Automation can potentially reverse decline in manufacturing jobs through increase of output per unit of labour while improving working conditions.
Universal Robots (UR), Denmark-based collaborative robots (cobots) technology leader, urged Malaysia’s industry leaders to accelerate adoption of automation and innovative solutions in order to adapt to the volatile conditions that local manufacturers currently operate within.
As the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted global economies, the manufacturing sector in Malaysia was also significantly affected due to the closure of factories and COVID-19 related restrictions, thus placing jobs at risk. Collaborative robotic automation is helping to slow and potentially reverse the decline in manufacturing jobs as manufacturers invest in innovative solutions that increase the output of every unit of labour; while improving working conditions for the human workforce. In June 2021, Malaysia’s unemployment rate climbed to 4.8 per cent (May 2021: 4.5%) while the number of unemployed persons escalated to 768.7 thousand persons. Malaysia’s manufacturing sector’s sales stood at RM 124.4 billion and expanded by 33.9% in the second quarter of 2021.
According to the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), Asia remains the strongest market for industrial robots. The share of newly installed robots in Asia was about two thirds of global supply in 2019.
Over the last few years, Malaysia has built a strong foundation in automation and robotic technologies. To drive business growth and stay relevant in current norms, the Malaysian Investment Development Authority (MIDA) recently urged local business owners to move up the value chain by adapting digitalisation and embracing automation technologies. With progressive support from the government, Malaysia has consistently taken steps to implement collaborative automation in the manufacturing industry.
“The journey towards automation is far from over. We have entered a phase where automation is protecting skilled workers from outsourcing by increasing the value of their time and effort. In today’s industry, improving the value of human capital has never been more important. Now, we focus on both controlled and uncontrolled environments where automation equipment is being leveraged to improve safety and productivity. Automation is helping manufacturers evolve, thanks to innovative solutions such as cobots that are safe and flexible enough to complete complex tasks alongside humans,” said James McKew, Regional Director of Asia-Pacific in Universal Robots.
For example, Thailand-based manufacturing and technology solutions provider, Benchmark Electronics, is committed to providing world-class manufacturing services in the increasingly competitive market. Benchmark Electronics deployed four UR5 and two UR10e cobots for assembly and testing tasks in its production facility to improve productivity and output quality. The highly flexible cobots enabled the company to achieve 25 per cent operational efficiency while saving 10 per cent of the manufacturing space, leading to new business opportunities. The introduction of UR cobots improved personnel flexibility by allowing operators to complete higher-skilled tasks required for more complex assembly processes.
According to International Labour Organisation, there are more than 1.1 million deaths every year due to workplace accidents or diseases in Asia. In 2020, Malaysia reported 10,303 occupational accident cases in the manufacturing sector, highlighting that manufacturing is the most hazardous industry compared to other industries.
Today, it is increasingly possible for high-risk activities to be offloaded to robots. Robots allow firms to move workers away from high-risk tasks and on to more value-added ones.
Safety was an important contributing factor for Indonesia-based manufacturer, PT JVC Electronics Indonesia (JEIN). JEIN deployed seven units of UR3 cobots to allow employees to work in close proximity without the need for safety fencing (upon risk assessment). The UR cobots relieved human workers from handling high-risk tasks such as soldering and separating cut PCB parts, which emit hazardous fumes and dust particles.
In the past, technologists argued that the world today would be largely automated, with minimal labour being performed by humans. Human workforces play a critical role in designing and manufacturing products.
“These state-of-the-art machines are designed to work alongside humans, to reduce workplace injuries and improve productivity. Cobots allow manufacturers in Malaysia to make the best use of human workers and robots. The former provides creative problem-solving skills, mental flexibility, and real-world knowledge, while robots provide repeatability, accuracy, and 24/7 availability,” concluded McKew.