Today’s industrial robots work in a wide range of industries, from semiconductors and automobiles to plastics processing and metal forging. Pretty much any repetitive operation is a great job for a robot, particularly if it’s dangerous or difficult for people.
Robots have been used for high-volume operations, but as the technology advances and costs declines, more options and opportunities are opening for medium- and small-sized operations.
At the same time, these robots are helping manufacturers address many of the key challenges they face, including tight labor pools, global market competitiveness and safety.
If you're curious whether robots can enhance your value stream, here are the main pros and cons to consider:
Advantages of industrial robots
- Better quality and consistency: Along with other tech — such as the industrial internet of things (IIoT) or 3D printing robots — industrial robots are able to provide better production quality and more precise and reliable processes. Added benefits also include reduced cycle times and real-time monitoring to improve preventive maintenance practices.
- Maximum productivity and throughput: An industrial robot increases speed for manufacturing processes, in part by operating 24/7. Robots don’t need breaks or shift changes, for example. The speed and dependability of robots ultimately reduces cycle time and maximizes throughput.
- Greater safety: Using robots for repetitive tasks means fewer risks of injury for workers, especially when manufacturing has to take place under hostile conditions. In addition, supervisors can oversee the process online or from a remote location.
- Reduced direct labor costs: The cost of having a person handle many manufacturing operations is often more expensive than robot. This can also free up workers so their skills and expertise can be used in other business areas such as engineering, programming and maintenance.
- Keeping manufacturing in the U.S.: Some argue that robots are taking jobs away from U.S. workers, but that's not necessarily the case. Industrial robots there are typically integrated into a series of operations that require human expertise. For example, you could have a robot welding parts that are handed off to a person to perform a task that requires a human's intuitive "if, then" thinking.
Disadvantages of industrial robots
- High initial investment: Robots typically require a large upfront investment. As you research your business case for purchasing, you need to consider all the costs, including installation and configuration. You should also evaluate whether your robot can be easily modified if you need to alter operation in the future.
- Expertise can be scarce: Industrial robots need sophisticated operation, maintenance and programming. While the number of people with these skills are growing, it's currently limited. As a result, it's important to consider the personnel investment you'll need to make to bring in that expertise or “retool” your existing staff to take on the task.
- Ongoing costs: While industrial robots may reduce some manufacturing labor costs, they do come with their own ongoing expenses, such as maintenance. In addition, you’ll want to consider the costs to keep your robot and any related IIoT connected devices protected from cyberthreats.
If you’re ready to explore options, contact Wipfli to request a complimentary consultation today.