Robots and drones: automation on the rise
While robots are making ever bigger productivity gains at industrial sites around the world, other businesses are using drones to find shortcuts to new efficiencies. Together, these twin technologies can help a number of industries become safer and more environmentally friendly.
In recent decades, robots have become commonplace in factories around the world. These industrial applications will continue to contribute to the significant growth of the global market for robots: from 2015 to 2022, MarketsandMarkets predicts a CAGR of almost 12% for the industrial robotics market, taking it to almost $80 billion.¹
Estimated at $552 million in 2014, the global market for commercial drones could more than double to $1.4 billion by 2022 as adoption rates surge.² Among Fortune 500 property insurers, for example, none had even sought permission to fly drones in January 2015. But drones are safer and more efficient to use for building inspections after a loss so, by June 2016, 60% had successfully come through the long process of gaining permission.
Applications to industry
Battery-powered and operated almost autonomously, drones can avoid road traffic and thus help logistics companies make deliveries faster, cheaper and more environmentally friendly. Today, drones account for less than 0.5% of all logistics deliveries. As technology improves and regulation changes, companies stand to benefit from premiums for faster / same-day deliveries. Our research for the World Economic Forum suggests this could be worth as much as $20 billion in operating profits over the next decade.³
Case study: Amazon – blazing a trail through the skies
Amazon has been working on a ninth-generation drone prototype which it says can carry payloads of up to 5lb (2.3kg) at up to 50mph (80kph). The largest e-tailer in the United States hopes its drones will eventually locate the recipient of a delivery using data from their smartphone, perhaps making up to 400 million such deliveries a year. In April 2016, Amazon was awarded a patent for an airborne fulfilment centre (AFC).⁴ At an altitude of around 45,000ft, this airship or blimp would hold products in stock and, when an order was placed, a drone would fly or glide down to make the delivery. For the drone, this would require less power than it having to take off and land.
Oil and Gas
Imagine a future where robots run multiple operations autonomously and, to a large extent, replace field workers. Together, drones and autonomous robots can help shrink various costs in upstream operations. As a result, oil and gas firms are set to significantly increase their investments in the technologies.
Investments by oil and gas firms in digital technologies
Source: Accenture Digital Energy Trends⁵
We expect robots and drones to support reductions in drilling and completions costs by 20% (only in shelf and deep-water areas), inspection and maintenance costs by 25%, and employee costs by 20% across all areas. Autonomous operations could also help to cut downtime by 20%.⁶
Case study: Robotic Drilling Systems – unmanned pipe dreams
Robotic Drilling Systems is working with Energid and Odfjell Drilling to build and implement a fully electric and robotic drill floor for fast, seamless and fully unmanned operation of pipes and tools. When designing the system, which can be used on new builds or retrofitted to existing rigs, Robotic Drilling Systems came up with three major innovations: electric drill-floor machines; a dynamic robot control system to add flexibility to operations; and a drill-floor robot to replace manual operations. Early studies indicate potential savings of up to 40 rig days per year per rig. Beyond decreasing rig time, improving health, safety and environmental outcomes and reducing operating costs, benefits include less downtime, faster installation, lower noise and energy consumption, and reduced CO2 emissions.
Mining and Metals
Over the next decade, autonomous machines could add $56 billion of value to the industry, as they increase output by operating 24 hours a day, 365 days a year at a high productivity level. In both mining and metals, increased automation will reduce personnel costs – especially as employing on-site workers is a major cost driver for mining companies operating in remote locations. We expect the bulk of this value ($47 billion) to be created in the mining industry, where automation can have a particularly significant impact in the extraction phase. Some tasks can also be performed more efficiently by machines than humans (e.g. drones for exploration). One of our key assumptions here is that the adoption rate for autonomous machines in mining will rise from 0.1% today to 25% by 2025.⁷
Case study: Freeport-McMoRan – laying the groundwork for better mine slopes
Freeport-McMoRan uses drones to more closely monitor and evaluate the rock face at its mines in real time as it blasts away rock to build mine slopes. The data sent through drones is instantaneous and includes angles that humans cannot see. Using drones enables an objective, data-driven view of the slope angles. This means a more precise reading that enables Freeport-McMoRan to build steeper slopes, ultimately displacing less rock and expending fewer resources to access the ore body.
