As automation increases in importance and usability in the manufacturing sector, collaborative robots (cobots), artificial intelligence and big data can be distinct drivers of investment and performance, according to a survey conducted by PMMI, The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies, Reston, Va.

The study, “Automation in CPG Companies,” finds that 44% of those surveyed are at least planning to increase investment in one key area, driving enhancements in automation—big data analytics capabilities—in the next 18-24 months.

“Every day that companies delay implementing automation and big data solutions is a missed opportunity, as those that are using it are finding immediate and profitable success,” says Bryan Griffen, director of industry services.

Now the fastest growing segment of industrial automation, cobot use is expected to jump tenfold to 34% of all industrial robot sales by 2025, according to the International Federation of Robotics, Germany.

While growth is projected, this survey found cobot use in packaging remains relatively low, with just 10% claiming adoption. However, of those that are embracing the technology to address workforce and efficiency, 86% report an increase in productivity. Within that 86%, nearly one in five users indicate significantly increased productivity. From a return on investment point of view, 78% report that whether it be a decrease in labor cost or an increase in output, cobots directly increase their company’s earnings.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is also a significant attribute driving cobot use, freeing robots from guarded situations to allow them in the immediate proximity of humans. In addition to its use in cobots, 63% of respondents using AI believe it's essential to their ability to address challenges on the packaging line.

The survey gathered responses from more than 740 industry professionals, Sept. 20-Oct. 11. PMMI defined these respondents as individuals representing a wide range of functions at or for consumer packaged goods companies and product manufacturers in a variety of different vertical markets, including food, dairy, beverage, baking and snack, pharmaceuticals, healthcare and more.