NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Robots Work Their Way into Small Factories

September 24, 2014

A new breed of so-called collaborative machines, priced as low as $20,000, provide companies with new incentives to automate to increase overall productivity and lower labor costs, according to the Wall Street Journal.

These machine are particularly useful for small manufactures like small jewelry makers and toy makers. One company, Panek Precision Inc., a toyshop, has 21 new robots.

  • The robots place metal parts into cutting machines and remove the parts after they are done.

  • The task was once handled by machine operators for $16.50 an hour.

  • In contrast the robots require a one-time cost of about $50,000 to $60,000.

This is one illustration of a trend that is taking hold of small manufacturers. At Panek, one robot was even able to double the output from a machine that was previously operated by a worker because robots could work for as long as they were turned on.

The trend is further accelerated by the fact that machines are now smaller and cheaper, whereas in the past only large factories had to have large, expensive, and inherently unsafe machines doing some of the mechanical tasks.

Robots have easily transitioned into the workplace because some are now equipped with sensors and internal maps that allow it to move through crowded corridors and cluttered spaces. Whereas before it was a safety hazard to have robots moving around and bumping into people, the sensors are able to prevent collision with humans and other objects.

Some critics fear that workers will be hostile to the idea of robots overtaking what was once in the domain of human activity. However, some companies say that the robots allow their human workers to move on to better roles that require overseeing robots, rather than doing menial activity.

Source: Wall Street Journal, "Robots Work Their Way Into Small Factories," September 17, 2014.


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