Voice of the Modern Manufacturing Economy Since 2013

Are Collaborative Robots an Opportunity or a Threat for Manufacturing?

on December 17, 2018, 08:19 am MST

We're already getting used to seeing industrial robots join humans in manufacturing. As I've previously noted, several of the world's most innovative companies are already incorporating them into their operations. Tesla (NASDAQ: TSLA)uses industrial robots to assemble its Model 3 electric vehicles, Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) uses them to pick up warehouse items, and Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) uses them to assemble incredibly complex electronic devices.

Understandably, the safety requirements for industrial robots are extremely strict. The robots must be surrounded by cages, far away from human contact, to avoid any serious injuries. The companies who have deployed industrial robots are using them for very precise and highly optimized processes, which require an almost-zero margin of error.

Several vendors -- such as Japan-based FANUC (NASDAQOTH: FANUY) and Germany-based KUKA -- provide the robots for these functions, but also lock in service and maintenance contracts that can run for decades. Even given those recurring maintenance costs, customers have been more than willing to deploy the robots. The annual cost savings that they obtain from robotic labor far outweigh the depreciating capital investment.

But there's a new wave of robots that aren't just doing repetitive tasks like spot welding or painting. Collaborative robots are now being deployed for a variety of commercial opportunities, and they're even providing their brains instead of just brawn. Advances in artificial intelligence have enabled SoftBank Group's (NASDAQOTH: SFTBY) Pepper robot to serve as a concierge at Marriott's hotel locations. At some outpatient health facilities, robots help the elderly with their daily routines.

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