Manufacturing has had one wild year and, in the wake of COVID-19, many industry experts, boardroom executives, and men and women on the production floor are “shopping” their theories for 2021 manufacturing trends.

Theories for what 2021 will hold run the gamut, but there is plenty of crossover shared among contributing voices. Here are some of the most often mentioned subjects we are sure will emerge as the most impactful 2021 manufacturing trends.

The Reshoring of Manufacturing

When the mechanisms of manufacturing all but ground to a halt in Q1 of 2020, it became vividly apparent just how dependent nations were on the capacity and capabilities of a select few manufacturing powerhouses. A year on and COVID-scarcity has driven the prices of raw materials up 100-200% when compared with the same period last year.

In the wake of this glut, more than one fifth of US manufacturers surveyed by BDO are committed to the reshoring of operations as a top priority in 2021.

While both the current and previous administration are pushing for consumers to “Buy American”, the same sentiment is ringing loud and clear through the EU, Japan, South Korea, and many other leading nations.

The world bought in to cheap and abundant labor out of China for decades, which left supply chains around the world bottlenecked and vulnerable. Today, diversification of the supply chain is widely regarded by manufacturers as a must-have and countries like Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, and Mexico are raising their hands to offer the capacity and talent to meet the needs of more local-focused supply chains.

Addressing The Education And Skills Gaps In Manufacturing

With decades of reliance on external manufacturing capacity, US-based manufacturers have seen an ever-increasing skills gap needed for their operations at home.

A tremendous contributing factor is the perception of manufacturing as a Triple-D sector. That is, dirty, dangerous, and dull. Whether on the shop floor or at the engineering desk, manufacturers are struggling to fill a gap in skilled jobs that Deloitte expects to reach nearly 2.5 million positions by 2028. Fortunately, according to the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), manufacturers are willing to pay to close that gap.

Chad Moutray, NAM Chief Economist, said “Manufacturers consistently cite the inability to attract and retain talent as their top concern, and as this survey underlines, they are taking strong proactive steps to overcome it.” The Institute surveyed US-manufacturers on their spending in the sector, which totaled more than $26 billion targeting training programs for new and existing employees.

Trade schools, analytics, sensor technology, robotics, AI, VR, etc. are garnering considerable investment to draw in the talent required to fill the deep need these manufacturers are experiencing.

Experts say that simply throwing money at the problem is not enough. Manufacturers and institutions need to share in the investment and collaborate to ensure that what students are learning now is what will be relevant in the manufacturing sphere by the time they graduate.

Talent simply cannot be trained to meet the needs of businesses because tech is changing at such an exponential rate. Agreements between schools and manufacturers will have to provide work experience opportunities while studying to close the gap.

In Encompass’ own backyard, Guilford Technical Community College has received both considerable financial investment and buy-in from regional manufacturers with the institution’s recently opened Advanced Manufacturing Facility in Jamestown, NC. There is just as much investment from other manufacturers around the country who are hungry for an engage and talented workforce produced locally.

Global Shortages Of Computer Chip Manufacturing Hit Home

With climate change a topic of ongoing significance globally, the reliance on regionally produced tech has put the entire world’s supply of computer chips on thin ice.

Regional environmental conditions are now playing a much larger part than before in how we view the risk associated with supply chain. For example, the majority of the world’s motherboards are manufactured in Taipei, Taiwan. This region is categorically prone to massive and disruptive weather events and earthquakes. For decades, this has been a reality the US, and frankly the rest of the world accepted as part of navigating a global supply chain.

Initially, when the coronavirus pandemic first hit, semiconductor factories shut down, causing delays in the supply chain. Because it can take up to several years for these factories to reach their  previous production levels, the shortage will likely persist for some time.

Everything from TV’s to cars are affected by the shortage of chips, which effectively function as the brain of electronics. To put it in perspective, Apple, the phone manufacturers with a $2 trillion value and semiconductor budget of $58 billion annually, could not get enough of these in-demand chips for their iPhone 12 launch last year. The result was a two-month delay and things are only getting worse for manufacturers big and small.

According to Mirabaud tech analyst Neil Campling, “There is no sign of supply catching up, or demand decreasing, while prices are rising across the chain. This will cross over to people in the street. Expect cars to cost more, phones to cost more. This year’s iPhone is not going to be cheaper than last year.”

Med Device And Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Look Pale

Such supply chain bottlenecks as mentioned above exposed overreliance on external manufacturers of pharmaceuticals and medical devices over the last year, as well.

Supply chain resiliency, through redundancy and duplication, is a costly and time-consuming effort. However, manufacturers are increasingly adopting a shift in thinking to ensure they can avoid the pitfalls COVID-19 has exposed.

Many medical devices and pharmaceuticals are only sourced through specific geographies. As a result, strategic goods and services will need to be tackled first in a new wave of focus from US manufacturing industries and policy makers. Luxury and consumer-driven products will have to take a backseat until those top-shelf items can be secured at home.

Shifting Trade Policies From Corporate To Congress

US manufacturers are driving the demand for diversity in capacity beyond East Asia. However, many of the west’s manufacturers, big and small, are making moves to end reliance on the East Asian manufacturing hubs. Recent upsets in trade policy, like free trade agreements, Brexit, tariffs, the repositioning of NAFTA, etc. all impact these efforts.

While not directly parallel, policymakers and legislators are approaching the problem from their own perspective. Regulators’ opinions on the evolution of the supply chain are translated through a different lens than manufacturers. Geopolitical relationships and national security may not translate into he most favorable outcomes for business back home. Manufacturers want speed, efficiency, and capacity to deliver products to the hands of consumers. Government will view its priorities through a different lens.

