Growth in Small Six-Axis Robots Signals Increasing Adoption of Small-Scale Automation

Higher labor costs are one factor contributing to the demand for robotic automation.

The LR Mate 200iD/14L robot. (Image courtesy of FANUC.)

The LR Mate 200iD/14L robot. (Image courtesy of FANUC.)

FANUC America, a supplier of CNCs and robotics, has introduced the LR Mate 200iD/14L, the 10th model variation of the popular LR Mate series of tabletop industrial robots. The 10 models include clean room and wash-proof versions, each with various wrist speeds and reaches to accommodate limited workspaces.

The popularity of the small LR Mate robot may be attributable to industry-wide growth in automation as a whole, especially in smaller-scale applications. According to a 2019 McKinsey report, the market for industrial robots has been growing at record rates of around 19 percent annually since 2012, and is expected to continue growing. Smaller lower-cost robot applications are also in high demand.

The report cites six trends that contribute to this growth:

  • Decreasing prices, noting a 50 percent drop in average robot costs since 1990
  • Increasing variety of models, including options with more axes and simpler controllers
  • Greater technical abilities, such as improvements in precision
  • Increasing labor costs, leading to better payback for investments in automation
  • Accessible talent in robot integration and engineering
  • Continual improvements to robots, which are making them easier to integrate and more user-friendly

(Image courtesy of McKinsey & Company.)

(Image courtesy of McKinsey & Company.)

“The LR Mate was introduced in 1992, and has been deployed in a variety of traditional manufacturing and service applications. Some of the most interesting things we’ve seen this robot do include serving coffee, fulfilling orders in retail stores, and even preparing fast foods,” said Carolyn Chase, product manager, LR Mate robot series, FANUC America.

FANUC LR Mate 200iD Robots

The LR Mate 200iD robots feature a “best in class” work envelope for both upright and invert mount installations. The LR Mate 200iD robot series also offers an ISO Class 4 clean room/food-grade variant for food handling and health care packaging applications.

Small tabletop robots such as the LR Mate can be equipped with a variety of intelligent features, including robot vision and force-sensing functionality for even higher levels of accuracy and productivity.

(Image courtesy of McKinsey & Company.)

(Image courtesy of McKinsey & Company.)

Another interesting finding of the McKinsey report on robotics industry growth is that different industries value automation for different reasons. The automotive industry invests in robots for greater production flexibility, while the electronics industry invests in them for increased production quality and productivity. Pharma industries rank accuracy and speed as more important than total cost of ownership (TCO), while in the automotive industry, TCO is king.

The results of the McKinsey report are interesting—and in some ways, may also explain the growth in collaborative robots, which are commonly in the tabletop size range with payloads less than 15 kg (though there are many collaborative robot options available that are larger).

In the report, McKinsey noted that collaborative robots can be simpler to apply, connect and run. Quite often, these are single robot installations with simple and discrete input/output interfaces that lower installation and programming costs.

In some cases, robot customers choose cobots not for their safety or collaborative features, but for their user-friendly interfaces and programming. Indeed, some cobot vendors have expanded their definitions of the term “collaborative” to refer not only to the safety of the hardware but also to the entire approach to the robot’s design, including a user-friendly interface.

In any case, the growth that FANUC is seeing in its smaller product lines of articulated six-axis arm robots could be a sign of increased adoption of automation for small-scale tasks such as machine tending, assembly and arc welding.