Many small to mid-sized enterprises (SMEs) are facing labor shortages, with 10,000 baby boomers retiring each day, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, a number that is expected to go up.
Along with the trade wars and disruptions in the supply chain, 2021 has been a difficult year for SMEs. Automation has become a high priority, and with “Robotics-as-a-Service” or RaaS on the rise, manufacturers have greater accessibility and freedom to execute and deploy robots. As a result, more American manufacturers can fulfill their smart manufacturing goals.
Since its establishment 105 years ago, Polar Manufacturing has trusted its hardy machinery and human workers to build heavy-duty cam locks and other truck body hardware for industrial applications. However, with rising labor costs and increasing global competition, Polar was required to automate for the first time to keep up with demand.
“If Polar didn’t automate, we would not be in business,” said Polar’s plant manager, Jose Figueroa. “We cannot compete if we cannot produce.”
With cost being the biggest barrier to entry, Polar looked into RaaS, which would allow them to automate without the typical complexity and high upfront costs of traditional deployment methods. They found Formic and immediately recognized the unique advantages of its RaaS financial model. The most eye-catching advantage was that Polar would not have to pay anything until the system was on its shop floor, performing as promised.
SMEs like Polar share many of the same concerns and hesitations in deploying automation, such as the high initial cost and potential risks. RaaS is a direct solution to these common issues.
Formic designed a customized machine tending system that can produce 750 parts every 10 hours for Polar. Formic monitors and maintains the system using proprietary 24/7 remote monitoring technology.
(Provided by Formic Technologies)
Polar found Formic’s RaaS offering attractive because it presented itself simply as “hiring” a robot. In general, “as-a-service” models are defined by a good or service being made available as needed, meaning monthly pricing or usage-based pricing. Upfront costs are usually negligible or non-existent, and contract lengths are flexible. While traditional equipment leases cover the cost of equipment, they don’t cover downtime, whereas Formic’s RaaS model promises, and only charges for, outcomes.
Polar appreciated that this RaaS offering includes responsibility for uptime, meaning no additional costs to Polar to service or upgrade the system throughout the duration of the contract.
The system Formic designed for Polar included a fully customized URe-based machine tending system that can produce 750 parts every 10 hours. Formic partnered with DesignHawk to design and test the system.
Once the robot entered the shop floor, Formic continued to monitor and maintain the uptime of the system using proprietary 24/7 remote monitoring technology. If the system ever goes down or doesn’t meet the agreed production uptime, Formic will troubleshoot and re-engineer the system if needed, and is always on hand for continued support. The entire service is bundled into a single hourly rate.
Manufacturers no longer need to concern themselves with high CapEx investments, engineering expertise, or future potential risks and costs, since Formic guarantees the process and the system. Both entities have a stake in the game. If the system isn’t up and running, Formic doesn’t get paid. This makes deployments easy to scale up, allowing manufacturers to grow at a rapid rate.
With a flexible finance program like this, manufacturers have the full potential and power to change the way they operate. This is especially true for SMEs who may not have the available capital or in-house engineering experience to quickly and easily implement automation through the traditional approach of purchasing automation with a robotics OEM. Manufacturers who have never touched automation can take advantage of the RaaS model to make their first step with no worries or hesitations.
Polar has seen promising results with its machine tending system, and plans to add a spot welding robot into its facility using the same RaaS strategy. Polar also is considering moving from a two-shift to a three-shift operation, allowing the collaborative robots to run around the clock. Altogether, with both systems up and running, Formic expects to save Polar an estimated $150,000 per year in operational costs.
Polar has successfully “hired” a robot with Formic, realizing a return on investment from the second the robot turned on. This RaaS offering removes the traditional barriers to automating, and we can expect many other manufacturers to follow in their footsteps this year.
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