Robotics growth impacts drives and controls

Kevin Parmenter, PSD Contributor



Kevin Parmenter, PSD Contributor

Robotics has seemed to reach a tipping, or inflection, point.  Traditionally we think of robotics as being used in the automotive industry. But we’re about to see big changes as embedded applications rapidly expand.

A March 2016 report, “The Reign of Robotics Is Here: How Robotics Is Shaping the Future,” by the market research company International Data Corporation, predicted worldwide robotics spending to reach $135 billion in 2019.  IDC identified robotics as one of six “Innovation Accelerators” that will drive digital transformation by opening new revenue streams and changing the way work is performed. The report suggests that global spending on robotics and related services will grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 17% from more than USD 71 billion in 2015 to USD 135.4 billion in 2019. In its forecast, IDC measured purchases of robotic systems, system hardware, software, robotics-related services, and after-market robotics hardware on a regional level across thirteen key industries and fifty-two use cases. 

This transformation in robotics is going to change things quite a bit – and for many people.  For example, a customer I visited is building and implementing robotic systems to do testing on pharmaceuticals.  This process once entailed a room full of people – grad students, interns, etc. – wielding pipettes and performing tests. But now we can expect things to be done around the clock using robotics systems. It’s also my belief that engineers will need to focus on design testing and analysis: the basics of feedback and loop control theory.  Control loops will need to be measured and optimized; this will require engineers to re-learn how to measure their control loops in closed loop systems.

There is an increasing adoption of robotics in sectors like electronics, retail, healthcare, logistics, agriculture, services, education, and government. Such broad-based growth is being driven by increasing labor costs, shortage of skilled labor, and an increasing emphasis on repeatable quality, in conjunction with a reduction in prices of robotic systems and strategic national initiatives.

If I were a pharmacist, or thinking about working in a drug store, I might rethink the parameters of this career choice. I recently visited a company that is taking the back end of a local pharmacy and turning it into an armored room with an ATM.  This means that you don’t have to worry about it getting held up in lines or by store hours.  In this scenario, your prescription is sent via EDI to the system.  Instead of answering all the endless questions from pharmacy staff, you agree and enter your information on a keypad and your prescription is dispensed. You also agree to the co-pay via your credit card. In other words, behind the scenes it’s all robotics.   The outcome is increased quality and convenience – not to mention increased safety and security.

In the medical market alone, the robotics and motor control applications will continue to expand and will also be embedded into other systems.  For example, surgical systems with embedded motor drives and controls are robotic. They are controlled by a doctor who can now observe patients on a monitor or heads-up display instead of looking through magnification glasses.

The requirements for power for the new and future robotics systems will require high reliability and quality since downtime is expensive.  Additionally, the power supplies for these systems will need to have connectivity for feedback and telemetry on system health and remote diagnostics. Consequently, we anticipate the expansion in the robotics industry to have a big effect on power supply manufacturers and designers.