While there’s been much fanfare recently about robotics being adopted by big industry players—with companies like GE using cobots to space out assembly lines and meet social distancing requirements—smaller manufacturers are increasing their use of robots too.
Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), such as contract manufacturers, are increasingly turning to robotics to solve their problems. In many cases, their need for ease of use, flexibility, and collaborative functionality positions them well for robotic automation use. In the Automation World feature article, “Collaborative Robotics Expand In Scope,” Joe Campbell, Universal Robots’ senior manager of applications development, remarked, “We’re selling double digit numbers of robots into companies that I previously never would have made a sales call on before. For instance, I know a 22-man machine shop that now has 10 robots. Before, I wouldn’t have ever marketed to them because they wouldn’t have purchased traditional automation. Now they’re a huge part of this explosion in interest.”
And now, with many manufacturers looking to reshore production operations, the current labor shortage that Rapid Robotics estimates at 600,000 machine operators looms large, meaning that flexible robotics for contract manufacturers may be more important than ever before.
To meet this challenge, Rapid Robotics, a company that combines robotics and manufacturing expertise with a software-as-a-service (SaaS) business model, has introduced its “ready-to-work” Rapid Machine Operator, an industrial cobot that the company claims can perform common tasks such as injection molding, pad printing, heat stamping, pick-and-place, and dozens of other functions without the need for programming or systems integration.
The Rapid Machine Operator cobot comes via a subscription service at a cost of $25,000 per year. This price includes same-day setup, continuing technical support, and new capabilities disseminated through the cloud as data is gathered and converted into intelligence across Rapid Robotics’ entire fleet. In addition, proprietary fixtures, grippers, cameras, and other components are included.
Moreover, Rapid Robotics promises that the Rapid Machine Operator is easy to operate, even for non-technical users. Rather than requiring the use of coding to program the robot, a touchscreen interface is used to record input variables specific to a project. From there, Rapid Robotics’ AI (artificial intelligence) takes over.
“We looked at automating machine operator tasks before, but as a custom injection molder, the costs were prohibitive,” said Tammy Barras, president of Westec Plastics, which uses the Rapid Machine Operator cobot. “Rapid’s solution was the first we’d seen that just worked at a price that made sense for our business. We were pleased with how responsive the Rapid team is and were quickly able to start seeing value.”