collaborative robot market set for phenomenal growth (part 2)

in rethinking robotics by Jim Lawton

Smart collaborative robot Sawyer at work on a factory floor.

In part one of this post, I discussed a few of the factors fueling the tremendous growth of the collaborative robot market.

First, we have Sawyer and Baxter, a new type of collaborative robot (cobot) that works safely side-by-side with people. Second, rather than replace people, these new cobots free people from performing highly repetitive, boring jobs – and instead, allow them to perform higher value tasks that keep them engaged and productive.

The third factor, which is the topic of this post, is that smart cobots like Sawyer and Baxter automate many of the tasks that formerly couldn’t be automated – especially those centered around material handling and machine tending.

By automating these tasks, Sawyer and Baxter are meeting a pent-up demand that’s been building for years – and it’s this demand that’s helping to fuel the growth.

Manufacturers must continue to cut costs while adding value

No matter the size of their facility or annual sales, the question constantly on the minds of plant managers and production supervisors all over the world is, “How can I decrease my production costs?”

For larger companies, factory automation was one way to cut costs, as was shipping production overseas in order to save on labor. But, this model has run its course.

With labor rates going up by 10 to 15% in countries like China, as well as worker turnover increasing –turnover rate at many Chinese manufacturers is now at 25% – the cost of managing production so far from the customer isn’t as financially viable as it used to be.

In addition, the demand for flexibility has increased exponentially in a world where we now replace our devices and other items every 18 to 24 months.

We also want products customized to suit us – and companies such as Nike and Toyota now let you design your own athletic shoe or vehicle online.

To meet these demands, manufacturers of all sizes have to be agile while still decreasing production costs – because one-tenth of a cent difference in the price of a part can make or break contract negotiations between suppliers and buyers.

Sawyer and Baxter fit into any plant and industrial application

One question we’re frequently asked is, “Will these robots work in my industry?”

Rather than create extensions of traditional industrial automation systems, Rethink engineers visited hundreds of factories and watched people perform material handling and machine-tending tasks.

Our goal was to thoughtfully design a new type of automation tool that would help smaller manufacturers remain competitive. Since Baxter’s introduction in 2013, and Sawyer in 2015, manufacturers have successfully integrated both robots into a variety of workspaces and jobs around the world.

We have cobots packing boxes, tending CNC machines, and testing circuit boards, to name a few tasks.

We’re also helping manufacturers solve real challenges. Plastics manufacturers, for example, struggle with end-to-end traceability, vision inspection, and hour-to-hour line changes.

Sawyer, with its embedded cameras and intuitive software, can visually inspect parts as they come off the line and package them – automating tasks that were too costly to automate in the past – and decreasing production costs while meeting customer demands.

We here at Rethink Robotics are excited about the growth of our industry and the company. While it’s easy to look at the industry growth data and think, “Wow!” it’s also important to understand what’s driving this growth.

Watching manufacturers embrace our advanced robotic technology and use it to make their companies more productive in new ways – and their employees happier and more engaged – is the real story of why the cobot market is poised for phenomenal growth.

To see examples of how Sawyer and Baxter are changing how people work at customer job sites, visit the Rethink Robotics video gallery. And for more headlines, videos and news about collaborative robots and automation, drop by Cobot Central. Also, subscribe above to receive blog post alerts delivered right to your inbox.



About the Author

Jim Lawton

Jim had a choice upon graduating from Tufts University – chase a dream as a concert pianist or become part of the inaugural Leaders for Manufacturing Program at MIT. He chose the latter– dedicating his career to developing and delivering innovative solutions that improve the business of manufacturing. Internally at HP, and then at breakthrough start-ups in e-commerce, inventory optimization and supply chain risk management, Jim’s never once looked back. His charter today: capture the power of data and analytics to push the standard for world-class manufacturing higher—once again.

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