Digital Taxation and Role Reversal

As the border between big tech and manufacturing become more blurred, digital taxation and who does what are the new hot topics. With an increase in digital cross over into the material realm, the mechanisms of how to handle taxation have not quite caught up.

Namely, this involves the lines between tech and tangible and where the border between industries is truly defined. Perhaps the broader question is, can it be defined?  With companies like Facebook, Google, Apple, and others, who traditionally created digital products, now constructing marketplaces, and investing in tangible goods, like autonomous vehicles, are they considered the new pioneers in manufacturing?

Where does that leave traditional process and discrete manufacturers? As discrete manufacturers create IoT and IIoT solutions to complement their tangible goods, like sensor and overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) software, do they share the profile of Big Tech? The waters grow muddy. One thing is for sure, the landscape of both tech and manufacturing are sharing more overlap than ever before.

Access to Cash and What it Means for SMBs

Borrowing and access to capital is a defining issue for smaller manufacturers. With interest rates low for manufacturers, questions about effective tax rates, trade relationships, and capital expenditure have been conservative. Fortunately, trade talks with the Biden administration and China have started to take shape, vaccinations are rolling out, and outlooks are generally optimistic.

One leading indicator of this upward trend is found in the number of bankruptcies experienced by manufacturers over the last year. Not nearly as many bankruptcies emerged as were predicted by researchers, analysts, and economists. The big change may have been the fact that banks do not want to become owners like after the 2008 housing crisis. There is simply too much to manage in manufacturing and rather than take on the headache of an industry banks may not know enough about to run effectively, they opted to work with businesses in the sector to find solutions that worked for both sides.

Robotics and Automation

Robots and automation have been four letter words for decades, essentially scaring people away from manufacturing. Unfortunately for fear mongers, the need for skilled labor is even more necessary with the inclusion of these advanced technologies. More engineers, more cobot operators, maintenance personnel, and even truck drivers to fuel the internal distribution networks of the United States re in high demand. There will certainly be upset in the world of manufacturing as these technologies proliferate. However, the timeline by which that proliferation overtakes a human workforce grows ever longer as technology proves to be just as reliant on us as we are on it.

The New Contract Manufacturers

New methods of manufacturing, such as 3D printing or additive manufacturing, are upsetting the traditionally held roles in Industry.

Take, for instance, the effect these technologies have bestowed on traditional distributors.

Third-party logistics providers (3PLs) like Fed Ex, UPS, and others are entering the manufacturing arena, cutting out a space for themselves, and cutting off competitors, in some cases manufacturers, by assuming certain aspects of manufacturing. By leveraging additive manufacturing technology, these logistics providers can cut out the middleman to handle production and delivery of simple parts and components on a decent scale. You can send your CAD file direct to the 3PL, who will then print out the part and ship it directly.

For the recipient, potentially a manufacturer themselves in this case, there is a degree of control that is relinquished. Depending on your product, at some point you will need to verify that your vendor (3PL) is meeting your quality requirements. While the approach is in its infancy with a foundation shaky enough to keep some at arm’s length, it could be a trend that picks up steam quickly. If these providers are able to achieve the quick turnaround they promise and meet quality standards that manufacturers and consumers demand, there could be a real shift on the horizon.

Green Materials Propagate in 2021 Manufacturing Trends

Sustainability has never been a topic weighing as heavily on consumers’ hearts and minds as it is today. This puts more weight squarely on the shoulders of manufacturers.

If consumers want more environmentally conscious products and production methods, it’s up to manufacturers to adapt and educate their customers of the changes taking place.

Take for instance the textiles and plastics being replaced by renewable and eco-friendly materials, like mycelium.

Major global brands like Dell Technologies and IKEA have already committed to adopting a Styrofoam packaging replacement made by Ecovative Design.

Indonesian manufacturer MYCL will soon launch a series of sneakers, sandals, wallets, luggage tags and watch straps made of its mycelium-based leather, Mylea.

The trend has even proliferated into the world of high-fashion, with U.S. manufacturers Bolt Threads and MycoWorks aiming to make mycelium-based leather products more widely available this year.

About Encompass Solutions

Encompass Solutions is a business and software consulting firm that specializes in ERP systems, EDI, and Managed Services support for Manufacturers. Serving small and medium-sized businesses since 2001, Encompass modernizes operations and automates processes for hundreds of customers across the globe. Whether undertaking full-scale implementation, integration, and renovation of existing systems, Encompass provides a specialized approach to every client’s needs. By identifying customer requirements and addressing them with the right solutions, we ensure our clients are equipped to match the pace of Industry.


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We came, we saw, it was awesome. Encompass Solutions’ participation as exhibitors and speakers at Automate 2019 gave us the perfect vantage point from which to experience the show and deliver an Automate 2019 recap.

an image of the encompass solutions booth team at automate 2019

Automate 2019 At a Glance

Produced by the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), the show featured more than 500 exhibitors in the massive 160,000-square-feet exhibition space at McCormick Place in Chicago, IL. In addition, the show hosted five educational tracks that included practical training in How to Automate, Automation Solutions & Innovation, Collaborative & Mobile Robotics, AI, Digitalization & Smart Manufacturing, Certified Vision Professional (CVP) Basic, Certified Vision Professional (CVP) Advanced, Certified Motion Control Professional (CMCP), and Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing (ARM) Updates. These tracks included content from introductory level to advanced topics for users, students, educators, and operators. While we delivered an introductory seminar on current automation types, robotics in use on the factory floor, and how you can get started implementing in your own facilities, we attended several breakout and advanced sessions. During each of those talks, one theme emerged over and over–ours is the age of automation.

