Reinventing Thailand’s manufacturing sector
Industrials today are dealing with an unprecedented problem that is twofold: hiring enough skilled manpower to stay afloat and driving productivity up across their value chain to remain competitive in an increasingly complex environment. This is why, despite a considerable imbalance between the number of individuals entering and leaving the labor market, as well as the increasing pressure from client demands, automation and robotics (A&R) are the way of the future.
The recent 3DEXPERIENCE World 2023 event shone the spotlight on manufacturing, and how digitalization and virtual testing can optimize CNC machining, 3D printing, as well as everything required for full factory automation, including robot programming, and virtual factory layout and plant design.
Closer to home, we’re taking a closer look at why automation and robots are integral to manufacturing, and how Thailand is preparing to capitalize on opportunities in a sector that will have a significant impact on the way of life as a whole.
An Increasingly Complex Industrial Landscape
The industrial landscape has changed vastly in recent years. The shift from mass production to mass customization has translated into an industry that is driven by modern day demands. We are witnessing increasing demand for higher quality and more personalized products, but a reluctance pay a hefty price tag for them.
Furthermore, geopolitical events, climate-related disasters and public health crises have added a layer of complexity, culminating in a global labor shortage. This is due to a large portion of the workforce retiring and the younger generation seeking different lines of work with better conditions, especially since many view manufacturing as an antiquated sector. With an already small labor pool, the problem is compounded by required skillsets, which include:
- Experience in production
- Good knowledge of operating equipment and safety procedures
- Physical fitness
The Rise of Automation and Robotics
Thailand’s ecosystem and infrastructure are well positioned to support the automation and robotic sector despite the industry’s constantly rising demand. Thailand recorded a 36% growth in robot installations in 2021, reaching 3,914 units, according World Robotics 2022 Industrial Robots.
Automation and robotics (A&R), a growing industry that was further stimulated by pandemic constraints on human labor, have flourished in Thailand most noticeably since COVID-19, with the country being highly responsive and supportive of A&R. The manufacturing and service industries were notably receptive, especially in the automotive, healthcare, electronics, food processing and logistics sectors, where robots’ capacity to perform precise work helps to promote safety.
The robotics advancements are becoming increasingly common in the nation, especially in the automotive and healthcare sectors. With the advent of electric vehicles and partially autonomous driving, the automobile industry is also making significant strides toward the development of fully driverless vehicles. Thailand was one of the top nations in Southeast Asia in 2021 for the highest growth in automobile production, with a growth rate of 18%, according to Statista Research Department. Thailand has developed into a working foreign original equipment manufacturer (OEM), particularly with regard to the automotive industry, with the aid of government policies.
The healthcare industry uses robots in various functions. For example, Raibo-X has been used for mapping out rooms and thoroughly sterilizing the area using UVC light. AutoVacc is a robotic syringe arm that reduces the need for manual effort and valuable time. Sensible Tab is an arm rehabilitation robot and Fhasai assists with therapy for children with autism spectrum disorders. With Thailand becoming an aging society, Dinsow has also been developed as an elderly care robot.
These developments are indicative of Thailand’s environment and infrastructure readiness to assist the A&R sector. With a significant disconnect in the number of people entering and exiting the workforce, coupled with the increasing pressure of customer demands—automation is the future. However, this would mean chasing talent across global borders. In the long run, it is not a sustainable solution.
Navigating the Complexities of A&R
While there are clear advantages of speed, cost reduction and accuracy when it comes to implementing robots, it does come with its set of challenges—specifically for robotic workcell programmers who struggle with delivering programs that work right the first time. Often, providers must integrate their robots on production lines that include robots from other suppliers or integrate those from multiple suppliers depending on customer requests. However, programming numerous systems is exceedingly complex on the shop floor.
Besides this, with multiple variables such as changes in products, processes or tool designs, programmers have no way of knowing if their programs can be executed flawlessly without a physical run on the shop floor. This can quickly turn into a hands-on trial-and-error process as product designers and tool builder develop fixes—leading to downtime which can delay the entire schedule and incur exponential costs.
Adding to the costs is the high risk of accidents and collisions that may take place during validation on the shop floor. This sometimes stems from programmers lacking first-hand knowledge of the physical process and how the tool operates.
Beyond that, programmers need to equalize the task load among multiple robots to ensure none are being underutilized, which is an activity that can only be accomplished when the entire system is built and running.
AI Lightens Workload, Not Replace Humans
At the recent 3DEXPERIENCE World 2023 event, there was much discussion surrounding the role of AI and whether it will replace human presence. We recognize that the opportunities are endless as robots execute the job immediately after being taught once. They also do not require breaks in between hours. The industries need only identify the various ways they can integrate them into their operations, which will decrease their dependency on manpower significantly.
It needs to be re-clarified that AI will not take human jobs. Rather, it will perform the role of a substitute for human labor in mundane, uninteresting tasks within manufacturing. This effectively frees up people to work on other, more vital tasks and perhaps even to innovate. In the end, human ability will still be necessary for AI to function. There will continue to be resources for various human endeavors.
In addition, AI is increasingly viewed as a tool for humans to make it easier for them to gather, process, or analyze data in order to extract information in the midst of the data explosion, also known as the big data phenomenon.
Dassault Systemes, which leverages AI capabilities in solutions, predicts that AI will go further in the future but stops short of replacing human presence, especially in innovation. Therefore, those who wish to remain ahead of the curve and forge business continuity must not only automate, but they should also leverage solutions such as Dassault Systèmes’ 3DEXPERIENCE platform; DELMIA, SIMULIA and SOLIDWORKS to maximize the potential of their robots for optimal output. Investing in robotics is no longer just a necessity for growth, but a necessity for survival in an ever-evolving landscape.
Thailand’s A&R Future: Sustainability, Innovation, and Ingenuity
We cannot dispute the critical role that industrial automation and robots play in boosting the competitiveness across Thailand’s industrial sectors. Due to flexibility in work, robots speed up various processes with greater accuracy and require little downtime.
They also have a wide variety of capabilities that can be used in various stages of the manufacturing process. Robotic and automated systems can be easily customized thanks to process automation, which makes it possible to analyze and present findings in real time from vast data collections on activities.
Businesses also face the challenge of incorporating sustainability as part of their operations. While challenging, being sustainable can foster the development of innovation. Sustainability and innovation, which requires a lot of energy, are two incompatible but interrelated subjects.
As a result, in the future, sustainability will take on two forms: energy sustainability and material sustainability. The invention process also requires a lot of materials, just like it does energy, yet the two are equivalent. The Dassault Systèmes solution also encourages sustainability in both its users and the innovations that follow. Here, they may create a design very precisely, reducing the amount of leftover material that is wasted during physical manufacturing.
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