installing these advanced robots still must accommodate the training of their end users. That’s been
a challenge in robot installation projects, says Jack
Mayer, PMP, a project manager at Reis Robotics,
Elgin, Illinois, USA. “Often the training programs
are left on the back burner with very low emphasis
placed on actual handover to production,” he says.
“You want a clear handoff so it’s not as if a robot just
landed on the production floor, with people baffled
by the strange thing that just showed up.”
Lower Costs, Greater Returns
Next-generation robots aren’t just more effective
than their predecessors. They’re also cheaper. While
robotic capabilities have climbed, costs have fallen
at a pace “comparable to the way that costs of com-
puters have gradually gone down,” says Bob Doyle,
That means the return-on-investment analysis
for a robotics project looks substantially different
today than it did a few years ago. Costs are low
enough that many companies are looking to break
even within a year of their robotics investments.
There’s more long-term value as well, because the
increased adaptability and reprogrammability of
modern robots means they’re less likely to be ren-
dered suddenly obsolete as a result of a change to a
factory process or a failed product.
Robots have been good fits for the automotive
industry for years, but they are just starting to
make similar inroads with other manufacturers—
electronics makers, for example. “That’s because
the same car rolls down the same line for five or
six years with limited changes, but with
electronics such as cellphones, the manu-
facturer changes the product much more
frequently,” Mr. Doyle says. “Now, tech-
nology allows the robots to be changed to
accommodate a different run application.
That means better ROI.”
As a result, both unit sales and revenue
are spiking. North American robotics
orders totaled more than 21,000 units
that generated US$1.2 billion in revenue
during the first three quarters of 2014—
up 35 percent in units and 22 percent
in revenue from 2013, according to the
Robotic Industries Association.
As new robots look different from their
older counterparts, so too do the teams
behind cutting-edge robotics projects.
Current innovations in robotics are com-
ing from smaller organizations such as
Here are two of the new-breed project teams that
are pushing the boundaries of robotics.
to use and
—Gudrun Litzenberger, the
International Federation of
Volkswagen’s autonomous sales guide on display
during the 2015 Detroit International Auto Show in
Detroit, Michigan, USA