VII. Personal View of Robotics in the Automotive and Health Care Industries
Robotic Systems in the Automotive and Medical Industries:
A Rising Influence of Technology in Society
The future is quickly approaching as more tasks are requiring less work and less human interaction. This is all becoming possible with the growing use of robots and other automated machinery in many industries. Among the most common industries taking advantage of these efficiencies are the automotive and medical industries. Whether increasing production or overall product quality, manufacturers need to successfully manage its benefits and how much they outweigh their costs. The use of robots brings about many issues in society. The question is: are these social issues insignificant to the benefits received? Whether insignificant or not, the social aspects must be examined thoroughly.
According to Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary, a robot is defined three different ways: 1. a: a machine that looks like a human being and performs various complex acts (as walking or talking) of a human being ; also: a similar but fictional machine whose lack of capacity for human emotions is often emphasized b: an efficient insensitive person who functions automatically, 2. a device that automatically performs complicated often repetitive tasks, and 3. a mechanism guided by automatic controls. Robots materialize into many different shapes and forms and they are continuously impacting how the industrial world is managing efficiency. Although the history of robots and robotics dates back many centuries ago, only the information pertaining to industrial growth will be introduced for this topic.
The history of the industrial robot began in 1961 when the first one was introduced on a General Motors assembly line in New Jersey. This specific robot was named “Unimate” and was used to work with heated die-casting machines (“The 2003 Inductees: Unimate”). Unimate rid assembly line workers of unpleasant jobs by taking die-casting from machines and performing welding on auto bodies. General Motors helped recreate the automotive industry with this introduction of a robot to relieve workers of dangerous and unpleasant job tasks. Not only did this help with safety, it helped set a whole new standard for efficiency and productivity.
The fusion of robots and the automotive industry led to many changes in and around the industrial world. “They have single-handedly transformed products, facilities, and companies (“The History and Benefits of Industrial Robots”).
Changing the Product: Robots perform applications with greater accuracy, precision and consistency. The product quality improves because of these increases.
Changing the Environment: Workers no longer have to endure dull, hazardous or taxing tasks. Robots handle toxic substances, repetitive and detail-driven jobs, and lift, carry and select products without tiring or stopping. Robots have prevented many accidents and waste - saving company money. The introduction of robots has led many workers to learn new tasks such as programming.
Changing the Company: The typical return on investment (ROI) for an industrial robot is substantial and quick. Robots are tireless - leading to increased productivity and manufacturing cost cuts. Management control increases as well.
Source: “The History and Benefits of Industrial Robots”
These benefits along with others will be discussed further throughout the paper.
New needs were brought to light in the automotive industry. As competition grew, so did the need for more production. More and more robots were and continue to be integrated into production to increase productivity and efficiency on all stops of the assembly line. A second need that was introduced that was not previously focused on was technology. This might be the most influential and beneficial aspect of the production line. Integration of better technologies by any company will allow it to produce a higher quality product at a higher rate. This removed the occasional human error which allowed for greater accuracy and overall performance with
A second industry that has greatly benefitted from the introduction of robots is the health care industry. The introduction of robots in surgery took place in 1985 with an industrial robotic arm that was adapted to perform stereotactic brain biopsy with 0.05 mm accuracy (Hockstein, Gourin, Faust, and Terris). The robot used was a prototype for the “Neuromate” built by Integrated Surgical Systems which was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1999. Shortly after the introduction of the Neuromate, the Robodoc was also introduced by Integrated Surgical Systems in 1992 for use in hip replacement surgery. As of October 2006, the Robodoc had assisted in thousands of surgeries in Europe but had yet to gain approval by the Food and Drug Administration (Hockstein, et. al.). Further expansion of robotic systems was carried out by Intuitive Surgical with the introduction of the da Vinci Surgical System as shown in Figure 1 (“Robotic Surgery”). The da Vinci Surgical System overcomes the limitations of traditional and minimally invasive surgeries (“The da Vinci Surgical System”). This technology has provided much advancement in common procedures and has increased the efficiency of doctors.
