It has been a tough year for many industries and a prime opportunity for others, particularly in the space of technological advancement. Andrew Crackett, Managing Director at Yaskawa Southern Africa, looks at the pandemic from the perspective of industrial robotics – an industry that offers solutions to various companies through mechatronics and automation.

Robotics Tomorrow reported that in late 2019, projections for the global industrial robotics industry showed a growth of 4.8% in revenue and 7.7% in shipments. Instead, the COVID-19 pandemic drastically shifted projections to drop by 3.6% and 3.7% respectively. Despite these forecasts, Crackett noted a recent uptake as more and more industries are cognisant that automation is becoming a must to retain their positions. In fact, Yaskawa’s order intake has seen an influx in the past three months, mostly around the automotive sector.

Although robotics spans many industrial uses, there are some in particular that have opened the window even wider due to the pandemic. “Many manufacturers faced six or seven months of zero production, because there was no possibility to use their human workforce to keep up with the supply and demand of the market,” says Crackett.

“These people are far more aware of how robotics can help, particularly in the handling of FMCG, which already saw a sharp uptake of automation adoption following the listeriosis incident in 2017. With second lockdowns happening all over Europe, manufacturers are worried and considering how they can adopt robotics to support their production.”

Looking to the future, Robotics Tomorrow states: “After this crisis, many industries will consider re-aligning supply chains to allow localised manufacturing of critical components.” Projecting a positive future, it adds, “The industrial robot industry will certainly benefit from this trend. COVID-19 is postponing but not obliterating the rebound of industrial robots and will strongly promote the growth of the robot market in the long term.”

Crackett notes that the increased presence of competition is a good sign of opportunity and interest for the implementation of robotics in SA.

For 2021, Crackett expects to see a continued demand in the automotive sector and a steady increase with FMCG. “Manufacturing and handling are going to be a large part of the future focus for Yaskawa,” he says, adding that his vision moving forward for the industry is to “build local industries by sharing expertise in automation solutions.”

Crackett also underlines the importance of independence on production. “COVID has exposed cracks in South African manufacturing, in how often we use overseas manufacturers to supplement our own industries’ products,” he explains. “I’d like to see a turnaround where the local industries support local manufacturing and gain more interest from offshore to start reinvesting in a more self-sufficient country.”

Despite the setbacks of the global pandemic, leading industrial robotics companies like Yaskawa will continue to shape the way South African industries optimise production in the years to come.

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