Date Posted 12/14/23, 1:33 PM

On average, small manufacturing units in the US are 60% less efficient than larger manufacturers. This can be attributed to a fear of automation and uncertainty about changing long-employed industry mechanics.

Manufacturing companies are the fourth largest employers in the United States, and a significant portion of this industry is small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). New-age technologies like robotic automation have made manufacturing safer, more efficient, and increasingly adaptable. According to estimations, there are about 3.4 million industrial robots in the world today.

Manufacturing SMEs provide jobs for a significant chunk and contribute to the nation’s GDP. That said, studies also show that SME manufacturers have very low efficiency. says, “Failure to adopt automation by US SMEs hampers productivity and limits the ability to respond to the market with agility.”

Like their larger counterparts, SMEs are moving towards automation to improve employee work satisfaction and face impending economic downturns. Integrating future-proof processes and automation technology ensures greater efficiency and adaptability in manufacturing operations.

Common Misconceptions Around Automation

Automation has come to be demonized by worker communities at large. Many even term it a harbinger for the next great depression in the job market and indirectly in the business economy. However, taking an objective look at effective automation for mechanical and low mental engagement aspects of work clarifies two things.

1. Automation boosts the production capabilities of businesses and results in higher job satisfaction.

2. It also reduces the risk of long-term work-related health complications for human workers.

In the early 19th century, ‘Computer’ was a term used to refer to a person who sat on a desk covered with sheets and records to perform long and tedious mathematical calculations. Today, however, we have tools and technology that make these jobs several times easier.

In our times, human-software collaboration in desk-oriented jobs has revolutionized the corporate work culture and industry by phasing out many such easily mechanizable jobs. This has not resulted in significant job losses but a more efficient and highly skilled workforce.

Here’s how humans working with automation technologies have drastically boosted work performance.

Automation Solutions for Manufacturing SMEs


Collaborative Robots (Cobots)

The incorporation of collaborative robots in performing mechanical jobs would not result in job losses. Simple pick-and-place tasks or screwing or welding one particular place in an assembly line merely increase the efficiency of existing workers.

Still, it would dramatically help in improving job performance and output. A study titled ‘Automation of SME production with a Cobot system powered by learning-based vision suggests that Collaborative Assemble Systems (CAS) employing Human-Robotic Collaboration (HRC) systems have multiple positive outcomes.

It could reduce workplace fatigue and injuries and significantly mitigate fatigue-induced loss of production, which currently costs up to 2% of the EU’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

AGV and AMRs

Automated Guided Vehicles (AGV) and Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMR) can transport material on the factory floor and systematically allocate resources most efficiently.

Manufacturing industries already use these robots to streamline logistical processes and automate repetitive tasks. By 2027, around 640,000 AGVs and AMRs will be shipped to automate several tasks.

Today, about 2.4 million mobile robots are already in use. LiDAR-enabled pick-and-place mobile robots can streamline in-house transport and be programmed to track assets.

Articulated Robots

Articulated robots are highly versatile mounted robots that manufacturers can program to perform several tasks. They possess multiple rotary joints and can reach out to tools, compartments, and objects.

They are one of the ideal robotic automation solutions and the most commonly used tool for automating repetitive tasks like picking, packing, tending, inspecting, dispensing, assembly, or welding.

Metal fabrication units often use robotic welding systems to automate welding processes, which are infamous for being physically demanding and causing eye damage to human workers.

Other SME Automation Robots

In small-scale production or prototyping, 3D printing robots are used in large-scale and diverse industries to create intricate and customized parts and fabricate parts more quickly.

Space is the most expensive asset a business owns. Small robots with obstacle detection sensors can be programmed to detect clutter and identify unused space to make optimal use of the factory floor.

Robots integrated with conveyor systems can be used for AI-vision and sensor-based visual analysis of products for quality checks.

How SMEs Make the Most out of their Robotic Automation

Using robotic automation to perform physically demanding repetitive movements can significantly improve employee health and job satisfaction. Here are a few ways small enterprises can bring in robotic automation to grow their business.

• Try virtually simulating a robotic automation environment before physical implementation. Identify issues, determine goals, and figure out which technologies to integrate to make the most out of your investment.

• Robotics-as-a-Service (RaaS) substantially reduces the direct, upfront cost of purchasing and maintaining automated robot solutions. The pay-per-use model helps small industries upscale or downscale robotic integration in their operations at will.

• Try out a robotic solution with a user-friendly interface. Plug-and-play, task-specific autonomous robots require minimal expertise and minimize the need for complex programming—for instance, Universal Robot's easy-to-setup e-Series cobots.

• Customizable robots are a much more flexible alternative for small enterprises requiring more work with limited resources. Robots that can be programmed to perform new tasks or physically altered are the best option for SME robotic integrations.

• Implement AI-based predictive maintenance features to cut down downtimes and additional costs of upkeep robots. You can also use this feature with other factory machinery and ensure seamless operations.

Navigating Manufacturing with Hokuyo Sensors

Sensors provide robots with the ability to perceive and interact with their surroundings. They constantly relay multiple types of visual information between these complex machines and your factory environment.

At Hokuyo, we make cutting-edge sensor products for your robotic and factory automation applications. Our LiDAR and obstacle detection sensors empower factory robots to accomplish seemingly impossible tasks with utmost precision.

Upgrade your manufacturing unit by integrating robotics and automation to become more agile and responsive to market demands. Contact us to learn more about how our industry-leading sensing solutions can help meet your automation goals.