Here are just a few more happenings from Automate 2019 in regard to new advanced robots and robot vendor developments that are rolling out into facilities worldwide.

Automation 2019 Key Takeaways

There were too many things we learned at Automate 2019 to list in one post. However, we want to share a few highlights that we think everyone needs to consider moving forward:

  • Automation is here and it’s only gaining more momentum as advancements in hardware, software, and utilization become more refined.
  • If you are not thinking about leveraging automation and robotics, you are already behind.
  • While many are expecting an economic downturn between 2020-2022, now is still the best time to begin investing in these technologies.
  • Start small. You don’t have to outfit your entire operation to remain competitive. start with one robot or one instance of automated assembly. build from there.
  • Empower your staff and involve them in the transformation that is coming.
  • Focused Automation and Robotics specializations for employees will be necessary, as there will be less and less room for unskilled staff in modernized facilities.
  • Upskilling current staff will be of greater benefit and lower cost for employers than training and onboarding new staff.=

It’s going to be a hard-fought battle to outpace competitors as automation becomes more affordable and more accessible to small and medium-sized enterprises. Start training and experimenting with automation today and you’ll be ready to weather the bout.

ERP At Automate 2019

We spoke with hundreds of users and manufacturers thinking about robotics and automation during the weeklong Automate 2019 event. While the robots and automation enclosures were captivating, to say the least, one thing few seemed to consider during that time was how they were going to connect those robotics and automated systems to the rest of their enterprise. In short, the answer is an ERP solution.

It’s one thing to install a robot on your factory floor to install windshields, make welds, or assemble PCBs. However, what are you doing with that data from your manufacturing processes? Are you even tracking it? By plugging your robotics and automation data into your ERP system, you are getting more detailed accounts of performance, quality, material and time optimization, maintenance cycles, and so much more. Everyone we spoke with, from attendees to exhibitors to organizers, agreed that ERP connectivity is an essential component of automation and robotics on the factory floor. We look forward to carrying those conversations further and urge everyone looking to automate processes or install robots in their facilities to consider the necessity for visibility and connectivity when evaluating such technologies.

About Encompass Solutions

Encompass Solutions, Inc. is an ERP consulting firm and Epicor Gold Partner that offers professional services in business consulting, project management, and software implementation. Whether undertaking full-scale implementation, integration, and renovation of existing systems or addressing the emerging challenges in corporate and operational growth, Encompass provides a specialized approach to every client’s needs. As experts in identifying customer requirements and addressing them with the right solutions, we ensure our clients are equipped to match the pace of Industry.


Encompass Solutions is proud to announce it has been selected to deliver an educational Automation and Robotics presentation at the largest Automation conference and trade show in the United States, Automate 2019.

an image of the automate 2019 announcement as part of January 2019 News And Updates

About Automate 2019

The event will take place April 8-11, 2019 at McCormick Place in Chicago, IL. Featuring the latest in automation technology and solutions for manufacturers and businesses, Automate 2019 is looked forward to by tens of thousands of industry professionals. Whether you are looking to buy automation technology, learn about the latest trends and applications for businesses, or simply want to admire the innovations advancing manufacturing in the United States, this show is an exceptional experience that you won’t want to miss.

Come visit Encompass Solutions at Booth #9245 to discuss what your business can do with clear direction and clear results.

an image of the encompass solutions booth 9245 at automate 2019 floorplan

About The Encompass Automation And Robotics Presentation

This presentation, developed by senior consultants and industry experts at Encompass Solutions, is designed to be an educational break out session for manufacturers who are interested in learning more about automation and robotics on the factory floor. Topics covered in the presentation include:

  • Types of automation used in manufacturing processes
  • Types of Robots used in Manufacturing processes
  • Concepts and components that are peripheral to these topics
  • What steps to take as you begin implementing Automation, Robotics or both in your business

The presenter for this event is Jason Claggett, Encompass Solutions’ Managed Services Manager. Jason is an infrastructure and information systems professional with more than 20 years’ experience. With particular expertise in process improvement and business systems, such as ERP and Manufacturing Execution Systems, Jason regularly presents to software user groups throughout the Midwest and southwest regions regarding the latest technology and innovations available to manufacturers.

About Encompass Solutions

Encompass Solutions is a business and software consulting firm that specializes in ERP systems, EDI, and Managed Services support for Manufacturers and Distributors. Serving small and medium-sized businesses since 2001, Encompass modernizes operations and automates processes for hundreds of customers across the globe. Whether undertaking full-scale implementation, integration, and renovation of existing systems, Encompass provides a specialized approach to every client’s needs. By identifying customer requirements and addressing them with the right solutions, we ensure our clients are equipped to match the pace of Industry.


Automation is hitting the food and beverage packaging industry hard, with a recent report from the Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies revealing half of the companies it surveyed substantially increasing plant automation over the next three to five years. That said, those food and beverage manufacturing professionals surveyed admitted that while they knew automation had to be adopted, they didn’t know where to begin when it came to implementation of robotics, automation, or ERP software.

a photo of a robot in a food and beverage manufacturing facility where chocolate is made.

Advances in agriculture, food, and beverage processing automation and robotics technologies have been drastically changing how these industries operate.

