ASEAN economy, the Philippines needs to focus on adopting automation and equipping workers with the right skills to stay competitive. While companies in the Philippines have the potential to rapidly increase technical awareness and competencies, there is still a long runway ahead to mould the country into Asia’s top manufacturing hub.
LOWERING BARRIERS TO AUTOMATION
Automation is no longer an option for manufacturers but rather a ‘must do’ to remain competitive. Robotic automation enables businesses to reduce costs, increase productivity and grow revenue. However, many are slow to adopt automation due to lack of funds and infrastructure, shortage of skilled workers and limited exposure to automation solutions.
Collaborative robots (cobots) — designed to work side-by-side with people — are lowering the barriers to automation in areas previously considered too complex or costly, helping businesses of all sizes to accelerate their adoption. The lightweight, compact and flexible nature of cobots allows them to work in small spaces and across various industries. Cobots also come with a smaller price tag compared to traditional industrial robots, and are less costly to setup.
SAFETY CONSIDERATIONS WHEN AUTOMATING
Safety is a top priority when looking to automate. With built-in safety features, cobots allow workers to work in close proximity without the need for safety guarding (subject to risk assessment). For UR, the cobots comply with the ‘ISO/TS 15066’ guidelines which support the ISO 10218 ‘Safety Requirements for Industrial Robots’ standard. ISO/TS 15066 specifies safety requirements for cobot systems, helping robotic integrators conduct risk assessments when installing collaborative robots.
Cobots also support employees, relieving the burden of highly repetitive and strenuous tasks, often described as “dull, unpleasant, and dangerous” jobs. Robotic automation provides the opportunity for workers to focus on higher-skilled, higher-quality and higher-paid tasks.
Choosing an automated solution that can be installed easily is also essential to avoid any loss of production time and ensure employees adapt quickly to the new technology. Cobots are also easily programmable and can be adapted to automate multiple applications, eliminating the need to invest in multiple machines.
For employees, working with cobots is easy. The user-friendly UR cobots are easily programmed by operators with no programming experience. The cobots come with a UR teach pendant, an easy-to-use touch screen with intuitive 3-D visualization, which enables an operator to program routines by simply moving the robot arm.
EQUIPPING THE PHILIPPINE WORK FORCE FOR THE FUTURE
In order to reap the benefits of automation, the Philippines must focus on providing the right skills to current and future workers and equipping business owners with knowledge on the benefits of cobots.
Doing its part to foster automation in the Philippines, Universal Robots (UR) has launched the UR Academy, an initiative offering free online learning modules to aid businesses in robotics training and adoption. The training modules deliver hands-on learning via interactive simulations on integrating end-effectors, connecting input/output, creating basic programs, setting up tools and understanding safety zones. It is available to anyone in various languages including English, Spanish, German, French and Chinese. More than 20,000 users from 132 countries have already signed up to date.
To remain competitive, the manufacturing sector in the Philippines needs to shift towards robotic automation. Cobots offer businesses an opportunity to automate and address its shortage of skilled workers, ultimately giving the country an edge over its peers in becoming Asia’s next manufacturing hub.
Shermine Gotfredsen is the general manager at Universal Robots, SEA & Oceania. Views expressed by the author in this column are his own.