Traditionally, robots have been purchased as capital equipment and used to automate a part of the workflow. Recently, companies have been exploring the idea of hiring robot workers similar to the way people are hired: as contractors.

Companies Are Buying Services Instead of Robots
Companies Are Buying Services Instead of Robots

Article from | Vecna Robotics

If it would be possible to predict the future and know what the exact needs for automation are in the years to come, companies could simply design and build those specific solutions. However, people’s ability to predict the future doesn’t hover around a 100% success rate, and flexible solutions are necessary to adapt to unforeseen changes. Subscription payment models lower the cost to grow and the cost to change; they’re designed to enable high levels of flexibility.

As manufacturing and warehousing industries grow, robots are becoming an increasingly important part of the business plan. Traditionally, robots have been purchased as capital equipment and used to automate a part of the workflow. Recently, companies have been exploring the idea of hiring robot workers similar to the way people are hired: as contractors.

The shift that makes this possible is the purchase of not the robot itself, but the service that it provides. 

 

SaaS

Software-as-a-service (SaaS) offers a subscription-based model to customers that lowers the upfront cost and allows the customer to predictably pay for the value received. A subscriber gets not only ongoing access to the product but also the updates as time goes on. 

For example, while corporations were purchasing new physical laptops for employees roughly each year in the 90’s, companies are now purchasing physical units once while paying a subscription that updates the software when releases are available, making their investment stronger and more relevant as time passes.

In the industrial world, SaaS has given a digital view of manual labor with subscription models for warehouse inventory, management, and execution. Companies like Tecsys offer SaaS warehouse management systems that allow the customer to see key metrics in productivity, order cycle time, customer retention, and capital utilization. "We take pockets of dark assets, light them up, and open them to a digital supply chain so our users can provide consumers a way to get what they want, when they want it,” Tecsys CEO and president Peter Brereton said in an interview with DC Velocity.

The move to SaaS has been adopted across many industries as the benefits align with company goals: faster ROI, easier scalability, less need for onsite management, protection from obsolescence, and shifted liability from customer to service provider in terms of functionality.

Robotics is heading in the same direction. 

 

RaaS

Robotics-as-a-Service (RaaS) offeres a subscription-based model for customers looking to hire robots based on the ebb and flow of their demand cycles. Robot providers are finding that more customers are interested in a RaaS model as it lowers the cost to entry, lowers perceived risk, and lowers the time it takes to see a return on investment.

Material handling providers like Vecna Robotics are offering a solution that changes the workflows at customer sites, essentially amplifying human productivity to increase throughput while maintaining the same footprint of people and space. This has helped companies overcome the factors that made hiring more difficult and space more constrained when demand was increasing.

Many companies adopting the RaaS model have found soaring benefits for their business. In RaaS, the provider typically incurs the larger costs associated with robotics including insurance policies and regulatory filings, a value proposition for small to medium-sized companies. Operation managers can purchase robotic services based on realtime supply and demand, giving more transparency into the value they’re actually paying for.

Companies are also seeking to offset the difficulty of hiring seasonal workers, and warehouse fulfillment providers are offering RaaS models as a solution. Karen Leavitt, CMO at Locus Robotics, explains how Locus’s customers are having difficulty finding workers for a highly seasonal business where the volume around holidays can be up to 15 times higher than usual. Keeping a large human workforce year-round to accommodate this spike is not feasible, so companies are looking for ways to increase productivity with their current workforce. RaaS has given their customers the flexibility to scale up and down with robots and predict workflow requirements more reliably.

James Peverill, CEO of GreenSight Agronomics, sees seasonality not as a barrier but as an opportunity for the RaaS model because providers can find co-aligned customers with different peak seasons and ship the solutions from one to another. GreenSight Technologies provides solutions in the agriculture space, where equipment sharing is a common practice among farms that otherwise could not afford the technology needed. The RaaS model has been a relatively seamless adoption for many of their customers.

While adopting the model is a growing trend, providers are faced with a few other challenges they believe will be overcome as industrial robotics mature. Some larger customers are used to the traditional approach of purchasing capital, and the process to change has been slow. There’s an emotional barrier for some to sharing robots, which can come to feel like a member of the team. However, the logistics of coordinating, storing, and shipping the physical robot units between several customers, around varied peak changes, and during a freight labor shortage is a growing issue.

RaaS is great, but a key set of players are finding answers by looking back at robotic solutions not necessarily bound by physical hardware.

 

From RaaS back to SaaS

A new wave is once again shifting the way robots are purchased. Robot providers are revisiting the SaaS model that’s less constrained to specific physical units and have discovered it can offer even greater flexibility to some customers than RaaS.

Industrial environments vary greatly and often have their own set of requirements for robotic solutions including width, speed, inclination, and turning radius. “One-size” does not fit all. By separating the requirement for a provider’s software solution to be bound to one type of robotic vehicle, customers can find the exact vehicle that works best in their facility and integrate the SaaS provider’s software solution. This level of flexibility is akin to the way consumers can purchase the smartphone that best suits them and download the same app that’s typically available across all phones.

This model is already quite prevalent in the robotic arm sector, where a few robotic arm providers have risen to state-of-the-art levels while many SaaS providers are offering the software framework for them. Those developing the hardware are focused on creating the best possible product, and those developing software are focused on creating the best possible solution for the customer.

Energid is a company that offers advanced motion control software for robotic arms like the ones manufactured by Universal Robots. The software solutions provided are adaptable to a variety of tasks and environments as well as arm providers. Neil Tardella, CEO of Energid, has said “Getting to market faster and with unique differentiation is especially critical for these developers as more companies seek robots for increasingly complex tasks.”

Vecna Robotics is debuting a subscription-based option this fall to aimed at providing customers a more flexible way to integrate automation. It will quicken the approval process, ease scalability, and help companies recoup a faster ROI. Daniel Theobald, founder of Vecna Robotics, says, “Companies of all sizes are more actively seeking robotic solutions as productivity is rapidly multiplying for those who have already adopted them. By aggressively lowering the cost to entry, we help more customers step into the future and adapt to the changing marketscape.”

 

The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of RoboticsTomorrow

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