Robotics: Worth the $$$?

One solutions professional doesn’t think so

Never judge a robot by its mechanical arm.

The booming automation industry has a full head of steam right now, and thus projects an aura of invincibility. ‘Invaluable’ gains in efficiency and gushing media coverage of the subject have led plenty of industry professionals to believe this is the path to follow. That may be the case — if you have the pocket depth. For the average shop owner, or facility manager, however, uniform automation on the shop floor can be unrealistic. What additional expenses need to be considered? What training is required for employees? And what effects could this have on a worker’s psyche and morale? Installation of robotics for factory tasks and manufacturing purposes is a love affair that merits the scope of a long-term relationship, so take care before you get swept off your feet.

Dmitry Slepov, managing director at Tibbo Technology, recently deconstructed the various expenses of robotic installation in an article published March 27th entitled “The Real Cost of Robotics” on TechCrunch.com. One man’s opinion is singularly that, but it is worth noting that Slepov works for an advanced technology network that specializes in modernization and the Internet of Things (IoT). He has firsthand experience with robotics, and his viewpoint reflects what smaller business owners probably feel in abundance these days, only it comes from a different perspective.

This guy will cost you around $30,000. Then you have to accommodate its friends.

This guy will cost you around $30,000. Then you have to accommodate its friends.

Following important background information noting that robots have been in use in American factories since the 1970s (recent proliferation of usage is not the earliest appearance of the technology), and are unequivocally required for certain tasks too small or intricate for human hands, Slepov delves into the details and expenses of purchasing and assembling a “typical manufacturing cell that assembles something”, or your average modern robotics mechanism.

The main concern, in a nutshell, is that multiple parts need to be purchased for full operation. The mechanical arm alone comes at an average minimum cost of $30,000. Many robotics manufacturers omit the actual price on their website, labeling their products “cost-effective”. In addition, prospective buyers need to factor in a special mounting table, an operating system, a protective cage, attachments for various functions, and much more. Slepov places marginal estimates on each of these categories in the range of thousands of dollars apiece.

The intangibles are important to consider, as well. Teaching and disciplining a robot is part of the agenda. It has to be programmed to perform multiple specified tasks, trained to memorize and cannot adjust on its own. The more tasks required, the more disciplines required, bringing in more expenses. Also, consider the human element. These robots will, to some degree, require interaction with human counterparts — servicing, parts replacement and interchangeability, orientation, and oversight. All of this will have to be done with the robot as the receiving party. As Slepov points out, this exposes a distressing philosophical conundrum. If factory workers are forced to redefine their job description by constantly bringing parts to the robot and maintain it, will their morale not be compromised? “Who works for whom? Does the robot work for me or do I work for the robot?”

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