This is how medium-sized companies benefit from cost-effective automation
Marco Thull | 24. February 2023
These are explosive times for the German economy: the corona pandemic, a shortage of skilled workers, inflation and the energy crisis are taking their toll. And not only that. Many industries are confronted with new customer needs at the same time. Keyword customised mass production. More and more consumers are turning away from off-the-shelf goods and getting used to customising products such as cars, bicycles and computers with online configurators. The pressure on companies is therefore increasing from several sides. Businesses have to save costs, employ staff wisely and at the same time produce more flexibly.
One possible avenue: the automation of processes. Why? There are enough robots. They carry out routine activities around the clock if required – such as pick-and-place tasks on a conveyor belt. Without getting tired. Without getting sick. Without making mistakes. And they don’t need any heating or light. Companies reduce throughput time and production costs and, in combination with networking and intelligent software, move one step further towards the Smart Factory for customised mass production. And thus strengthen their competitiveness. Endless benefits. Regardless of this, by no means are all companies concerned with the possibilities of automation. Especially in medium-sized companies, many companies still view the use critically.
But why are many small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) sceptical about automation? Because many companies associate the topic with a lot of know-how, effort and high investment costs. This is also shown by a study by the automation technology group ABB, which surveyed 1,000 decision-makers in German SMEs in October 2021. According to this, 45.5 percent of those surveyed cited cost aspects as a hurdle for the use of robotics, 20.3 percent expressed scepticism among employees and 20.2 percent had a lack of automation concepts.
But there is also a sunny side. And here the respondents emphasise the potential of automation in medium-sized companies. 62.5 percent expect a particularly strong increase in the logistics sector, 29.9 percent in the pharmaceutical industry, 23.3 percent in the healthcare sector and 29.8 percent in the food industry.
A study by Deloitte, an international company in the business sector with services in the areas of financial and risk consulting, also shows how companies deal with automation. The main result of the survey of 2,750 medium-sized companies in 2021: The corona pandemic acted as a catalyst worldwide, which suddenly increased relevant trends exponentially. According to the study, 69 percent of those surveyed reacted to the pandemic by accelerating their digital transformation. IT security is one of the most important planned investments in technology. For German companies, investments in data analytics and business intelligence follow in second place, with process automation in third place. 35 percent of those surveyed were planning an investment here. Conversely, this means that 65 percent refrain from spending money on automation, despite the catalyst effect. It is likely that they too fear over-expenditure and over-effort.
But costs, a lack of know-how and high effort are no longer arguments against automation. While robot arms for industry, including control systems and licences, used to be only available for tens of thousands of euros, the costs have long since fallen many times over thanks to Low Cost Automation. Likewise the complexity of the programming. One example: the RBTX.com platform – a marketplace for low-cost robotics (LCR)where manufacturers offer LCR components that are coordinated and can be directly combined. These include robot arms made of plastic using injection moulding by igus®, such as the ReBeL® cobot, which only costs 3,513 euros. In addition, hundreds of grippers, vision systems and control systems that can be operated as easily as a smart phone. A marketplace that makes automation almost as easy as playing with Lego.
Hundreds of companies have already automated their processes with low-cost robotics. The LCA robots help in gastronomy to tap and serve beer. They support farmers in the cucumber harvest, for which fewer and fewer workers can be found. And they load and unload CNC machines in metalworking shops. All users benefit from a quick return on investment. If the automation solution is well planned, the costs are recovered after six to twelve months. After that, the profit increases permanently.
Conclusion: Automation helps small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) achieve their production goals with fewer resources and in less time. Especially with low-cost robotics, it is possible for investments to pay off in record time and become correspondingly low-risk. However, it is important to get in touch with robot manufacturers, to get professional advice on the selection of components and to create cost transparency. Then nothing stands in the way of entering the futuristic world of robots.
Do you already have experience with automation? What obstacles and opportunities do you see?