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Automation for SME’s – is there a solution?

Automation and robotics are at the forefront of Industrial Revolution 4.0. with large corporations and businesses taking major steps to implement or improve automation, especially in areas such as manufacturing.

The benefits that this technology provides certainly cannot to be ignored. Automation cannot only increase productivity due to the tireless work of robots, but it can also cut costs due to consistent production.

However, robotics and full automation is both expensive and hard to implement. As a result, most SMEs choose not to implement this new tech. It is not that SMEs won’t benefit from automation and robotics; the requirements are currently just too prohibitive for wide scale adoption by smaller businesses.

Cobots are designed to support human tasksCobots

Enter ‘cobots’. Cobots are robots designed to interact with humans in the physical world in order to support a job or task. Rather than a fully autonomous assembly line, a cobot will perform a certain task that will help humans with their own task. 

Cobots could serve as an alternative to automated assembly lines. SMEs are the backbone of most of the world’s economies, for example, countries such as Malaysia and Singapore have an SME composition that is over 90 per cent of their total businesses. 

SME’s must get involved

In order to remain competitive in a global marketplace, SMEs need to get involved with robotics. The tech provides sheer precision, cost-effectiveness, and competitiveness that small players would otherwise never have.

Fortunately, the costs of cobots are dropping drastically, making it easier for companies to explore the use of cobots in the manufacturing environment.

Cobots are also incredibly easy to add to existing workplace layouts, making them easy to test and trial. 

Robotics-as-a-service (RaaS)

But there is another option - a new business model made possible by connecting the robotic capabilities through the cloud and making them available as a service, would mean the companies that use them don’t have to build or even buy the systems themselves. 

While businesses with more resources at their disposal often purchase the robots they need outright, those without that kind of cash flow can opt to only pay the “monthly per robot fee” with no upfront costs. 

(Extracts from “Are Cobots the Solution for SME’s?” SME Magazine, May 14th 2019)

Tim's thoughts

Plunkett Associates thoughts...

Schemes like these can make automation much more accessible for the smaller business and we have found using cobots a fabulous way forwards within our business.

One of the biggest concerns I had was making sure that we were able to make it work well enough to achieve a return on investment. I could not help but recall the factory tours where the robot was doing nothing but gathering dust in the corner. It was a step into the unknown, or a simple ‘more of the same’ option that kept me up at nights.

Eventually we took the plunge and as is so often the case, it is the people who make it work. The robot or cobot is not really the problem; the work is in making it interface to all your other systems.

So advice is great but what would make the biggest difference would be a ‘help line’ for when, as predictably one does, the ideas and things to try just dry up. If other SME’s are like this one, six figure costs are for the big guys, turnkey solutions are just unjustifiable, we need a place to go to get 80% of the potential working....then we won’t look back.

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