The importance of robotics in the automotive sector has surged in the last century. An important development in its journey was in 1913, with the invention of ‘Fordism’, named after Henry Ford. Fordism not only referred to post-war economic and political growth but was also used to describe the mass production of goods on an assembly line. Some five decades later, General Motors adopted Devol’s Unimate in 1961, the world’s first industrial robot. And now, over sixty years on, robots are used throughout the automotive sector for a myriad of applications.

The automotive supply chain faces rising uncertainty

Global freight, material, and energy networks face significant demand with insufficient supply. The industry is struggling with whiplash following shutdowns and pent-up demand in the wake of COVID-19. The disruption to the automotive supply chain followed the course of the pandemic, with varying demand for products—including chips (which should reach balanced demand by 2023) and leather, rubber—and container shipping shortages.

Robots can help alleviate this disruption in the automotive supply chain. While adopting robots will not fix the issues across the automotive supply chain outright, they can speed things up drastically, ensuring a high output in a short amount of time. Robots can aid in the assembly of vehicles by improving throughput and helping companies to keep up with demand. The initial manufacturing stages that robots can ease include welding, handling, and assembly, while later stages include robotic painting, finishes, and robotic vision-quality control.

Robots can be used to mitigate labor shortages in the automotive sector

Following the COVID-19 pandemic and its resulting supply chain disruptions, there are ongoing shortages of workers available for manufacturing. The shortage was magnified during the pandemic, but it is a lingering issue. Even after lockdown measures had been lifted and vaccines lessened the threat of COVID-19, auto employees were reluctant to return to their jobs. The resulting labor shortages made it more difficult for the industry to produce enough vehicles to meet demand. In 2022, Jeff Burnstein, president of the Association for Advancing Automation, said, “robotics could help reverse productivity declines and fill repetitive jobs human workers don’t want.” Robotic automation is a way to reduce the dependency on human workers in manufacturing. This will be most evident in mature auto markets, including the US, Europe, Japan, and South Korea.

In Japan, the aging population is a major existential threat. As labor shortages make it harder to find skilled professional workers, robotics will provide a solution, as their use in the automotive sector reduces the need for human intervention.

Robots are widely being used in the automotive industry, read more in GlobalData’s upcoming Thematic Intelligence’s Robotics in Automotive report.

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