Time and Money: How Much Do Industrial Robots Cost?
Isaac Maw posted on December 18, 2018 |
Custom integration and pre-engineered solutions have very different time and cost requirements.

A robotic automation project can be a daunting task for manufacturing professionals. The stakes are high, with high capital expenditures and the promise of significant improvements to the speed, efficiency and quality of the target process. In addition, most projects involve a contracted system integrator, and deployment and integration timelines can be hazy.

Engineering.com recently published a free research report overviewing the costs, prices and components involved in an industrial robot workcell. Download your copy at this link to check it out. 

So, how can you ensure that your robotic cell gets up and running on time and under budget with so many complex variables involved?

Lean Robotics Methodology

One approach is the lean robotics methodology put forth by collaborative robotics company Robotiq. Based on lean manufacturing concepts, lean robotics aims to eliminate waste mainly in the time during deployment and integration of a robotic cell.

Source: Leanrobotics.org
Source: Leanrobotics.org

Samuel Bouchard, Cofounder and CEO of Robotiq and Author of the book Lean Robotics, divides the journey of deploying and integrating a robotic cell into three phases: design, integrate and operate. In short, lack of knowledge and lack of communication can cause large gaps of non-value-added time in each phase. For example, projects stall while you wait for a quote, tackle a problem or play email tag with a distributor. The lean robotics methodology aims to provide a plan to eliminate this time waste before it happens, getting your robot up and running faster, realizing ROI faster.

Don’t Reinvent the Wheel

The last time I made a sandwich, the process didn’t start with kneading dough. Outsourcing parts of a project to expert contractors is an important part of all types of manufacturing, and in many cases, it can be the best choice for a robotic cell, too.

Of course, if an automated task is unique or complex, it may be difficult or impossible to find a pre-engineered solution that fits the bill. However, it’s worth a quick google search to see what’s been done.

Dick Motley, director of the FANUC America authorized system integrator network, put it this way: “There's so much information online about what has been done successfully. A customer seeking whether or not they want to pursue some robotic automation now goes straight to YouTube and says, ‘Hey, what's out there? What's been done successfully, and who has done it successfully?’”

For the sake of this example, a search of  “Robotic press brake tending” on YouTube and found the following videos:

ABB Robotics - Folding Metal Sheets (Press Brake Tending)

Source: ABB Robotics

Pro Metal Works Amada HG1003AR robotic press brake

Source: Wayne Sherwood

Robotic Brake Press Tending

Source: MidwestEngineered

It’s not too difficult to find a video example of an application that looks similar to your needs, along with a company or a name to contact for more information. Most system integrators have a certain application they have strong experience with. It doesn’t hurt to shop around and find an integrator that has already done what you need.

Pre-Engineered Cells

If your task is generic enough, such as automotive arc welding, small parts deburring or circuit board assembly, you may not even need to look as far as YouTube. Ask your distributor or robot vendor about pre-engineered cells.

These cells come as self-contained units, including the robots, safety, end effectors, tooling and accessories. Most welding cells even include the welding power supply. Drop a pre-engineered cell on your shop floor, initialize it, and begin producing parts in days, not weeks.

Cost of a Pre-Engineered Cell vs. Custom Integration

Cost is an important consideration. We spoke with Zane Michael, director of thermal business development at Yaskawa Motoman, about what’s reasonable to expect for the costs of robots and robotic integration projects. According to Michael, a general purpose six axis arm with a payload less than 8 kg will cost about twenty to twenty-five thousand dollars. The cost of integration, including safety, tooling, and programming will cost about four to six times the cost of the robot, as a rule of thumb.

ArcWorld 1200 arc welding cell. Image courtesy of Yaskawa Motoman.

ArcWorld 1200 arc welding cell. Image courtesy of Yaskawa Motoman.

Yaskawa Motoman’s arc welding cell is called the ArcWorld 1200. It can be fitted with one or two robots, and comes with a rotating positioner, welding power supplies, and all the tooling and safety required. According to Michael, this cell costs approximately $150,000 USD—not very different from the rule of thumb for the cost of a custom cell. Importantly, however, this cell is plug-and-play. How much is a day, week or month of production time worth in your factory?

Here are a few more examples of pre-engineered robotic cells.

KUKA FlexibleCELL Arc

Source: KUKA
Source: KUKA

This cell includes an automatic rotary positioner. Protected by the light curtain shown at the left of the above image, a worker can load and unload parts from one side while the robot works on another part, for seamless cycle time.

KUKA also offers several other pre-engineered cell configurations.

Lincoln Electric Auto-Mate 5

Source: Lincoln Electric
Source: Lincoln Electric

This turnkey solution is configured with a standard power source, wire feeder, robot and torch. Unlike the KUKA and Motoman cells, it does not include a rotating positioner. The cell is available with modular tooling which can be selected to suit the application. According to the company, this cell has a list price of $60,000 USD.

According to Lincoln Electric, this is an affordable entry-level system for robotic welding. The company also offers the Auto-Mate 10, which is a two-zone cell in the same footprint.

Pre-Engineered Cells: Worth It?

It’s somewhat intuitive to assume that a plug-and-play solution is more costly than something DIY. However, the tooling, safety requirements, and programming skills required to integrate a robotic cell are a significant challenge, especially for those new to robotic automation.

Using a project management strategy focused on eliminating wasted time and considering pre-engineered solutions can help ensure a robotic deployment project will get up and running faster. The faster the robot can enter the operation phase, the faster ROI will be realized.

Interested in finding out more about the real costs of robotics? Download our free research report The Real Costs of an Industrial Robot Integration today.

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