Figure 1 - The da Vinci® S™ Surgical System
Although robot-assisted surgery has not been around very long, much advancement has been made. Listed below is a short history of some of those advancements including those discussed already.
1992 - Integrated Surgical Systems introduced RoboDoc for orthopedic surgery, specifically total hip arthroplasty.
November 7, 1992 - The first robot-assisted human hip replacements using Robodoc.
December 1993- The AesopTM 1000, a robotic system used for holding an endoscopic camera in minimal invasive laparoscopic surgery, developed by computer motion was approved by the FDA.
1997 - The da Vinci Surgical System manufactured by Intuitive Surgical Inc., became the first assisting surgical robot to receive FDA approval to help surgeons more easily perform laparoscopic surgery.
September 24, 1999 - Dr. Boyd of London Health Sciences Centre's (LHSC) university performed the world's first robotically-assisted closed-chest beating heart cardiac bypass operation using the Zeus system.
December 9, 1999 - Dr. Ralph Damiano, Jr., at the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center at Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey performed the first robotic assisted beating heart bypass in the United States using the Zeus Robotical Surgical System.
July 11, 2000 - Intuitive Surgical Inc. received clearance from the FDA to market the da Vinci¨ Surgical System in the United States for use in laparoscopic surgical procedures.
October 9, 2001 - ZEUS® Robotic Surgical System from Computer Motion receives FDA regulatory clearance with the FDA decision for U.S. surgeons to use a variety of instruments to perform a wide range of robotically assisted laparoscopic and thoracic procedures.
August 2001 - The CyberKnife® became the first image-guided robotic technology to receive FDA clearance for non-invasive cancer surgery to provide radio-surgery for lesions anywhere in the body when radiation treatment is indicated.
July 7, 2004 - FDA cleared the marketing of a robotic-like system to assist in coronary artery by- pass surgery enabling the surgeon to perform heart surgery while seated at a console with a computer and video monitor.
With comparison to the automotive industry, more stringent standards must be put in effect for those robots used for surgical purposes since the robots are working on human beings, not artificial objects. The use of robots in the automotive and surgical industries has dramatically changed the way people perceive how these processes are done. Removing the human element can have many benefits in the automotive industry and the surgical industry alike. But the consequences of a malfunctioning robot can be worse for those used in surgery. When introducing a robot into production and surgery, many standards must be met before the robot can even see any action. The benefits and detriments of robots in the automotive and surgical industries are discussed next.
While the introduction of robots has impacted many industries all over the world, the industry with the most impact is the automotive industry. The plant floor of automotive manufacturers is where most of today’s industrial robots perform tasks (Weimer). According to Weimer (2001), “Ninety percent of robots in the world work in factories and fully half of those help manufacture cars. In fact, human work in the car factory is becoming a matter of supervising robots and other machines.” Although this statistic was from seven years ago, it shows the impact robotics has made recently in the automotive industry. Along with this impact come many benefits that robots offer to auto makers. Some of these benefits include: automation of production, creation of skilled jobs, and long-term cost optimization.
Automation of production has really only been relevant since the introduction of robots and other machinery to industry. Along with automation comes changing of the product, as mentioned earlier. Robots are able to perform tasks more consistently and accurately, thus leading to better overall product quality (“The History and Benefits of Industrial Robots”). When a worker performs repetitive and tedious tasks, there is much room for error from a lack of
energy or other reasons. Robots do not get tired. They do not realize when it close to the end of a shift when workers typically wind down and get ready to head home for the night. Whether it is the first task of the day or the last task of the day, robots are more reliable in performing the task. This allows for not only better quality products, but more products at a better quality.
When the robot takes the place of a worker in an automotive plant, much controversy is brought about. All the focus is on the taking away of a job, when, in reality, it almost creates as many jobs at it replaces. When a new robot or series of robots reaches an automotive plant floor, they are not put into the production process without any oversight. A second benefit of robots in the automotive industry involves a creation of more skilled jobs including computer programmers, engineers, and other maintenance workers. Robots constantly need to be reprogrammed to keep up with the introduction of a new automobile by General Motors or to modify an existing model. Highly-trained and skilled programmers and engineers are required to write programs that allow the robots to keep up with these production changes. Although robots do not get tired, per say, they do tend to wear down from all the activities they perform. Professional maintenance workers are needed to keep these robots working at their highest performance in order to maintain a high product quality.
