How robotics-as-a-service can help manufacturers with operations challenges

Manufacturers are being forced to rely on automation to overcome skills gap and quality challenges and robotics as a service (RaaS) can be a viable solution.

By Chris Vavra September 11, 2023
Courtesy: Chris Vavra, CFE Media and Technology

Robotics insights

  • The consumer packaging industry faces significant challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic, supply chain disruptions, and a worker shortage, leading to a need for increased automation.
  • Robotics-as-a-service (RaaS) offers a cost-effective solution for companies to implement automation, with lower upfront costs and faster ROI compared to traditional manufacturing methods.

While the consumer packaging industry is showing growth, the economy has been on a roller coaster since 2020 and it’s causing major issues for manufacturers. The COVID-19 pandemic and the supply chain snarls, coupled with a worker shortage, is causing real challenges for companies, said Misa Ilkhechi, co-founder, VP of products and partnerships, Formic, in his presentation “Overcome operational challenges with robotics as a service,” at Pack Expo in Las Vegas.

“We can’t find labor and that got exacerbated with the pandemic and it’s not going away,” he said, adding there will be 5 million open jobs by 2030.

Other challenges include inflated wages for workers, rising cost of goods, production disruptions, retraining and injury costs and limited budgets for new equipment.

Misa Ilkhechi, co-founder, VP of products and partnerships, Formic, in his presentation “Overcome operational challenges with robotics as a service,” at Pack Expo in Las Vegas. Courtesy: Chris Vavra, CFE Media and Technology

Misa Ilkhechi, co-founder, VP of products and partnerships, Formic, in his presentation “Overcome operational challenges with robotics as a service,” at Pack Expo in Las Vegas. Courtesy: Chris Vavra, CFE Media and Technology

“Automation is inevitable,” he said. “There’s a buzz around manufacturing and automation, but it’s not as widespread as you might think, but we need automation. There is no way out.”

The limited budget issue, in particular, is a problem for the smaller companies that are trying to stay afloat. He cited a statistic that 90% of manufacturers in the U.S. don’t have robots in their facility. Some of the resistance might be cultural or worry about losing jobs, but much of it comes down to lack of funding. While 3 million robots are expected to be in the U.S. by 2047, does it mean anything if the supply line stays with the 10% and doesn’t trickle down to the smaller companies?

“Imagine your operation if you could operate around the clock,” Ilkhechi said. “Labor is the biggest constraint.”

Benefits of RaaS in manufacturing operations

Robotics-as-a-service (RaaS), Ilkhechi said, should be thought of the same way as companies treat worker shortages. If they need help, they go to a staffing agency. RaaS operates in a similar way, he said.

Instead of spending upfront costs with a manufacturer that can easily reach six figures, a company can work with a RaaS provider that delivers operating expenses at around $10 to $20 an hour. The lower upfront costs, tied to a contract that ranges from 1 to 7 years in most cases, provides much faster ROI payback.

It also helps, Ilkhechi said, that RaaS can be used for immediate plug-and-play solutions and be put to work in many applications. They can be used for case erecting, picking and packing, palletizing, wrapping and transport operations.

Not all companies benefit from RaaS, Ilkhechi said. Robots do need workers with experience who can handle them and they also should be used in applications where they are more than a Band-Aid solution.

RaaS can be used for case erecting, picking and packing, palletizing, wrapping and transport operations. Courtesy: Chris Vavra, CFE Media and Technology

RaaS can be used for case erecting, picking and packing, palletizing, wrapping and transport operations. Courtesy: Chris Vavra, CFE Media and Technology

Either way, Ilkhechi said, automation is inevitable.

“If you want to push the easy button and scale an automation project,” he said, “then RaaS can be an option.”

Chris Vavra, web content manager, CFE Media and Technology, cvavra@cfemedia.com.


Author Bio: Chris Vavra is senior editor for WTWH Media LLC.