Roller Top Guide Photography Product Fetch Robots In Warehouse 6

Rewards & risks with robots-as-a-service in your manufacturing facility

Sept. 16, 2022
Here are five questions to ask to know if a RaaS model for deploying collaborative robots is a good fit for your enterprise.

Robots for manufacturing and warehousing have come a long way since Unimate—the first industrial robot for manufacturing—was deployed at a General Motors factory in New Jersey in the 1960s. No longer expensive to acquire, install and maintain, safe enough to work near and with humans, and smart enough to perform more than a single task, the innovation of collaborative robots has turned the whole concept of robotic automation on its head. The trend, including robotic arms and autonomous mobile robots (AMRs), is widely considered a cost-effective and accessible way to automate operations of all shapes and sizes.  

For many teams though, robotic automation has been so far out of reach for so long, adopting the use of collaborative robots is a stretch they are not ready to make. So what is holding them back? In general, there are three reasons that operations teams are reluctant to go all in on collaborative robots. They believe that these solutions are too expensive, too complicated to deploy and maintain, and are so complicated that educating the workforce to properly use them is impossible.   

To overcome these perceptions, many companies in the nascent field of collaborative robots have taken a page from their software brethren and introduced the robots-as-a-service (RaaS) model—giving customers new flexibility to experience collaborative robots and the value they deliver without making a long-term investment. In the RaaS model, customers take delivery of the robot, work with an implementation team on configuring the robot to perform the tasks necessary, and pay a monthly subscription fee for the use of the robot. When upgrades are offered, the customer receives them at no cost; maintenance is part of the subscription.  

It is no wonder then that RaaS models are getting a lot of attention. In fact, one market research firm, Research and Markets, predicts that the market will reach $44 billion USD by 2028, at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of about 16.5% between 2022 and 2028.  

The RaaS model provides a way to introduce robotics automation with very little risk and on a small scale, giving operations teams a way to test the innovation against every metric before scaling. That said, manufacturers and logistics leaders have heard it all before from technology providers and may be thinking to themselves: if it sounds too good to be true, then it likely is too good to be true.  

So is it too good to be true? Here are five questions to ask to know if a RaaS model for deploying collaborative robots, such as AMRs, is a good fit for your enterprise:   

  1. Is variability a challenge for your operation? If you need a more flexible labor solution to accommodate demand fluctuations, this is one way to scale up and down without risk.  
  2. Are you a third-party logistics provider or a contract manufacturer? These businesses are at the mercy of consumer behavior and market fluctuations. The RaaS model for implementing robotics automation provides a relief valve on the pressure caused by uncertainty.  
  3. Is your operation a brownfield? If you are planning to stay put and need a way to introduce innovation that will improve efficiency and productivity within your existing operation—without massive reconfiguration—the RaaS model will give you a way to see exactly how that will work with whatever you have today, with minimal risk.  
  4. Do you have a robotics-engineering team on staff? If you are like most manufacturers or warehouse operations, the answer is no. Getting a robot through a RaaS model will ensure that you can get the most from the solution—and scale your robotic workforce—without needing to hire expensive specialists.  
  5. What are the core competencies you rely on to keep you competitive? Odds are good you are not in the robot business, nor should you be in order to deploy collaborative automation for optimal success with the innovation.  

When it comes to investing in innovation, a little bit of skepticism can be healthy. That said, the uncertainty that is the hallmark of today’s business environment—from labor constraints and raw-material shortages to demand fluctuations—requires that operations teams step out of their comfort zones and embrace something new. The good news is that when it comes to investing in collaborative robots, the RaaS model lowers the risk/reward ratio substantially. That is a powerful antidote to skepticism.  

By Jim Lawton, vice president and general manager, Zebra Technologies