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You’re Never Too Small forIndustrial Robots
Robotics are increasingly a feasible option for small and medium-sized enterprises.
by Claudia Jarrett
There’s a misconception that industrial robots are reserved for manufacturing giants. But, according to the Robotics Industries Association (RIA), moreenterprises with fewer than 100 employees now own up toten robots—and this is a growing trend. Here, Claudia Jarrett, US country manager at automation parts supplier EUAutomation, explains why robots are more than affordablefor small and mid-sized enterprises (SMEs).
SMEs are the economic backbone of some of the mostindustrialized countries in the world. In the United States,for example, over 90% of the business population representssmall and medium-sized businesses—in fact, there are 30. 7million small businesses in the US, which account for 64%of the country’s job creation.
So, it’s no challenge to argue that SMEs represent anextremely attractive market for the US economy. However, the case should also be made for SME manufacturersadopting robots; especially in light of RIA’s finding thatmore SMEs are getting in on the act. Industrial robots canbe a real asset for smaller businesses, especially those adding flexible, user-friendly, and cost-effective solutions totheir portfolios.
But, for SMEs seeking to branch out into robotics forthe first time, choosing the best robot for their needs is nosimple task. Manufacturers need to ask themselves the rightquestions if they want to optimize their return on investment (ROI). After all, robots are still an expensive investment—particularly for businesses that don’t have the deeppockets of manufacturing giants.
Start With a Plan
The first mistake that manufacturers can make is digitalizing without a specific strategy in mind. Instead, assessing a plant’s real needs is a crucial first step before investingin any machine—especially a robot.
If a task does not require thinking on the spot, creativity orhuman dexterity, then it can probably be automated. Questions to assess a plant’s needs might include: what kind ofchallenges is your company experiencing, and can they canbe tackled by industrial robotics? Are you struggling to fillpositions for repetitive manual tasks? Are dangerous operations affecting workers’ safety? And, do you wish to addnight and weekend shifts without increasing labor costs? Allof these issues can be successfully tackled with robotics.
For example, last year, the US apparel chain Gap Incsped-up its rollout of warehouse robots. Not only dothese machines play a crucial role in assembling onlineorders, but they also limit human contact during thecoronavirus pandemic.
Gap needed to triple thenumber of item-picking robots it uses to 106 by thefall while adhering to thesafety measures relating toCOVID- 19. Now, robots areused to handle its web orders—but this doesn’t meanworkers are replaced. In fact,in Gap’s case, it aims for thetechnology to complementworkers rather than replacing them.
As a result, Gap has seen arising number of orders. It’son the lookout for new human hires at its warehouses,as well as new machines.
Worth the Investment?
SMEs usually deal with smaller production runs. Thanksto the latest innovations in collaborative robotics, manufacturers need no longer boast huge production volumes tojustify investing in robotics.
According to the robot supplier Robot Worx, an industrial robot typically costs between $50,000 and $80,000. Yet, smaller andmore flexible alternatives are now available at a fraction of thatprice and are also ideal for low-volume production.
For example, Automata, a US automation provider, recently launched a robot called Eva that is priced at just$8,000 and is programmable in under 30 minutes. Designedfor SME manufacturers, Eva can automate a variety of repetitive tasks such as pick and place, machine tending, sorting, and dispensing.
Another low-cost option for pick and place applicationsis Delta Robot, developed by igus, a worldwide motionplastics provider. The cost of a Delta Robot ranges from$10,000 to $15,000 including integration costs, while itstypical ROI period is estimated at just six months.
These smaller, flexible robotic arms are accessible tomost businesses with smaller-to-medium budgets. What’smore, they add substantial value by freeing up humanworkers from tedious, repetitive tasks, allowing them toinstead focus on jobs that require decision making andproblem-solving.
Many SMEs are put-off investing in robots because they
think it will be necessary to employ a technical specialist to
program the machine, or fix technical issues. This idea is in-
creasingly a thing of the past, as robot manufacturers release
more user-friendly machines to market that don’t require spe-
cific technical expertise.
Eva, for instance, is already the star of several You Tube unboxing videos where users explain how they assembled therobot and trained it to perform several tasks, in as little as 20minutes. Other robots, like Delta, come pre-assembled and areready to be programmed within a few easy steps.
In addition, all robot manufacturers and integrators offer training to their customers. This includes the UniversalRobots Academy, a free platform that teaches core programming skills. With its online modules, Universal RobotsAcademy offers core programming training to cobot users,regardless of their robotic experience.
That said, expertise is necessary when replacing roboticparts. This is where establishing a good relationship with areliable automation supplier, such as EU Automation, is essential. EU Automation can also ensure manufacturers canget delivery of the parts they need in as little as 24 hours—even during the pandemic.
SMEs needn’t feel they need to match the big players.Instead, robotics is becoming just like any other affordableservice. As well as getting over the outmoded misconception they too expensive, SEMs can also turn to an automatedworkforce to futureproof their operations and, increasingly,prove you don’t need to be a manufacturing giant to investin robots.
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Photo courtesy of EU Automation