Robots-as-a-service creates opportunities, lowers automation adoption barriers

Robots-as-a-service (RaaS) is a lets companies deploy automation and related services such as engineering, maintenance and remote monitoring.

By Emmet Cole July 15, 2022
Courtesy: Chris Vavra, CFE Media and Technology

Robots-as-a-service (RaaS) is a flexible and affordable way for companies to deploy automation and related services such as engineering, maintenance and remote monitoring.

Often used interchangeably with Robotics-as-a-service, RaaS comes in two main flavors. In its original meaning, RaaS refers to services where customers can get everything they need, including hardware, engineering and maintenance, in one package, explained Peter Seiff, CEO at Aethon, which specializes in service and material handling robots for the hospital and hospitality sectors.

Two RaaS options

“Aethon’s philosophy has always been to be a vertically integrated company. So, we do our own engineering and design,” Seiff said. “We manufacture robots. We sell the robots. On the customer side, we install the robots, we maintain the robots, and we provide a 24/7 remote monitoring service to make sure that the robots are always performing as they should be.”

However, a newer understanding of RaaS model has emerged and come to dominate the conversation over time.

“The flavor more associated with RaaS today is charging per unit of work rather than per robot. Instead of charging for the hardware and software as a product itself you pay for the service it is delivering. Aethon offers both,” Seiff said.

Paying per item of work speeds return on investment (ROI) and reduces total cost of ownership (TCO) for the deployment compared to traditional ways of purchasing and implementing industrial automation.

The two types of RaaS are not mutually exclusive: Today’s RaaS offerings often include all the engineering and monitoring services and the option to pay per item of work performed. As Seiff put it: “RaaS is more than a pricing model.”

RaaS is on the rise. The experts at market analysts ABI Research predict that there will be 1.3 million installations of RaaS by 2026 generating $34 billion in revenue. Meanwhile, a 2021 report from market analysts Technavio predicts that the RaaS market will grow by $832.77 million between 2020 and 2024, at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 17%.

Robots-as-a-service (RaaS) is a flexible way for companies to deploy robots for services such as engineering, maintenance and remote monitoring. Courtesy: Chris Vavra, CFE Media and Technology

Robots-as-a-service (RaaS) is a flexible way for companies to deploy robots for services such as engineering, maintenance and remote monitoring. Courtesy: Chris Vavra, CFE Media and Technology

Lowering robotics adoption barriers

Adding robotics automation to a facility was traditionally thought to be only for the “big guys” due to the capital expense costs involved, said Rick Faulk, CEO at Locus Robotics, a leading developer of autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) for warehouse and logistics applications.

“The RaaS model significantly reduces the typically high operational costs and technology barriers usually associated with conventional automation solutions that often can take years to deploy. There’s no hidden capital-intensive expenses or expensive maintenance contracts, and you’ll always have the latest software updates and hardware support built in,” explained Faulk.

RaaS effectively “democratizes robotics automation” by lowering the cost of entry and bringing cutting-edge robotics technology into all sizes of warehouses, Faulk added.

Advanced warehouse automation was once for “the 1% of large companies,” said Kristen Moore, CMO, inVia Robotics, a warehouse automation company that has provided RaaS services since launch and provides remote monitoring services as well as engineering and maintenance.

RaaS is not just for SMEs

Despite its barrier lowering effects, it’s a mistake to think of RaaS as being only for small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Labor and cost-control challenges are universal, whether you’re a small, medium, or large operation, Faulk said.

“RaaS allows all sizes of operators to gain much needed control over costs, realize a fast ROI, and respond to growing demand, while optimizing their existing labor force – today and into the future.”

Larger companies want to avoid large capex for automation, but added services such as 24/7 remote monitoring are also important because it reduces costs and downtimes, Moore said.

It’s a little different in the hospital and hospitality sectors, where the end-user may not be as familiar with automation as their industrial sector counterparts, Seiff said. Aethon is used to deploying fleets of 25 to 50 service robots at a time, but interest in pay-per-unit-of-work models is primarily being driven by small hotels that are interested in deploying just one or two robots.

“Our customers don’t know RaaS by name. But they do know that they don’t want upfront costs and capital,” Seiff said. “So, they ask ‘Is there any way we can do this without upfront costs?’ Or ‘How do I know that I’m getting too many or two few robots?’ This group of customers wants to avoid both overpaying and under-resourcing. They don’t ask for RaaS by name, but by its characteristics.”

Speed of deployment is a major attraction of robotics-as-a-service (RaaS) solutions with the provider supplying all the equipment engineering and maintenance, companies can deploy automation without in-house expertise. Courtesy: Chris Vavra, CFE Media and Technology

Speed of deployment is a major attraction of robotics-as-a-service (RaaS) solutions with the provider supplying all the equipment engineering and maintenance, companies can deploy automation without in-house expertise. Courtesy: Chris Vavra, CFE Media and Technology

RaaS saves time, deploys robots more quickly

Speed of deployment is a major attraction of RaaS solutions. With the RaaS provider supplying all the equipment engineering and maintenance, companies can deploy automation without in-house expertise. Moreover, fast deployments have a significant impact on ROI.

“With traditional automation, you went in and brought these monumental structures into your warehouse. They took at least a year to 18 months to build out,” Moore said. “With RaaS, you can see start to see ROI in weeks, because basically it’s a matter of getting your people ramped up and used to having robots in the facility. The moment the system starts meeting productivity service level agreements (SLAs), you’re already seeing an ROI, and that can happen within a matter of weeks.”

RaaS provides the flexibility companies need to quickly and cost-effectively adapt to changing fulfillment models, product mixes, and workflows, Faulk said.

“In addition, RaaS enables operators to seamlessly scale their robot fleet up and down to meet spikes in demand and to quickly respond to ever-changing market needs, without hiring additional, and often difficult to find, labor. This has become especially critical because of the restrictions and challenges posed by the pandemic and related supply chain shortages.”

Staying ahead of the automation curve

Since RaaS providers make sure to update robots regularly, companies that use RaaS can ensure they are on the right position on the technology curve.

“We are constantly improving and updating the technology, so the RaaS model relieves worries around obsolescence. If you bought an entire system today and self-manage it, there’s nothing to prevent a new system coming along in 6 months, leaving you behind the curve. RaaS enables customers to keep up with the technology curve without having to worry about where the curve is going and where you need to be on it,” said Moore.

Faulk said RaaS is “without a doubt” the future of automation.

“The combination of exploding volumes and limited availability of labor means that operators are struggling to meet demand while controlling operational costs. With RaaS’s flexibility to scale as needs change, operators now have the ability to gain control over their business and deliver high productivity and throughput today and into the future.”

Emmet Cole is contributing editor for the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), a CFE Media and Technology content partner. This originally appeared on A3’s website. Edited by Chris Vavra, web content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media and Technology, cvavra@cfemedia.com.

MORE INSIGHTS

Keywords: robotics, robots-as-a-service, RaaS

LEARNING OBJECTIVES

Robots-as-a-service (RaaS) has evolved as a concept and is about more than providing robots for a specific service.

RaaS can provide small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with a faster return on investment (ROI) without tying the company to a large automation footprint.

RaaS also has a faster speed of deployment because it’s designed around immediacy in projects.

Original content can be found at Association for Advancing Automation (A3).


Emmet Cole
Author Bio: Emmet Cole, contributing editor, Association for Advancing Automation (A3).