Unlocking value to society
The benefits of using robots and drones are straightforward: by taking humans away from the front lines of various industries, they can reduce the injuries and deaths caused by industrial accidents, while their greater operational efficiencies curb CO2 emissions.
In logistics, for example, if drones can achieve 8.5% penetration in parcel deliveries by 2025, they could save 15 million tonnes in CO2 emissions and prevent up to 4,000 deaths from road accidents.⁸
In mining and metals, autonomous operations can increase worker safety, especially in extreme conditions such as those found in underground mines or hot mills. Over the next decade, they could save around 250 lives and prevent approximately 10,000 injuries across the two sectors. Because these autonomous machines consume less fuel than manual ones, they could also save around 400 million tonnes in CO2 emissions.⁹
Case study: Anglo American – merging man and machine
At Anglo American’s Kumba Kolomela mine in South Africa’s Northern Cape province, there is a new automated drill. Its operators can work from a clean, safe and comfortable command centre rather than at a dusty, noisy and unpredictable iron ore pit. Using advanced computers and screens, they operate the drill remotely. This autonomous drilling project is one of the first in South Africa. Workers have bought into the benefits that the robot brings, viewing it as a useful tool instead of a threat. In this instance, new technology improved rather than destroyed jobs, as operator and robot work side by side.
Similarly, our research shows increased automation in oil and gas could bring CO2 emissions down by 20 million tonnes, while reducing the number of accidents and injuries by 6% between 2016 and 2025. For the environment, this could prevent around 110,000 barrels being lost to pipeline and upstream spills.¹⁰
However, any sort of automation brings with it the question of job displacement. For example:
- Over the next decade, 4% of the mining workforce (around 60,000 jobs) could be displaced. This could be particularly detrimental to communities in remote areas, where mines are one of the few employers.¹¹
- Around 38,000 jobs in oil and gas are under threat. Those most at risk are fly-in, fly-out workers, but losses could be partially offset by 20,000 new roles within new remote operation centres.¹²
To maximize the benefits and minimize the employment risk of adopting these exciting twin technologies, regulators have an important role to play, ensuring there are sets of rules that balance safety and innovation.¹³
As national and international aviation authorities draw up the frameworks for drone use,¹⁴ transparency will be key. In mid-2016 the United States Federal Aviation Authority announced new rules that meant drone operators no longer needed to seek case-by-case approval. However, small commercial drones (up to 55lb) were limited to operating below 400ft, during daylight hours and within sight of their operators. A time frame for approving the automated flights (in congested areas) that would allow for drone deliveries was not set. As Jason Miller, deputy director of the National Economic Council, said, “We’re still in the early days.”¹⁵
From our DTI research, we have identified several technologies (3D printing, artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, big data analytics and the cloud, the Internet of Things and connected devices, and robots and drones) that are having major impacts across the 13 industries analysed to date. This article is one of a series looking at how each of these technologies is transforming business and wider society.
1 MarketsandMarkets, Industrial robotics market worth 79.58 billion USD by 2022 [Pres release], February 2016.
2 Grand View Research, Commercial Drone Market Analysis by Product and Segment, Forecast to 2022, January 2016.
3 World Economic Forum and Accenture, Digital Transformation of Industries: Logistics, 2016.
4 Kharpal, Arjun, “Amazon wins patent for a flying warehouse that will deploy drones to deliver parcels in minutes, CNBC, 30 December 2016.
5 Accenture, The 2016 Oil and Gas Digital Trends Survey, 2016.
6 World Economic Forum and Accenture, Digital Transformation of Industries: Oil and Gas, 2017.
7 World Economic Forum and Accenture, Digital Transformation of Industries: Mining and Metals, 2017.
8 World Economic Forum and Accenture, Digital Transformation of Industries: Logistics, 2016.
9 World Economic Forum and Accenture, Digital Transformation of Industries: Mining and Metals, 2017.
10 World Economic Forum and Accenture, Digital Transformation of Industries: Oil and Gas, 2017.
11 World Economic Forum and Accenture, Digital Transformation of Industries: Mining and Metals, 2017.
12 World Economic Forum and Accenture, Digital Transformation of Industries: Oil and Gas, 2017.
13 The Economist, “Free the drones”, 4 December 2014.
14 Moskwa, Wojciech, “World drone market seen nearing $127 billion in 2020, PwC says”, Bloomberg Technology, 9 May 2016.
15 Jansen, Bart, “FAA completes landmark rules for commercial drones“, USA Today, 21 June 2016.