Advances in agriculture, food, and beverage processing automation and robotics technologies have been drastically changing how these industries operate. The benefits to progress these technologies provide are too numerous and too significant to ignore. However, the trend is at odds with the very nature of these industries, which are among of the most highly controlled and restrictive in the world. This is one of the main reasons these manufacturers have only now been able to build momentum in modernizing operations.

Jonathan Wilkins, marketing director at EU Automation attributes the shift to the decrease in implementation costs as well as improved performance provided by more refined technologies in the sector. These manufacturers are ready to adopt new technology now that it has been proven to offset the rising costs of raw materials and the energy required in production.

Food And Beverage Manufacturing Advice From The Experts

Nigel Smith, CEO of industrial robotics specialist firm TM Robotics, has some choice advice for those in food and beverage manufacturing looking to adapt their operations alongside the rapidly changing manufacturing landscape. By incorporating the latest in robotics and advanced automation technology these enterprises can improve performance and overall value. Smith highlights a few key factors that will boost potential ROI and minimize the headaches associated with integrating new systems into existing infrastructure.

Plan With Purpose

No two systems are the same. Whether canning kombucha or creating ready-made meals on an assembly line, assessing the specific needs of a food and beverage manufacturing operation prior to implementation is essential. The right robots and associated hardware to compliment them will make or break your automation efforts. The software powering the backend is an often-overlooked element to consider, as well. Operating systems for your robotic workforce, trained human counterparts, and ERP software all come together to create a manufacturing floor working with precision, driving productivity and optimizing operations. Once the creation of goods is complete, what about distribution and order fulfillment? additional components of the sales cycle come into play long after your goods are packaged and ready to go. The right technology to compete in a modern distribution environment is essential, as well.

a photo of glass beer bottles on a bottling line in a food and beverage manufacturing brewery - encompass solutions.

Whether canning kombucha or creating ready-made meals on an assembly line, assessing the specific needs of your operation prior to implementation is essential.

 

When it comes to installation, designers and consultants need to think beyond the process, like their manufacturer, to understand the importance of consistency, compliance, and presentation. Partnering with the right system integrators and ERP consultants and managed services can make or break manufacturers’ modernization efforts.

Personalize Performance

Once you’ve completed the broad strokes of selection, you’ll need to zero-in on the supplementary components of your plan to really drive ROI.

food and beverage manufacturing in a grain sorting plant

Calibration is another key component that needs to be considered and deemed precise when handling products to ensure waste is kept to a minimum.

Let’s say you’ve got the SCARA machines to pick and place ingredients for each batch in your process, but do you know which grippers to use to ensure minimal damage of those ingredients? What about the right vision system to properly identify those ingredients or potential defects? Calibration is another key component that needs to be considered and deemed precise when handling products to ensure waste is kept to a minimum. These details are exactly why food and beverage manufacturers looking to modernize should work with experienced and reputable integrators and consultants to bring operations up to competitive pace.

About Encompass Solutions

Encompass Solutions, Inc. is an ERP consulting firm and Epicor Gold Partner that offers professional services in business consulting, project management, and software implementation. Whether undertaking full-scale implementation, integration, and renovation of existing systems or addressing the emerging challenges in corporate and operational growth, Encompass provides a specialized approach to every client’s needs. As experts in identifying customer requirements and addressing them with the right solutions, we ensure our clients are equipped to match the pace of Industry.


With discrete and batch process manufacturers already taking full advantage of advancements in robotics and machine vision technology to improve operations, winemakers and agricultural industries are increasingly leveraging machine vision AI and robotics to improve processes in the vineyard. Coupled with modern ERP systems, these manufacturers are better equipped to weather disruption and establish their foothold in a competitive marketplace.

Manufacturing, packaging, and production are already quite familiar with automation, vision systems, and collaborative robotics. Now, the more traditionally manual and complex areas of agriculture are beginning to feel the influence of these powerful technologies.

AI, Robotics And Automation In Agriculture

For example, Researchers at the Agriculture and Biological Engineering Group at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are making big pushes for robotics and automation proliferation into agriculture, forestry, and fisheries. The group has outlined their vision for the influx of robots, machine vision and AI in three levels. Initially, robots will utilize machine vision technology to survey and collect data that provide insight into a variety of environmental factors. A follow-up with more specialized robots will prepare and maintain sites, performing field operations such as weeding, picking, and pruning. Once a suitable location has been established and the land prepared for operations, third-generation robots and autonomous systems will emerge to automate the complete process from seeding to packing. The vision may still be years from coming to fruition, but examples of second-generation robots are already in the works. Take the California wine industry for example, where robots and irrigation technology are working in tandem to make more efficient use of watering practices in the drought-stricken state.

A Robot Workforce Uprooting Global Wine Industries

The vineyard might be one of the last places people imagine the latest advancements in technology are being utilized. However, the applications of machine vision, AI and robots are disrupting the winemaking industry to such an extent that the benefits of their incorporation are too great to ignore.

Take California’s wine country for example. In a state with one of the most sizable wine industries in the world, while at the same time plagued with drought, innovators have answered the call with Robot-Assisted Precision Irrigation Delivery (RAPID). RAPID uses precision monitoring technology to deliver water through specialized emitters attached to irrigation lines laid throughout a vineyard.

