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Robots For Small Business: A Growing Trend

by Bennett Brumson , Contributing Editor

Many people assume that the majority of robot customers are in larger, more traditional industries that deploy dozens of work cells in the course of production. While it is true that automotive, electronics, and consumer goods manufacturers are major users of robots, small businesses – enterprises with fewer than 100 employees and 10 robots or less – represent a growing segment of the market for robots.

These small businesses face special challenges and needs when deciding to invest in robotics. One fundamental challenge to small business is: ‘What do I do after I buy the robot system?’ Small companies face the challenge to develop and retain a robot ‘champion’ who can reprogram the robotic cell for new products and address technical issues as they come up,’ says Carl Traynor, Senior Director of Marketing for Motoman Inc. According to Mr. Traynor, 95% of Motoman’s customers have five robots or less.

Thanks to a steady decline in prices, robots have become very affordable to small business owners. Other financially attractive options include used and reconditioned robots.

‘Another consideration is the new investment tax credit that is available for capital equipment of new or used equipment purchases this year and next,’ says Ann Smith, Director, Communications & Market Research, ABB, Inc. ‘This can make it much more affordable to both the small and mid-size firms.’ She also notes that most robot manufacturers offer leasing programs as another viable alternative.

Small manufacturing firms often have little or no experience with robotics, and in some cases are unfamiliar with their potential. Yet, in many cases, the justifications made by small businesses for investing in robotics have commonalities with large corporations.

Size Doesn’t Matter

While robots have demonstrated they can meet the economic requirements for small business owners, many people are only just beginning to appreciate their aptitude for jobs with small lot sizes, and how robots contribute to lean manufacturing practices.

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