I’ve seen lists like this which seem to be an accumulation of ideas without relative value. Automating with robots is an economic decision with value associated with it. I wanted to develop a list that is cohesive and direct and paints a story when viewed collectively. How ironic I start with a reason with no value…
10. Wow Factor. This adds little value to the bottom line but I dare you to walk by a working robot without stopping to watch. Most people, techies for sure, like to watch robots work. Most of those even like to watch videos of robots working. It’s a fascinating machine.
9. Decreasing Cost of Automation. On average the cost of technology decreases by about one third every year. The cost of implementing that technology falls much slower. When to install new automation becomes tricky. Struggle through another year without automating and reap the benefits of decreasing costs. Automate now and suffer from widget-envy when better technology emerges.
8. Decreasing Cost of Robot Technology. Robots and the ancillary systems that make them more productive become more economical and easier to use. Manufacturers look at their first robot like they did their first PLC: we need more and we need to get smarter on how to use them. The price of PLC’s came down and functionality increased over time. Robots will follow the same path.
7. Need for Technical Labor. This is a hard one to fathom unless you think it completely through. The unskilled labor replaced by robots will eventually be replaced with skilled labor for programming, maintaining, troubleshooting, and re-implementing robots. And here’s the real payback: the longer those skilled people are present in manufacturing, more uses for robots emanate from within.
6. Competition. We’re talking about global competition here not just manufacturers in the next state. Big picture perspective tells us Asian and Latin American manufacturers can bring competition previously unseen. China implements 5-6 times as many robots as the US even though their labor rates are miniscule. Why? Because it’s not all about labor savings.
5. Product Quality. Operations like machining, primary and secondary packaging, multi SKU palletizing and many others suffer from the “human factor” when the product is delivered to the consumer or user. Accuracy and repeatability of robots can often be tied directly to quality.
4. Increased Throughput. I’ve seen some people call it increased production. That’s not accurate enough. Plants add production lines to increase production. What’s necessary is increased throughput using the same systems automated. That’s where the money is.
3. Flexibility. Anything you program can be reprogrammed. Lots of flexibility comes with a robot. Add another end of arm tool and flexibility doubles. Use an automatic tool changer and flexibility goes exponential. At some point flexibility is only limited by human imagination.
2. Ergonomics. To boldly go where no man likes to go. Hot, cold, hazardous, or repetitive tasks. Who likes them? People don’t; robots don’t care. No one likes to see people get hurt short term or long term. Injury avoidance can add $150,000 to a project ROI. If your company doesn’t know this value, it should.
1. Manual Labor Reduction. Let’s face it: when other issues in this list exist, replacing people with robots is big savings. With no breaks, shift changes, injuries, vacations or benefit expenses, robots can save $30,000 or more per year per unskilled worker. This is usually the top ROI category for manufacturers. That’s why it’s number 1.