The project was funded with a $1 million grant from the Department of Agriculture and headed by UC Merced professor Stefano Carpin. The unmanned ground vehicle, equipped with GPS can map routes throughout vineyards.  Relying on drone and satellite images, the vehicle will have a continuous view of weather conditions in real-time. Additionally, the robot will utilize a “grasping hand” to turn the water emitters in such a way that increases or decreases the flow of water. This system improves on current irrigation setup considerably, since the irrigation watering systems currently in use deliver a constant flow of water across the entire system. With the more efficient use of water in the drought-stricken region, RAPID can improve vineyard yield, reduce waste, and even customize the watering process dependent on a vineyard’s variety of grape. Carpin hopes to have a fully functional test system available by 2020.

Pruning With Precision Machine Vision Systems

Wall-Ye V.I.N is France’s answer to one of the most labor-intensive components of running a vineyard, vine maintenance. Pruning, de-suckering, and clipping fruitless shoots, to be more precise. Understanding which vines need to be pruned and to what extent is considered a sacred charge in many winemaking circles. Nevertheless, tremendous advancements are being made to automate these laborious and time-consuming tasks. The creation of Burgundy-based inventor Christophe Millot, Wall-Ye V.I.N. has even the most scrupulous winemakers nodding in approval as the economic value the robot presents is undeniable. Take for instance the human component of pruning. It takes somewhere near three years to fully train a pruner to man the vines, whereas Wall-Ye V.I.N. promises to be ready to prune in a fraction of the time. Still, the robot will not be capable of taking on all the associated tasks its human counterparts are responsible and instead take on a collaborative role within the industry.

Meanwhile, across the globe, California-based Vision Robotics is hard at work creating a system considerably larger than Wall-Ye V.I.N. to tackle pruning tasks. Canterbury University’s Australia campus is developing a similar pruning robot as well. All three projects have a common imaging system that feeds into an AI that is focused on 3D modeling to determine which vines make the cut.

Robotics Helping Harvest

Once the cluster-heavy vines are ready for harvest, machine vision, AI and robotics come into play in a big way. Identifying which grapes are going to produce the best wine is an arduous task made easy with the incorporation of modern technology. Take for instance the robots in place at the Hall Vineyards in Napa Valley, California. Once grape clusters have been harvested, the robots on location are fed the clusters to identify which make the cut and which do not. Taking more than 10,000 photos a second, the robot is capable of conducting an analysis of each photograph virtually instantly.

The operator inputs what parameters the robot uses to identify what is acceptable and what is not. All acceptable specimens proceed to a “good fruit” bin at the end of a conveyor, while the rejected fruit is blasted off the line with a precision burst of air. This is just one way that robots improve the efficiency of vineyard operations and enable winemakers to create even more satisfying beverages.

Another example emerges in the EU project, VineRobot, that uses color cameras, Infrared thermography, and GPS techniques to obtain agronomical and physiological data from the vineyard in real-time. By combining all the necessary data to reach a conclusion, VineRobot is able to alert operators and other staff of nutrient deficiencies in plants and ready for harvest fruits based on pigmentation. Throughout the process, Vine Robot is actually creating a complete representation of the vineyard’s crop-quality as a result of the data gleaned from its sophisticated vision sensors and systems.

About Encompass Solutions

Encompass Solutions is a business and software consulting firm that specializes in ERP systems, EDI, and Managed Services support for Manufacturers and Distributors. Serving small and medium-sized businesses since 2001, Encompass modernizes operations and automates processes for hundreds of customers across the globe. Whether undertaking full-scale implementation, integration, and renovation of existing systems, Encompass provides a specialized approach to every client’s needs. By identifying customer requirements and addressing them with the right solutions, we ensure our clients are equipped to match the pace of Industry.


‘Daisy’, the disassembling robot, is Apple’s answer to reclaiming the valuable materials that go into the creation of nearly every Apple mobile and tablet device. Aluminum, cobalt, gold, silver, platinum, and many other valuable metals and rare earths can be extracted using this useful technology. Daisy’s efficiency is punctuated by an exceptional rate of recovery, disassembling and collecting materials from outdated devices at the rate of 200 iPhones per hour.

Not only has the recycling robot enabled Apple to recover these valuable resources, but the machine’s creation process has yielded valuable information on recycling many of these materials in a cleaner and more efficient manner. New processes have eliminated the need to introduce contaminants and other dangerous substances into the recycling process, leading to an unsullied recycling process all around.

Daisy is not the first iteration of a mechanical recycler, though. Liam was the predecessor announced by Apple back in 2016. A very specialized robot, Liam was designed to specifically disassemble iPhones to access the recyclable materials inside. Some of the crucial components Liam sought, and Daisy seeks, out in each iPhone carcass include cobalt and lithium from the phone’s battery, gold and copper from the camera, silver and platinum from the device’s logic board, and aluminum from the enclosure.

Additional Charity With Apple’s GiveBack

Alongside the Daisy announcement, which coincided with Earth Day, Apple has announced the commitment to match customers turn-ins of devices with charitable contributions to the Conservation International environmental non-profit based in Virginia until April 30th. Some devices being turned in will even knab in-store gift cards and credit for those donating.

The press release detailing Daisy and Earth Day campaigns from Apple, along with all media associated with the announcement, can be found in the Apple Newsroom.

Cleaner Streams Of Recycling With Material Recovery Facilities

Daisy’s announcement is just one of the many emerging advancements taking place in the world of Material Recovery Facilities (MRFs). The recent WasteExpo 2018 in Las Vegas highlighted many of the recent advancements in the world of cleaner recycling and material recovery in electronics recycling, cleaning and sorting equipment, and municipal recycling endeavors.

