Toddling transformation & traditional technology

Dec. 4, 2020
Our State of Initiative Report might, one day, serve as a kind of baby book for the toddling era of transformation.

You gotta love a term like “traditional robots.” 

That term—traditional robots—was used in latest State of Initiative Survey, polling manufacturers about the tools they are employing as part of their digital transformations. 

The concept of a traditional robot strikes me as funny—I picture a boxy 1950s version of some clunky humanoid, speaking in stilted language and stumbling over its leaden feet. 

But we’re at the stage now where we must differentiate traditional robots from modern varieties—think cobots that can safely labor alongside humans or drones capable of performing autonomous tasks. And that differentiation in terminology is indicative of how digital manufacturing is maturing.

I was surprised by the survey responses about robots, just as I was surprised by many trends indicated in our new report. Digitalization continues to gain traction, but in this volatile year some of the steady trends are shifting.

Are these shifts temporary until the pandemic passes? Perhaps. Perhaps not.

The sixth-annual report predates my tenure with Smart Industry by just a few months. So I’ve had the good fortune to view the trends revealed in the survey and analyzed in the report with fresh eyes. It’s been a wild ride, as you’re aware. Adoption is skyrocketing  for some of the tools, techniques and technologies we lump together under the digital transformation label, while other elements that we’d expected to be embraced more rapidly continue to gather dust.

The pandemic has fueled growth. It has stymied growth, too. (You can find a collection of silver linings from the pandemic in our Q4 issue of Smart Industry magazine.) 

I like to think that, a few decades into the future, we can consider the State of Initiative Report like a baby book for the early, toddling years of digital transformation. We can look back fondly at first steps and stumbles, infantile efforts at growth, and premature signs of promise that have blossomed into maturity.

Hopefully, the COVID-caused aberrations in development will be minor—blips among a larger swell to greater efficiency, cleaner manufacturing, smarter industry. And we can thumb though pages of dated, dusty State of Initiative Reports while reminiscing with coworkers and the traditional robots that joined us on the journey.  

Until we automate this column… 

Chris McNamara, Editor in Chief

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