Till pretty lately, automation has been primarily been a big-company benefit. A number of elements have now begun to stage the taking part in discipline, together with the emergence of collaborative robots, or cobots. Cobots have launched lots of the similar advantages to small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) that conventional robotics and automation supplied massive organizations. The large distinction is that cobots present a safer, extra compact, and extra intuitive resolution that may be applied faster and extra cost-effectively.
Like their massive, conventional robotic counterparts, cobots have additionally spawned a brand new class of integrators specifically tailored to the wants of SMEs who want to leverage automation. Not like conventional integrators, these “lean integrators” are constructed for velocity and value/overhead containment reasonably than dealing with massive, custom-engineered tasks, and so they usually focus on serving extremely focused functions or markets. These lean integrators are additional leveling the taking part in discipline for SMEs in extremely progressive and cost-effective methods.
Lean integrators usually deal with mastering one or two finish functions inside a regional market and sometimes make use of not more than 10 to 15 folks, together with the principal or proprietor, who typically doubles because the undertaking supervisor and head of finance.
Greater Is Not At all times Higher
The historical past of automation in massive enterprises helps make clear the necessity for as we speak’s evolution. Greater than a half century in the past, the emergence of business robots launched revolutionary beneficial properties in productiveness, effectivity, and consistency for manufacturing enterprises. From an embryonic begin in automotive physique retailers and forging and casting operations, industrial robots shortly unfold throughout all industries. Few producers, nevertheless, possessed the sources or experience to design and fee industrial robotic options in-house with out assist from outdoors consultants. Because of this, there emerged a brand new class of system integrators able to tackling massive industrial robotic installations.
The overall enterprise mannequin, workers construction, and undertaking execution methodology of conventional integrators developed from the calls for of large-scale conventional robotic clients. Along with the numerous capital funding required to implement a brand new robot-based manufacturing line, the method typically requires disruptive modifications to a facility’s energy construction, ground plan, and operational procedures. The dangers implicit with making an attempt to sort out such installations internally are exacerbated by the prohibitive downtime price. It makes good enterprise sense to outsource a big undertaking (and the related dangers) to a standard system integrator who can deliver the sources and experience to specify, construct, set up, program, and troubleshoot the set up in as little time as potential and with the very best likelihood of success.
The normal integrators that emerged have been typically vertically built-in operations that encompassed a number of retailers for machining, fabrication, welding, and meeting, in addition to manufacturing facility flooring spanning tons of of 1000’s of sq. toes. Execution of a single undertaking typically begins with a kick-off assembly amongst representatives of a number of departments, together with mechanical and controls engineering, undertaking administration, gross sales, software program, software engineering, and probably even finance. (The consumer assembly typically adopted later.) The integrator’s agenda for a kick-off assembly may embody a overview of ISO course of documentation; discussions about undertaking overhead, capitalization, and money circulation; and the designation of a devoted undertaking group.
Because of the overhead of such tasks, the everyday contract from a standard integrator was hardly ever lower than $250,000; typically the cutoff was a lot increased.
Massive Scale, Massive Overhead
Like industrial robots, these integrators have been constructed for scale. To deal with the implementation calls for of extremely capitalized company gamers, they have been essentially massive, well-resourced organizations that would sort out massive, advanced robotic engineering, programming, and set up capabilities. Sadly, massive scale additionally meant massive overhead from administration, personnel, ground area, and processes. Because of the overhead of such tasks, the everyday contract from a standard integrator was hardly ever lower than $250,000; typically the cutoff was a lot increased.
This enterprise mannequin made these integrators ill-equipped to adapt to the wants and technique of SMEs. As a consequence, these smaller producers have benefited far much less from the operational benefits that robotic know-how has supplied. The impression of that is evident within the 300% productiveness progress that enormous enterprises gained throughout the first decade of this century alone, versus the 200% productiveness beneficial properties achieved by companies numbering fewer than 500 workers.
Laser-Targeted on Lean Options
In distinction, the lean integrator developed exactly to handle the SME market’s rising demand for robotic installations that yield increased productiveness at a lower cost level and that may be put in in a fraction of the time of a standard robotic work cell. Just like the SMEs they serve, lean integrators are small enterprises themselves. The 2 options that distinguish lean integrators from their conventional counterparts are dimension and velocity.