Robotics and Artificial intelligence, in particular, are assuming significantly larger roles in the advancement of recycling efforts, enabling greater efficiencies in:

  • Heavy lifting
  • No deviation due to fatigue
  • Repetitive tasks
  • Continuously high levels of concentration
  • Purity rates and consistent and accurate identification of products
  • Pre-emptively tracking and managing work
  • Maximal operating time
  • Evolutive identification of products and more meaningful data
  • Reproductivity of results
  • Reduced labor and training
  • Lower operating costs

While these innovations in the field of material recovery have enabled companies like CleanRobotics, and AMP Robotics to function with greater efficiency, difficulties remain within the variety of materials flowing into the recycling stream. The resounding answer to the challenge emerges again and again with machine vision.

Material Recovery Pushes Advances In Machine Vision Systems

Coupled with robots on recycling conveyor systems, machine vision systems identify elements and materials according to a number of characteristics. Once identified, the robotic component will employ suction, grippers, and grabbers to remove materials from the conveyor and sort them accordingly, for either direct recycling or further disassembly, if necessary. Eagle Vision and Bulk Handling Systems are two entities addressing the need for more robust machine vision systems in MRFs.

Coupled with robots on recycling conveyor systems, machine vision systems identify elements and materials according to a number of characteristics.

Interconnectivity between MRF system components, read as the Industrial Internet of things (IIoT), allows devices to “speak” with one another across the facility. The results can be presented as simply as “I’m getting too much plastic” to which screens can be adjusted to narrow or expand the flow of specific materials, according to Nathanaël Lortie, co-founder and president of Eagle Vision.

With accuracy rates reaching upwards of 85 -95 percent, these robots and their associated systems far surpass the publics shoddy-by-comparison 30 percent accuracy.

About Encompass Solutions

Encompass Solutions, Inc. is an ERP consulting firm that offers professional services in business consulting, project management, and software implementation. Whether undertaking full-scale implementation, integration, and renovation of existing systems or addressing the emerging challenges in corporate and operational growth, Encompass provides a specialized approach to every client’s needs. As experts in identifying customer requirements and addressing them with the right solutions, we ensure our clients are equipped to match the pace of Industry.


Over the last half-century, robots have been relied upon as an integral part of manufacturing. Their presence offers incredible benefits, including enhanced production speed, accuracy, and tireless labor. However, they can’t do it all. As a result, robots have been increasingly prevalent in the manufacturing environment year after year. Engineered to work collaboratively alongside their human counterparts, these smaller and agiler implements on the manufacturing floor are referred to as collaborative robotics.

Breaking Down Collaborative Robotics

Rather than replacing a worker in completing a specific task, collaborative robots, more colloquially referred to as cobots, are designed to enhance a production team’s capabilities on the shop floor. With modern, plug-and-play functionality, cobots shed their larger predecessors’ bulky protective cages and lend precision, power, and agility to their teams.

a picture of a single arm robot and manufacturing employee working simultaneously as an assembly station where collaborative robotics are in use

As innovations in robotics make these tools more user-friendly and affordable, smaller manufacturing operations will benefit from their integration.

Coming in at around 3-feet in height, these lightweight additions to the manufacturing process are quickly becoming fast friends with their increasingly specialized human coworkers. This is due in large part to the shedding of misguided anxieties that robots will replace workers outright, which is quite unlikely to take place within our lifetime. In fact, it is increasingly recognized that collaborative robots elevate human workers from positions of mundane and repetitive natures to more specialized roles, valued more highly by both companies and individual workers alike.

Primary Cobot Operations

While cobots can certainly be designed for specific purposes and roles according to customer specifications, by and large, they are intended for specific types of operation within the manufacturing environment.

The most common utilization of cobots emerges in power and force limiting roles, whereby robots are in close proximity to people and must remain continually aware of the power and force that humans can withstand at all times. This means the acceptable level of energy transferred through sudden impacts and collisions with people is maintained below a maximum threshold determined by the International Standards Organization (ISO).

A picture of a manufacturing floor robot arm where collaborative robotics are in use

By and large, collaborative robotics are intended for specific types of operation within the manufacturing environment.

Sensing and monitoring technologies come into play to enable safety monitored stop operation in cobots, where nearness to humans is the primary focus. In this case, the response to a human passing the proximity threshold is for the cobot to terminate motion. The same technology is used in speed and separation monitoring, whereby the speed and proximity of a human are tracked in relation to a cobot’s position. Preventative measures are taken, namely a reduction in the speed of operation, as the worker draws closer to the cobot in operation.

The final common collaborative cobot operation resides in hand-guiding, which is reserved primarily for delicate production processes. In such operations, pressure sensing arrays enable cobots to learn from operators the proper orientation and speeds at which objects can be manipulated without causing damage.

Where Cobots Lose Sight

With such great market potential, collaborative robotics will no doubt be increasingly adopted by manufacturing operations of every size. Small and medium businesses will benefit substantially from the drop in supplier prices as the technology becomes more readily available, as well.

A picture of a worker and cobot working in manufacturing facility where collaborative robotics are in use

For cobots, working alongside often spontaneous and unpredictable human colleagues poses the greatest opportunity for incidents to transpire

While all this is true, there is still plenty of room for improvement when it comes cobots. In particular, machine vision will make substantial headway for cobots in manufacturing, where working alongside often spontaneous and unpredictable human colleagues poses the greatest opportunity for incidents to transpire. Additionally, humans may complete tasks in a  number of different ways and place the tools they use in different locations for later use. What experts see as the zenith of collaborative robotics resides in the ability for cobots to one day anticipate their human colleagues’ needs and provide the necessary tools or support to complete tasks in real time. Machine vision is seen as the primary component in making this idea a reality. Those days are still a long way off, but the developments taking place now bring the possibility nearer with each passing day.

