ZURICH—Demand for robots is growing rapidly, as companies in numerous industries look for new ways to enhance their productivity and competitiveness post-pandemic. According to a recent survey conducted by ABB Robotics, automation will also play a key role in the EV revolution that is bringing wholesale changes to automotive manufacturing.
"The pandemic accelerated far-reaching global mega trends—from labor shortages and supply chain uncertainty, to the individualized consumer and growing pressure to operate sustainably and resiliently—leading new businesses to look to robotic automation,” says Marc Segura, president of ABB Robotics. “As technology opens new opportunities for meeting customer demands, new trends will continue to emerge that will further drive demand in areas where robots have traditionally not been used.
“With many countries restricting and phasing out the production of combustion engine vehicles over the next decade, the race toward electric cars has accelerated,” Segura points out. “Manufacturers and their supply chains must tackle the complexity of diversifying into EVs alongside combustion engine vehicles, to meet varying regulatory frameworks governing EV adoption across the globe.
“The speed and added flexibility needed will see new and established manufacturers move away from traditional linear manufacturing, toward modular, flexible production,” predicts Segura. “EV is not about a change only in the power train, but a larger transformation to a digitized car.
“This transition will also see the growing uptake of robots in combination with other technologies, including autonomous mobile robots,” explains Segura. “This will enable manufacturers to optimize the delivery of components across facilities and enable integrated scalable, modular production cells—methods traditionally associated with e-commerce and consumer goods, but now required in automotive to ensure the necessary flexibility to meet varying levels of demand.”
Another major shift will see battery manufacturing brought closer to vehicle assembly to meet sustainability and regional requirements, which in most cases requires new facilities. For instance, ABB is in the process of providing state-of-the-art robots for a new highly automated battery assembly plant that Scania is building in Södertälje, Sweden.
The facility will assemble battery modules from cells supplied by Northvolt's battery factory in Skellefteå. Completed battery packs will be delivered directly to Scania’s truck assembly plant in Södertälje. Multiple ABB robots will be involved in the assembly process when the new factory opens next year, including IRB 390, IRB 4600 and IRB 6700 models.