Lean integrators usually deal with mastering one or two finish functions inside a regional market and sometimes make use of not more than 10 to 15 folks, together with the principal or proprietor, who typically doubles because the undertaking supervisor and head of finance. Their operational footprints hardly ever exceed 10,000 sq. toes, and so they are inclined to deploy capital on data employees reasonably than tools for vertical integration. All this interprets into a lot decrease operational overhead whereas spurring innovation, which allows lean integrators to achieve success even when taking over tasks beneath $100,000. It additionally permits them to fee cobot installations inside weeks reasonably than the months-long course of required to combine industrial robots.
Much less vertical integration implies that lean integrators are inclined to favor off-the-shelf cobot peripherals and equipment over fabricating each device in-house to satisfy a singular specification. The make-versus-buy debate normally ends with a purchase choice, protecting overhead down and velocity of execution up. This method has facilitated the expansion of associate ecosystems round cobots. The most important of those, Common Robots+ (or “UR+” for brief), is a world ecosystem of parts, software program, and software kits which have been validated and licensed to be suitable—mechanically, electrically, and digitally—with cobots from Common Robots (UR). This method additional drives down time, price, and threat as in contrast with a standard automation method.
Specializing in serving smaller enterprises which have very particular software wants could seem to be a shedding enterprise mannequin. The reality is, nevertheless, that lean integrators deal with a a lot bigger general marketplace for their providers.
Specializing in serving smaller enterprises which have very particular software wants could seem to be a shedding enterprise mannequin. The reality is, nevertheless, that lean integrators deal with a a lot bigger general marketplace for their providers. Most manufacturing companies in the USA are SMEs, in line with U.S. Census Bureau statistics on U.S. companies. Furthermore, 83% of those institutions have lower than 500 workers, 77% of firms have lower than 100 workers, and 69% of all firms have lower than 20 workers.
The distinctive worth proposition of many lean integrators boils all the way down to a extremely focused specialty outlined by the focused buyer and software, as illustrated by examples of two lean integrators described under – Vectis Automation and Fusion Cobotics. Each deal with bettering the effectivity and productiveness of a particular software for a selected class of buyer. Additionally, notably, each have constructed enterprise fashions that might have been troublesome to unattainable to realize earlier than the emergence of cobots.
Portrait of a Lean Integrator – Vectis Automation
A Deal with Welding
Based in 2019 in Fort Collins, Colorado, Vectis Automation assembled a group of engineers with greater than 75 years of mixed experience in conventional robotic welding functions. Along with their technical fluency, group members also can attest to the optimistic impression robots have had in serving to massive enterprises bridge the burgeoning expertise hole in welding.
The welding occupation, like so many manufacturing-related trades, is experiencing a graying impact that factors towards a future scarcity of skilled employees. The typical age of a U.S. welder is 55, in line with analysis by Deloitte, and most welders are prone to retire inside 10 years. Evaluating this pending wave of retirements to the present expertise pipeline, the American Welding Society tasks that the scarcity of welding professionals within the U.S. will attain 291,000 in 2020. This labor hole impacts organizations of all sizes. However for SMEs, which have struggled to leverage conventional robots as a result of price, assist, and specialised engineering necessities, the labor hole could possibly be painfully acute.
Recognizing this as a market alternative for a cobot resolution, Vectis’ founders launched the corporate with the particular strategic goal to leverage lower-cost, lower-risk, simply applied cobots to assist smaller welding operations enhance productiveness by automation.
There are lots of small to medium-size producers who’ve extra manufacturing POs coming in than they’ve the capability to fill given the present—and worsening—scarcity of welders. They can not leverage conventional automation as a result of there are important boundaries to entry involving capital prices, programming, implementation, lead time, price, threat, and coaching.
– Josh Pawley, Director of Enterprise Improvement and Co-founder, Vectis Automation
Vectis’ enterprise mannequin embodies the lean integrator methodology. The corporate has streamlined its price construction by making a system-level product and by partnering with a single cobot supplier—Common Robots—to assist it. Vectis can then add worth by tailoring the cobot, tools, and software program to the client’s software. The Vectis group’s collective background in welding permits them to deliver distinctive experience to buyer software assist and develop software program focused to welding fabricators. They know what makes a very good weld, and so they’re capable of apply that data to the cobot product package.
