Industrial robot integrators are like the special forces of industrial automation: highly skilled operators who parachute in when a big-name company needs to reinvent their process for maximum efficiency.

This has meant steady streams of income and stable business for a long time, but that’s only without considering what integrators may be missing out on: the high-mix market. More than 70% of North American manufacturers are high-mix – that is, working on more than 100 batches with parts numbering less than 1000 per year. For these manufacturers and the integrators who don’t serve them, adding robotics simply isn’t cost-effective for the amount of programming required to adequately address this potentially huge market.

Autonomous robots can change this because they respond to manufacturer’s needs in real process time, eliminating the changeover constraints that plague traditional robot programming. With this new ability to address the high-mix market, robotics integrators can finally grow their business and improve efficiency in a variety of new ways.

Robot Integrators Can’t Practically Address the High-Mix Market Today

Today’s high-mix manufacturers can’t benefit from most traditional robot integrations. Some are incorporating robot HMIs or machine tending use cases, but in reality the market for this is limited and doesn’t offer enough value-add to attract the highest level, well-known robotic integrators that are familiar with high throughput industries like automotive and consumer electronics.

As such, getting over this programming cost requires an understanding of the cash flow and capital expenditure effect of autonomous robots. Put most simply, the use of autonomous robots is among the most cash-flow-positive choices a high-mix manufacturer can make, and this permits integrators to rapidly distribute their knowledge and services at higher margins while eliminating one of their biggest time, money and human resources cost: robot programming. 

Why is this the case? Because autonomous robots require no manual or code-based programming in order to become fully operational. In these circumstances, integrators can rely on their savvy to more rapidly deploy intelligent machines and focus on collecting profits from cost-savings on installations, while their customers will be grateful to embark on a long term relationship with expert robot integrators than can guide and maintain their systems in the long term. 

Finding ways to address the high-mix market has been the white whale for many robotics integrators. Autonomous technology means no more “nibbling around the edges”.

Integrations Are Slow, One at a Time, and Often Don’t Match With Control Systems

Compared to the current landscape of robotic integration, why would this model be beneficial? There are a few reasons:

  1. It’s not incompatible with the old model, it’s actually entirely complementary. Most of the work in preparing mass manufacturer integrations is in programming and preparation. With autonomous motion generation, most of the work is in installation and validation – while it’s less work overall, allowing you to create more specialization among your team.
  2. High mix manufacturers have higher tolerances on a customer by customer basis than many high-precision, highly demanding mass manufacturing scenarios, making it a more forgiving sector to work with where payback is sufficient.
  3. Autonomous motion generation isn’t exclusive to high-mix, it’s just where it’s most beneficial. As mass manufacturers trend towards mass customization of discrete goods, the avenues for autonomous robotics will only grow in order to adapt to the convergence of styles between high and low mix.

In the simplest possible terms, autonomous robots offer a new integration model that is simpler and more effective than previous robotics or automatic machine control workflows. At the same time, it permits diversification for integrator firms that don’t just allow them to grow more deeply into customer organizations, but also across more varied industries.

In recent years, the core customers of robotics integrators (automotive and electronics) have begun to lag. Autonomous Robots offer a new opportunity to grow in a diverse array of industries. Source: International Federation of Robotics.

Changing Workflows Are Becoming More Commonplace in Manufacturing

Mass manufacturers only update their workflows every 5-7 years, while materials handling flow is subject to more frequent and flexible change and in a high mix workspace – if there is any defined flow at all! This requires new interpretations of the role of robots because adapting to customer needs ultimately means that any and all productions will trend towards a batch size of one.

While the actual realization of this is far in the future, preparing for the transition then will only prove too late. At the same time, autonomous manufacturing principles can be applied more broadly to all types of machines and verticals. Integrators who avoid getting caught on their back foot will have the opportunity to develop new and differentiating experiences that will only increase their demand – and profitability – in the long run.  

Building a Reliable Customer Base Starts With Growing It

It’s never too early to start growing, but if you’ve got a strong bifurcation between your most and least experienced engineers, adding technologies that allow both to ultimately increase their productivity and work volume without creating more headaches creates fundamental efficiency in your business.

By attempting to grow your customer base now, you prepare the ground to work in the long term. While the only constant these days seems to be change, robotics integrators can get ahead of the curve by thinking of new ways to use their expertise in deploying autonomous robots – whether it’s for manufacturing, services or beyond!

Omnirobotic provides Autonomous Robotics Technology for Spray Processes, allowing industrial robots to see parts, plan their own motion program and execute critical industrial coating and finishing processes. See what kind of payback you can get from it here, or learn more about how you can benefit from autonomous manufacturing systems.