A third benefit of robotics in the automotive industry involved long-term cost optimization for the company. With increased productivity and efficiency of robots, companies in the automotive industry are able to generate more revenues by being able to get their product to the dealer or consumer more quickly. An automotive company can lower its costs by reducing the number of workers required in a production process. Robots do not need to be paid overtime, vacation days, or sick days. Robots can operate twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year with minimal downtime. Another method of cost optimization for a company is
through the reduction of waste. Since robots are more efficient at performing various tasks than humans, there is less wasted material allowing the company to get more out of its raw materials. One example is with paint robots that an auto-maker would use. This is detailed with the use of automated paint robots by auto manufacturers which were first used in the 1980s by Mercedes-Benz (Grohmann). An auto manufacturer can expect to save up to 0.5 litres of paint per car with the reduction of overspray when using robots instead of workers; also, this lessens the overall environmental impact from the painting operation (Grohmann). Other benefits manufacturers can expect to receive from this include: removing tasks that are strenuous and detrimental to health from workers, improvement and stabilization of the coating process, and a higher first-run success rate leading to a reduction of touch up work (Grohmann).
It is important to understand that there are benefits to employees of the company as well as the overall company itself. With the example of the paint robots, environmental concerns of the company and health concerns of employees must be considered. The auto industry produces a lot of waste that is harmful to the environment (including the cars themselves), so whatever the industry can do to help reduce its impact on the environment is very important.
With many benefits come some detriments as well. It may seem that with the numerous benefits of implementing robotics in the auto industry that they must far outweigh the possible costs. However, any cost, no matter how big or small, must be carefully examined. These costs include job loss for unskilled workers and high costs of research and implementation.
Robots being used in the production process do create some jobs as they take away others. According to Marshall Brain, “as a nation, we have no way to understand or handle the level of unemployment that we will see in our economy over the next several decades” (Haugen & Musser). Robots take away jobs from the lower working class. Common jobs such as material movement, welding, and painting are only a few of the many tasks robots perform. This transition has left many workers out of jobs and finding a difficult time finding new ones without any extra education and experience. The created jobs with the use of robots, as mentioned earlier, are more skilled jobs. A welder isn’t going to be able to move from his position to that of a programmer without more education and computer experience. Automotive manufacturers are put in a tough spot. They must do what they can to keep production and quality at its highest to maintain competition and market share while keeping its own employees in mind. As seen in figure 2, robots have completely taken over the section of the production line, not one worker is in sight.
Figure 2 – A Workerless Production Line
Source: Wired Blog Network
In addition to removing a worker from the production line, introducing a robot also increases complexity of the process. When a robot malfunctions, there is rarely a simple solution to the problem. “Troubleshooting and repairing robots requires special training and a degree of sophistication not found in many smaller plants” (Mills). This has been a recurring trend in recent years where man has been replaced by machine. There are those obvious benefits, but these detriments must be considered.
A second shortcoming of employing robots and automated machinery in the automotive industry involves the high costs of research and implementation for these machines. Robots are not cheap. Research and development is one of, if not the, largest cost components of a company. Doing the research that is necessary to implement these robots can be very time consuming since the machines are being used to produce a relatively expensive, high-volume product. A paint robot in the automotive industry can cost upwards of $100,000. On top of the initial costs, automotive manufacturers can expect other costs such as teach handles, protective, covers, documentation, training, tool holders, and interface electronics; some manufacturers estimate these costs of an integrated robot to be 30 to 50 percent over the cost of the robot itself (Mills). This is a lot of money to be paid in anticipation of demand for some companies. These would only be beneficial if the company can accurately forecast the amount of work that a paint robot will perform on a consistent basis.