Vectis’ clients vary from customers who’ve by no means touched a robotic to retailers working as much as 20 conventional robotic welding cells. However all of them worth cobots for his or her comparative ease of implementation, programming, and coaching. And with Vectis’ assist, cobot know-how might be put in in hours or days as a substitute of weeks or months. One Vectis buyer claims they have been eradicating shrink-wrap from UR’s product within the morning and have been in manufacturing on their very own by the afternoon.
Portrait of a Lean Integrator – Fusion Cobotics
Targeted on CNC Machine Tending
Positioned simply southwest of Chicago, Fusion Cobotics didn’t start as a lean integrator. The corporate launched in 2002 to supply contract meeting providers to OEMs that needed to outsource meeting of their legacy tools. It wasn’t till 2018 that somebody on the manufacturing group urged utilizing a cobot to have a tendency Fusion’s CNC machines. The cobot labored so properly that Fusion added one other after which one other, till it will definitely leveraged its inner software experience to create a brand new enterprise mannequin.
Right now, Fusion helps small to medium-sized job retailers centered on high-mix, low-volume functions to automate the tending of CNC mills and lathes, in addition to press brakes for sheet steel. Fusion companions solely with Common Robots, which supplies a well-known know-how base that Fusion can tailor to buyer functions.
Even by lean integrator requirements, Fusion’s bodily operation is small. It dedicates 15 by 15 toes of ground area and an engineering workers numbering beneath 10 folks to assemble and take a look at a buyer’s system earlier than putting in it inside weeks of the preliminary assembly. Such tasks require an funding between $60,000 and $150,000, relying on undertaking dimension, however 80% are beneath $100,000, in line with Fusion representatives.
There’s not lots of people signing up for machine tending jobs, particularly at smaller retailers in rural areas, the place Fusion sees the best demand for its enterprise.
– Craig Zoberis, President, Fusion Cobotics
Cobot know-how successfully allows Fusion to undertake its lean integrator enterprise mannequin. Fusion can typically formulate the entire undertaking price for a brand new buyer inside hours after a primary assembly and may present an digital quote inside days. Cargo of the robotic may take seven to 10 days, and Fusion’s group is on-site with the client shortly after to attach the cobot to the CNC machine. The group usually spends one other day coaching the client and ramps to full manufacturing on day three.
Fusion’s clients usually see a 25% to 30% enchancment in effectivity, which routinely interprets right into a return on funding in 10 to 11 months. Importantly, with Fusion’s cobot-enabled options, clients additionally obtain extra predictable output than they’d with guide machine tending—assuming they’ll even discover and retain machine tenders.
A Parallel Future for Cobots and Lean Integrators
Cobot know-how and lean integrators emerged in parallel, and for now, their futures are equally linked. Cobots allow lean integrators to implement smaller-scale automation options with minimal overhead, whereas lean integrators are introducing robotic automation to the huge and largely untapped SME market. The outlook for each is brilliant. Market analyst agency Analyst MarketsandMarkets credit demand from SMEs as a key driver behind the outstanding 50% compound annual progress price (CAGR) it tasks for the cobot market from 2018 to 2025 — when the market ought to prime $12.three billion.
A lot of the enterprise from SMEs will likely be serviced by specialised lean integrators and probably by lean integrators that consolidate their providers to kind bigger companies that handle a number of application-focused departments. For now, it’s clear that the emergence of cobots is introducing revolutionary beneficial properties in productiveness, effectivity, and consistency to SMEs for the primary time since business robots emerged. The demand is there for entrepreneurs with the experience, sources, and ambition to capitalize on it.
 MEP, “Delivering Measurable Outcomes to Manufacturing Shoppers,” 2009, web page three; information from U.S. Census Bureau, 2007 Financial Census: Manufacturing (November 2010); calculations by MEP.
Joe Campbell is the top of strategic advertising and marketing and functions growth for Common Robots North America, the place he’s leveraging his 35-plus years of expertise within the robotics and manufacturing facility automation business. Previous to becoming a member of Common, Campbell was vice chairman of gross sales and advertising and marketing for the Swiss-based gantry robotic and observe producer Gudel. Earlier assignments embody govt roles in gross sales, advertising and marketing, operations and customer support with business leaders together with ABB, KUKA, AMT and Adept. Campbell is a graduate of the College of Cincinnati. He’s a daily speaker and lecturer at commerce exhibits, business occasions and manufacturing symposiums, presenting the know-how and financial advantages of robots and manufacturing facility automation.