About Encompass Solutions

Encompass Solutions is a business and software consulting firm that specializes in ERP systems, EDI, and Managed Services support for Manufacturers and Distributors. Serving small and medium-sized businesses since 2001, Encompass modernizes operations and automates processes for hundreds of customers across the globe. Whether undertaking full-scale implementation, integration, and renovation of existing systems, Encompass provides a specialized approach to every client’s needs. By identifying customer requirements and addressing them with the right solutions, we ensure our clients are equipped to match the pace of Industry.


The Chief Robotics Officer

With the industrial robot population on course to reach 1.7 million by 2020, enterprises the world over are reevaluating how they approach managing a mechanized workforce. To address modern manufacturing operations’ increasing reliance on automation and robotics, the C-suite is preparing to welcome a new designation among its ranks: Chief Robotics Officer (CRO).

A photograph of a Chief Robotics Officer commanding a humanoid robot

Tthe C-Suite Is Preparing To Welcome A New Designation Among Its Ranks: Chief Robotics Officer.

Addressing An Increasingly Automated Workforce

While the concept may be a new one, a study conducted by Myria Research, a Massachusetts-based research and advisory services business, puts projections of the emerging Chief Robotics Officer position in 60% for Fortune 500 executive teams. Beyond that, the Chief Robotics Officer Research Scenario predicts the Robotics & Intelligent Operational Systems (RIOS) technologies market to reach $1.2 trillion globally by 2025. The figure is tremendous when compared to the firm’s $63 billion market valuation in 2015. However, companies cannot afford to discount the increasing prevalence of RIOS in their own daily operations as well as those of their competitors. The projections include full hardware, software, and services segmentation in the figure, which represents a 30% CAGR to 2020 and 40% from 2020 until 2025.

A photo of a robotic arm working on a factory floor.

the Chief Robotics Officer Research Scenario predicts the Robotics & Intelligent Operational Systems (RIOS) technologies market to reach $1.2 trillion globally by 2025.

The Chief Robotics Officer remains a conceptual position for the vast majority of enterprises. However, research suggests that as the prevalence of integrated robotics and intelligent systems increases, CROs will become equally important sources of vital information that lend insight into research, development, and innovation in the sector. Their duties can be likened to that of the Chief Information Officer during the influx of computers into businesses during the 1980’s. Already there is an abundance of seminars professing the need for CRO’s is enterprises want to remain competitive. In short, a company’s CRO will be responsible for implementing the latest robotics and automation technologies while increasing efficiency and through the productivity promised by robotics and AI. A hands-on component is also likely for the role, where managing these robotic and digital workforces on the floor as well as in the cloud will pose unique challenges that only a human component can address.

How RIOS Affects The Labor Market

While it is already painfully obvious that automation, robotics, and intelligent operational systems are positioned to hamstring low-skilled labor, the specialized staff required to maintain and interact with these systems is grown at a steady rate alongside implementation. This leaves a wealth of opportunity for those individuals being transitioned out of low-skill positions to take the reigns and receive the training to assume the role of technological overseers.

a photograph of factory workers and the production process.

Factory Workers Need To Be Prepared For The Shift From Low-Skilled To Specialized. Fortunately, Many Corporations Are Supporting Them Through The Transition.

Many companies are already supporting workforces keen on being promoted from within. The most prominent example comes from Amazon, which is offering sizable grants and educational opportunities in-house for any employee willing to beef up their background in robotics, automation, and IT.

Human-Robot Interaction In The Workplace And Beyond

Thanks to the stories spun in science fiction and technological horror films, humans have developed a healthy apprehension of integrating machinery too deeply into their lives. However, the buffer may be unfeasible as the efficiencies these machines and processes provide are simply too valuable to ignore.

a photo of a Chief Robotics Officer and a robot discussing information on a computer monitor

Advances in artificial intelligence bring machines to a higher level of competency regarding cooperation and collaboration with their human counterparts

The results? A new classification of workplace interaction. Questions are already emerging about human-robot interaction in the workplace and beyond. Coworkers want to know how they’ll split the workload, if their vacation time and salary will be affected, or if there will be robots on their departmental teams with a say in how projects are carried out. It may seem a silly distinction to make at this point in time but as advances in artificial intelligence bring machines to a higher level of competency regarding cooperation and collaboration with their human counterparts, these human anxieties may become increasingly more valid.

Robot Personhood And Emerging Legal Frameworks

At a higher level, governments are interested in how commerce is positioned to be improved and how administrations will have to adopt new legal frameworks to address things like liability and taxation. The EU is already considering granting personhood to robots. While corporate personhood in the US bestows certain rights and privileges to business entities, the proposed rules placed in front of EU legislators suggested by EU legislators are seeking to address these issues of liability, safety, and changes in the labor market. A study on the notion of the robot, its implications, and the question of consciousness, authored by Nathalie Nevejans, Université d’Artois, Centre de Recherche en Droit Ethique et Procédures, can be found here. Rapporteur Mady Delvaux’s (S&D, LU) EU Commission report on liability, social impact, and request for legislation can be found here.

