General Motors Co. has connected about a quarter of its 30,000 factory robots to the internet, and the largest U.S. automaker already is reaping the benefits of less down time.
In the last two years, GM has avoided 100 potential failures of vehicle-assembling robots by analyzing data they sent to external servers in the cloud, Mark Franks, director of global automation, said at a conference in Chicago on Monday. Connectivity is preventing assembly line interruptions and robot replacements that can take as long as eight hours.
“If we can avoid a disruption in our manufacturing, we can save ourselves a significant amount of money,” Franks said at an International Federation of Robotics roundtable. “It’s a pretty good payback.”
Auto companies were pioneers adopting automation and continue to be the robotics industry’s largest customer. In 2016, automotive factories installed 17,600 robots compared with 5,100 for electronics manufacturers and 1,900 for metal producers, according to the federation.
Internet monitoring allows GM to order parts when it detects they’re wearing out instead of having to store them at the factory. That reduces inventory and saves money, Franks said.
GM has increased its new U.S. robot applications by 10,000 since 2012 while boosting U.S. employment by almost a third to 105,000, according to a report by the Association for Advancing Automation that argues robots help create jobs.
Hooking robots to the internet for preventive maintenance is just the start of a spurt of new robotics technology, Franks said. GM is using robots that can work safely alongside humans in the factory that produces the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid, he said.
“The amount of technology coming at us in the next five years is probably more than we’ve seen in the last 50,” Franks said.