By NOPHAKHUN LIMSAMARNPHUN
Lumboon Simakajornboon, ABB's local business unit manager for robotics and motion, said the Thai automobile industry has pioneered the use of robotic and automation in its production process, but now major players in food and beverage as well as other industries, such as CP Group, Betrago, Singha, Thai Beverage Group, and Red Bull are also investing heavily in robotic and automation systems. Besides the production process, robotics and automation are used in packaging and moving pallets of finished products onto transport trucks in a bid to increase efficiency and speed for the delivery of products to consumers, he said, adding that major retail and supercenter chains such as Lotus also have installed an automated system for inventory management and logistics.
For food and beverage companies, traceability of the raw materials and other ingredients used in the production process has become a new requirement to ensure product safety and the ability to trace back when there are quality and other problems. To facilitate traceablity and other |new requirements, machines |used factories have become connected to send and recieve data while |analytics is used for real-time processing via cloud-based computing facilities.
Lumboon said the Thai food and beverage industry is a key target for robotics and automation due to its large footprint with as many as 10,000 producers, including many small and medium-sized enterprises. Of these operators, about five per cent are major players, he said, adding that SMEs are also moving to boost their competitiveness by embracing robotics and automation to comply with export market requirements.
Key benefits of robotics and automation are a higher productivity plus less waste and less reliance on manual labour. However, he said, some producers are still reluctant to adopt new technologies largely due to the lack of long-term management vision and risk aversion, but robotics and automation help boost product quality and increase safety for workers who work in the production process. Lumboon said industrial and other robots have also become smarter due to AI so both manufacturing and service industries can take advantage of this trend. The outlook for robots used in service industries is bright, especially for use in hospitals, restaurants, convenience stores, and hotels.
The demand for industrial robots for manufacturing sectors in Thailand is estimated to be around 300,000-400,000 units per year, while the demand for robots in services is likely to be much bigger, such as robots for inventory management inside convenience stores or delivery robots for hotel rooms and condominiums.
At the recent Manufacturing Expo 2018 at Bangkok International Trade and Exhibition Centre (Bitec), a leading Asean machinery and technology event for manufacturing and supporting industries, ABB showcased its latest technology and products as well as robotic and automation systems using cloud-based computing facilities.
Lumboon said the new generation of robots is human-friendly and they are nimble and much more sensitive than previous generations. As a result, they can work alongside human workers safely without the need to build a protection to prevent accidents.
These collaborative robots can be used in various service and other sectors, including logistics and transportation, especially for the fast-growing e-commerce sector which requires a new generation of warehouses and equipment to manage a huge number of packages for speedy delivery.
Regarding the government's Thailand 4.0 initiative, he said, the message signifies robotics and automation which are connected to send and receive data for real-time processing, making machines smarter and more responsive to customer changes. In addition, AI and machine learning programmes will be more widely used in manufacturing and service industries in the near future.