cosmetics products

Robots in the cosmetics industry: Complex tasks for sophisticated machines

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Like most business sectors, the cosmetics industry is a growing market for industrial robotics and automation suppliers. 

At the moment, it’s a relatively small market compared to automotive, electronics, and other sectors, but according to a study by Alltake Market Research, unit shipments in the sector will grow more than 20 per cent by 2022.

However, Alltake combines cosmetics and pharmaceutical into one category for its projections. 

The International Federation of Robotics also expects “increasing numbers of orders” from the cosmetics industry, although it’s difficult to quantify the exact number right now.

In fact, not many statistics are publicly available about robotics and automation in the pharmaceutical or cosmetics sector.

 

But an impressionistic overview of the cosmetics sector seems an entirely appropriate thing to offer in this article, along with some anecdotal evidence of the growth being projected by researchers.

The global cosmetics manufacturing industry revenue is estimated to be around $300 billion at the moment, according to research by IBISWorld, which forecasts growth to reach beyond $340 billion by 2021.

This indicates, of course, that the cosmetics manufacturers have enough money to spend on robotics and automation systems if they want to or see it has profitable applications in their operations.

And according to an interesting analysis of the market by Business Insider, only seven companies control more than 180 well-known beauty brands.

We’ve listed those seven giants below, along with some of their revenues through sales of beauty products.

World’s largest beauty products manufacturers – by 2016 revenue

Company 2016 revenue from beauty sales
L’Oréal $27.6 billion
Unilever $22.3 billion
Proctor & Gamble $18 billion
Estée Lauder $11.3 billion
Johnson & Johnson $7.1 billion
Shiseido $6.3 billion
Coty $4.3 billion

Some of the companies listed above would be familiar as manufacturers of a wide variety of goods, but BI – working from research by Beauty Packaging, which has a longer list – only included what it described as “beauty sales”.

beautyworld japan

Evidence of the cosmetics sector’s growth can also be found in the growing number of industry events, such as the recent BeautyWorld Japan, one of the several similar exhibitions by the same company in the country.

Organisers say this year’s fair saw “significant expansion” with the addition of an extra hall to accommodate exhibitors and the growing numbers of visitors.

The add that the expansion was “in response to the requests from many exhibitors to expand their spaces”.

The show has also extended its opening hours for visitors to have more time to see the 262 exhibitors.

Kawada robots on a Shiseido assembly line
Kawada robots on a Shiseido assembly line

Where are the robots, and what are they doing? 

Some of the typical applications of an industrial robot are picking and placing, sorting, and moving things around.

But with more research, and with the new generation of collaborative robots being made available, the cosmetics industry could find a number of new ways to automate its own operations.

Japanese cosmetics company Shiseido is partnering with Kawada Robotics to develop an assembly line at its Kakegawa factory which would see humanoid robots assemble parts of different sizes and shapes to build a finished beauty product.

Shiseido described the move as a pilot program when it started a few months ago, so it will be interesting to see what happens over the next few months.

Shiseido claims this is the first time a global cosmetics company has industrial humanoid robots on the assembly lines of makeup products, performing tasks that were previously too complex for robots.

At the Kakegawa facility, one human worker and two humanoid robots work together on the assembly tasks.

Shiseido says that, while humanoid robots – the NextAge model from Kawada – cover the procedures that are hard to be automated with conventional machines and existing industrial robots, the human worker focuses on inspection of minor defects such as scratches, assuring the quality of products.

The manufacturing of makeup products involves numerous materials and components, and complex procedures such as packaging and labeling.

At the same time, companies rely heavily on on-site workers for in-process inspection, which relies on human’s sensibilities and cannot be replaced with machines, says Shiseido.

Shiseido adds that this one of the possible solutions to the declining availability of human workers in Japan.

Human workers or not, as reported by Business of Fashion, Shiseido said it was looking to achieve a 50 per cent increase in productivity and a reduction in costs after it opened a new facility in Osaka earlier this year.

Going forward, Shiseido aims to further advance innovation in technology, enabling robots to team up with human workers on “more complex, high-dimensional operations by applying artificial intelligence”.

What looks like a Stäubli robot pictured in a L’Oréal lab
What looks like a Stäubli robot pictured in a L’Oréal lab

Because your robot’s worth it 

Meanwhile, cosmetics market leader is also using robots, but in the scientific research side of the business.

As Jean-Christophe Bichon, L’Oréal chemist and expert in robotics, says: “Robots help chemists, evaluators and formulators to go faster. We formulate 100 formulae per day and evaluate them in 24 hours.”

Utilising robots – apparently from Stäubli, judging from a company video – in what is a scientific context for these applications would probably be categorised under pharmaceutical – and cosmetics.

L’Oréal claims to be the first to have done this, although not much is known about whether the company uses robots in its assembly process.

L’Oréal is also using the types of data science and artificial intelligence technologies Shiseido was probably planning to introduce.

It’s reasonable to think that most if not all large cosmetics manufacturers will increase their use of robots and automation technologies going forward.

Although, having said that, they probably would be more wary of the robots which apply make-up to a human’s face, as shown in this article on Fast Code Design, which, while acknowledging that “we’re one step closer to a robot world takeover”, says the makeover was “crappy”.

Although that idea may not catch on, the possibility of personalising make-up to an individual’s specific skin tones and so on may be something that’s possible, and maybe even being planned.

With the advances in materials science and 3D printing, it seems possible that you could, in the future, send a selfie – a picture taken of yourself – and whatever other necessary information to a cosmetics company and they could get their AI system to formulate the exact colour composition you require and then get the robots to make that product, and then get some other robot to deliver the product to you.

Whatever is found to be the best process, mass customisation is probably as likely in the cosmetics sector as in any other.

The jobs of millions of make-up artists the world over may be at risk.

But joking aside, Lancôme, one of the world’s most famous cosmetics brands, already uses its own face-scanning and analysing technology, called Le Teint Particulier.

As described in the Globe and Mail, the system scans a customer’s face and recreates their skin tone from a selection of 20,000 pigments to customise a foundation.


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