SMM Robotics and Technology Adoption Insights

If your company is considering an investment in robotics this year, you’re not alone. That’s a key conclusion from the SMM Study: Robotics & Technology Engagement lead by Catalyst Connection, CMTC, Fuzehub, and Impact Washington under the Manufacturing Extension Partnership’s Advanced Robotics Collaborative. Of the manufacturers surveyed, 49% say they plan to invest in robotics technology within the next 12-18 months, which is an increase of 67% over investments made in the previous 12-18 months.  That number may be poised to increase with concerns related to COVID-19 and the associated social distancing requirements.

Areas Targeted for Robotics

CNC Machining was the biggest target for Job Shop and Discrete Product Manufacturers, with 45% planning to invest in this area. QA/Testing (35%) and Welding/Fabrication (32%) were the next most popular targets for robotics investment.

For respondents working in Process and Repetitive Manufacturing operations, In-Process Material Movement was the leading target area at 44%, followed by Packaging (35%) and QA/Testing (32%).

Investment Drivers

The investment driver most frequently selected by companies larger than 250 employees was to Improve Quality (53%), while companies smaller than 250 employees favored Increase Production (48%). Comparing labor factors by region, we found companies on the West Coast were more driven by Labor Costs (42%), and those on the East Coast by Workforce Shortage (25%).

Despite the fact that robots are ideally suited for repetitive motion and other tasks harmful to humans, only 10% of all respondents indicated that Addressing Safety/Health Concerns was an investment driver for their organization. Although Health & Safety improvements are a key benefit that robotics can deliver, manufacturers largely have that addressed through other means and are looking to robotics and technology to deliver on production and workforce related needs.

Barriers to Robotics Adoption

The top barrier to adoption of advanced technologies was Upfront Cost at 55% of the surveyed companies.    For small companies with 50 or fewer employees, that barrier was even higher at 70%.  While that may seem like an insurmountable challenge, the silver lining is that we also found that 59% of companies who have invested say their expectations were met, with 37% saying more time is needed to quantify results.  Just 4% say their investment did not deliver on their expectations.

Other, more unexpected, barriers were Limited Familiarity with Current Technology Solutions (31%) and Lack of Time to Investigate Solutions. (19%)  To overlook these are critical barriers increases the likelihood a project will end up in the “4 % bucket” that failed to deliver on expectations.

Conclusions

1.  Shift focus from the initial investment to the benefits your organization expects to reap.

The message is look beyond the initial price tag to the benefits robotics and technology can bring your organization and be patient to reach the finish line.  Upfront cost is only a barrier if the benefits aren’t in plain view.

2.  Start Small. Start Simple. Turn to Resources.

Small manufacturers concerned about maximizing return from robotics investments (that is you, right?) should plan to start with a small project to gain confidence and experience. It is tempting to swing for the fences right off the bat (are you missing baseball too?) but for your first project it is best to get a quick win first.  You can break up a more ambitious project into phases, start with the easier automation task, and once implemented, build from there.

Reach out to Catalyst Connection to help you standardize and optimize processes or evaluate facility layout before making automation decisions. Catalyst can also perform a robotics assessment, support your exploration and selection of a systems integrator through our vetted network of 3rd party providers, and manage the implementation process on your behalf.

Resources

Download the Manufacturing Needs Survey

Listen to the Robotics 101 for Manufacturing Webinar

Read about 5 Recommendations to Avoid Robotics Project Missteps

Review Catalyst Lean Manufacturing Services