The social concerns and costs surrounding the implementation of robots in the automotive industry, while there are few, cannot be overlooked. From a company standpoint, removing demeaning jobs from employees is a good thing. From the lower working class standpoint, that job is needed to provide for a family. What is best for the company will not always be chosen by upper management. They must also care for the employees that have helped
contribute to the company all of those years. Many important decisions surround implementation of automated machinery. The company must consider what is best in the long run. A company in the automotive industry that shows it cares about its community more than it cares for profits will be the company that has the highest social regard and will retain the support from the community for many years.
The automotive industry is not the only industry that is currently facing benefits as well as issues surrounding robots that are being put to work. The health care industry or, more specifically, the surgical industry has made large strides in recent years to advance the applied technology in everyday operations. Technology is changing the way surgical procedures are performed. The many benefits the health care and surgical industries are taking advantage of include: less invasive surgeries for patients, increased efficiency in medical laboratories, and involvement with patient rehabilitation.
Surgeries that require lengthy recovery times including many days off work and much rehabilitation are becoming a thing of the past. Many urologists are taking advantage of robotics in prostate surgery allowing the surgeon to perform the procedure with precise, tremor-free movements (Feder). Not long ago, the medical industry was questioning the use of robots and whether they would ever play a large role, and today “robots are a fast-growing, diversifying $1 billion segment of the medical device industry” (Feder). In February of 2006 the world’s first hands-on robot for unicompartmental knee replacement surgery was introduced (Rodriguez y Baena). This introduction allowed surgeons to achieve more accurate and reproducible implant placement with the potential for a smaller incision leading to a shorter recovery time (Rodriguez y Baena). It is important to note that these robots are not designed to replace surgeons completely in the operating room, yet robotic systems are to be used as tools to complement the
expertise of the surgeons.
The use of robotic systems in surgery is becoming more widespread. The benefits that a patient can expect to receive from robot-assisted surgery include: enhanced dexterity, precision, and control for the surgeon, shorter hospital stay for the patient, better patient outcomes, less risk for postoperative infection, less scarring, and quicker return to normal daily activities (“Surgery’s Future Is Here Today”). All of these benefits allow the patient to get on with their lives sooner. While initially robot-assisted surgeries are more expensive, the patient balances this cost with the shorter hospital stay and less rehabilitation. The health care industry is all about increasing patient satisfaction, and the robots are here to help rejuvenate the patient’s experience.
A second major benefit received from applying robotics in the medical industry is the increased efficiency in medical laboratories. Again here the accuracy of robots is taken advantage of. Processes in which robots are being used in medical laboratories consist of drug discovery, cell culture and pharmaceutical production, medical device manufacturing and precision preparation (Brumson). Robots are better suited for this work for increased security with medications and increased accuracy of prescription preparation. This is an important topic as pharmacists are losing their licenses after being caught with drug manipulation and theft. On a lighter note, automation of prescription preparation does free up the pharmacist from this task allowing him or her to further assist the needs of the patient. Drug testing by pharmaceutical companies can rely more on robots in sample preparation as the robot systems are consistently more accurate and allow for a more sterile environment.
Laboratory research generates a significant amount of data. Robots have an increasing role in gathering and organizing this data (Brumson). “The importance of timely and accurate processing and specimen tracking contribute to the justification for robotics” (Brumson). The
largely-competitive pharmaceutical industry needs the immediate processing of robots to get their drug to the market quicker. Ensuring that the information gathered is more reliable keeps these companies from having to double-check the data.
A third benefit to be received from robotic systems in the medical industry entails the use of rehabilitation robotics. The focus of rehabilitation robotics is on machines that are designed to help patients recover from severe physical injury (“What Is Rehabilitation Robotics?”) One machine used to aid in patient recovery is known as the robotic exoskeleton. This machine reduces the number of physical therapists needed by a patient from many to one. The robotic exoskeleton allows for more consistent and efficient physical therapy while being able to track the patient’s progress and making recommendations for the therapist in charge (“What Is Rehabilitation Robotics?”). Another example of a rehabilitation robot is the ARMin (as shown in Figure 3). This shows a rehabilitation robot assisting with a paralyzed patient. Reducing the stress of a patient is critical when going through strenuous therapy exercises. Again the robot in this case increases the patient satisfaction and makes the recovery as easy as possible.