US companies rent robots to small factories
Better technology and rising wages are driving more robot sales to large corporations across America. But smaller factories have shown less interest in the devices. Robots are expensive purchases.
Now some investors are supporting a financial plan for a pay-per-use robot plan. This means that small factories could pay to use a robot when they want its service, but they wouldn’t own the device.
Garry Tan’s company Initialized Capital is one of the investors. He says he sees three important social and economic changes happening now.
Tan said cheap and better robot computer vision and other intelligence technologies are increasingly available. He said the financing is also available at low interest rates.
And, disagreements between the United States and China over supply chains have sparked greater interest in robots, Tan said.
The investors’ business plan places a large part of the financial demand on new robot companies. These companies run the risk of a manufacturer losing a trade deal or modifying a product. Small factories often produce smaller quantities of special products that do not require robotic support. And Silicon Valley Robotics, an industry group supporting robot startups, says funding has been difficult in the past.
Still, some powerful investors support the idea.
Tiger Global, this year’s biggest funder of new tech companies, has invested in three robot rental companies in seven months.
Bob Albert’s family owns Polar Hardware Manufacturing, a 105-year-old factory in Chicago. The company paid less than $ 10 an hour for a robot. He paid the average human over $ 20 an hour.
Albert this month watched a robot arm pick up a metal bar, spin it, and place it in an older machine. Together the machines created a doorknob.
âIf the robot works really well, we’ll use it a lot,â said Albert, pleased with the early results.
Westec Plastics Corp, in Livermore, Calif., Got its first robot in January 2020 and now owns three from Rapid Robotics. The company charges $ 3,750 per month for a robot in the first year and $ 2,100 per month from the second year.
âMelvin works 24 hours a day, every third offsets, and that replaced three full operators, âPresident Tammy Barras said of the named robot.
She also said she was saving around $ 60,000 in labor costs per year with just one robot. âWe had to increase our salaries quite significantly this year because of what’s going on in the world. And luckily, Melvin didn’t increase his rate of pay. He’s not asking for a raise.
Barras, who has 102 employees, says robots cannot replace humans today because robots can only perform simple, repetitive tasks.
Jordan Kretchmer is co-founder and CEO of Rapid Robotics. He said he meets people who have doubts about robots. âOften we have entered and there is a graveyard robots that they have bought in the past, âhe said. But he added that “robots can be easy and they work when they’re in the hands of the right people.”
I am John Russell.
Jane Lanhee Lee reported this story to Reuters. John Russell adapted it for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.
Words in this story
gap – not. the expected period of time that a person works
graveyard – not. a place where old things are left or thrown away