About Encompass Solutions

Encompass Solutions is a business and software consulting firm that specializes in ERP systems, EDI, and Managed Services support for Manufacturers and Distributors. Serving small and medium-sized businesses since 2001, Encompass modernizes operations and automates processes for hundreds of customers across the globe. Whether undertaking full-scale implementation, integration, and renovation of existing systems, Encompass provides a specialized approach to every client’s needs. By identifying customer requirements and addressing them with the right solutions, we ensure our clients are equipped to match the pace of Industry.


The common misconception about automation is that in the long term it will cost more jobs than it creates. The fact of the matter is that this is simply not true. Automation, working alongside effective ERP systems, provides workforces the freedom to become more specialized and efficient. Automation works in tandem with ERP to conserve resources and take the mundane and repetitive tasks out of the picture.

As a result, the human component of businesses can take on more logical, critical thinking-oriented tasks. This adds value to the business by strengthening the quality of care customers receive and nurtures the satisfaction employees receive when they occupy more critical and appreciated roles in their careers.

Automation And Job Creation With ERP Systems

While the technology and machinery associated with automation and ERP systems assume easy roles it the workplace, the more agile and adaptable human is still required to run and maintain them.

A photograph of a specialized factory worker at an MES interface tied to ERP systems

A Specialized Worker Ensures That The Factory’s Automation Equipment Runs At Peak Performance.

Cotton mills are a prominent example of how technology replaced human labor in the textile industry. While unskilled labor, such as cotton picking was replaced by the cotton gin, the process of refining the picked cotton still required a human touch. Loom operators found their jobs replaced with automated machinery, but those machines too needed to be run and maintained by skilled labor. A loom couldn’t craft a shirt on its own but made the process infinitely more simple and the results were less cost prohibitive for the consumer. This translated into higher demand for cotton goods and more weavers were required to address the demand.

Over the past 150 years, the labor force has thrived alongside the implementation of automation technology, rather than having been hindered by it. The article Automation Technology and Anxiety, featured in Economist, focused on the example of cotton and detailed how the textile became easier by a factor of 50 to produce following the advent of automation technology in the industry. As a result, the cost of cotton plummeted, making goods derived from the textile easier to afford. This increased consumer demand led to a demand for more skilled labor. The article states, “In America during the 19th century the amount of coarse cloth a single weaver could produce in an hour increased by a factor of 50, and the amount of labor required per yard of cloth fell by 98%. This made cloth cheaper and increased demand for it, which in turn created more jobs for weavers: their numbers quadrupled between 1830 and 1900. In other words, technology gradually changed the nature of the weaver’s job, and the skills required to do it, rather than replacing it altogether.” The main takeaway from the passage should be that while the production of coarse cotton became radically easier to produce, job growth in the sector grew by 400 percent in a 70-year period as a result.

A more modern example can be found in Amazon’s headcount statistics. While the company’s fleet of robots has doubled over the last two years, the labor force has only increased over the same period.

Automation And ERP Systems

ERP Systems functions much in the same way, working alongside automated systems in manufacturing. In terms of data management, ERP systems take over repetitive processes and assume these otherwise mundane roles associated with enterprise data to reduce waste and free labor to take on more mission-critical tasks. These streamlined processes end up saving businesses substantial costs in the long term and facilitate growth that scales alongside the pace of Industry.

an image of food and beverage manufacturing controlled by erp systems

Automation Takes The Form Of Machine And Digital Processes.

Independent Labor Sources Develop

The independent workforce is another segment of global labor that shows increasing promise in the face of automation, with highly-skilled, highly-educated, and experienced professionals increasingly being sought after by companies that have adopted automation to a high degree. Software engineering, product management, and application development professionals are among the most sought-after independents. Automation plays together with the independent workforce as companies look to supplement their automated systems with independent workers to fulfill highly-specialized roles. Factories may not need the workers they once did thanks to robots and automated assembly, but the gaps in operations, maintenance, and planning leave more than enough room for a more specialized workforce to step in.

The Pains Of Transition

While it’s true the application of automation upsets work roles and employment demographics within the industries where they are applied, the real pains are felt in the short-term transition process. Bhagwan Chowdhry, professor of finance at the University of California, Los Angeles, details what he sees as a necessary shift in paradigm between learning and working to maintain a qualified workforce as automation assumes what has been traditionally referred to as blue-collar jobs.

A photo of a CNC machine cutting metal shapes and forms where data is fed from ERP systems.

Modern Automation And Processes Require The Transition Of Workforces from Un-Skilled or Low-Skilled to Highly-skilled.

In an interview with the BBC last year, he offered his thoughts on how to address the need for more specialized labor in the face of automation, “The distinction between work and learning might need to become more amorphous. We currently have a dichotomy where those who work not learn, and those who learn do not work. We need to think about getting away from the traditional five-day working week to one where I spend 60% of my time doing my job and 40% learning on a regular basis.” In short, automation and robots, particularly collaborative robots, are increasingly filling a complementary role alongside workers, rather than one of replacement. The safest route, in terms of ensuring humans have a future in the workforce, is to scale skillsets alongside the technology that enables them the increased time to learn about most technical concepts and roles.

About Encompass Solutions

Encompass Solutions is a business and software consulting firm that specializes in ERP systems, EDI, and Managed Services support for Manufacturers and Distributors. Serving small and medium-sized businesses since 2001, Encompass modernizes operations and automates processes for hundreds of customers across the globe. Whether undertaking full-scale implementation, integration, and renovation of existing systems, Encompass provides a specialized approach to every client’s needs. By identifying customer requirements and addressing them with the right solutions, we ensure our clients are equipped to match the pace of Industry.