Small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) have long felt excluded from the benefits of automation due to high costs and complex IT requirements. However, recent developments in the robotics market are challenging this perception. Major players in the industry, including Körber Supply Chain, report that half of their autonomous mobile robot (AMR) customers are now SMBs. These companies are leveraging technology and systems integration services to make automation more accessible to smaller operations.
One key factor enabling this shift is the development of cloud-based software-as-a-service (SaaS) models. With SaaS, vendors can tailor their products and pricing to users of any size. This eliminates the need for a large upfront capital investment, with clients paying a monthly subscription fee based on usage. This approach has already been successful in areas such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) platforms and warehouse management systems (WMS) for SMBs.
Further democratizing automation, robot manufacturers are adopting a robotics-as-a-service (RaaS) model. Instead of requiring customers to purchase AMRs outright, vendors supply robots under a subscription-based service. For example, Locus Robotics offers its bots on an RaaS basis, with low entry costs, manageable annual expenses, and a return on investment (ROI) within 12 months. SMBs can now benefit from automation without straining their budgets.
Implementing automation systems can still be a concern for SMBs, particularly regarding installation and resource constraints. Companies like Körber Supply Chain and Fortna recommend strategies to address these challenges. Smaller clients are encouraged to introduce robots alongside WMS upgrades, combining two upgrade cycles into one. Warehouse management systems now seamlessly integrate with robotics, allowing for smoother implementation. Additionally, Fortna suggests a gradual progression of automation implementation to de-risk the process and demonstrate value before going all-in.
To alleviate SMBs’ concerns and simplify the setup process, there are industry-wide efforts to demystify robotics and provide assistance. Siemens and Intrinsic, a subsidiary of Alphabet, are collaborating to make industrial robotics more accessible to SMBs through software integration. The International Federation of Robotics (IFR) has developed the Go4Robotics platform to educate and guide SMBs through automation, offering resources for non-experts.
By unlocking affordable and user-friendly automation solutions, SMBs can now embrace the benefits of advanced technology and drive growth and productivity in their operations.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
1. Are automation solutions affordable for small and medium-sized businesses?
Yes, recent developments in the robotics market, such as robotics-as-a-service (RaaS) models and cloud-based software-as-a-service (SaaS) models, have made automation more financially accessible for SMBs. These models allow SMBs to adopt automation through subscription-based services and pay for what they use, eliminating the need for a large upfront capital investment.
2. How can SMBs overcome resource constraints when implementing automation?
SMBs can address resource constraints by integrating automation implementation with warehouse management system (WMS) upgrades. By combining these two upgrade cycles, SMBs can minimize disruption and streamline the installation process. Additionally, companies like Fortna recommend a gradual progression of automation implementation to reduce risks and demonstrate value before fully committing.
3. How can SMBs navigate the setup process and ensure successful integration?
Efforts are being made to assist SMBs in simplifying the setup process and reducing concerns about automation. Industry initiatives, such as Siemens’ collaboration with Intrinsic and the International Federation of Robotics’ Go4Robotics platform, aim to educate and guide SMBs through automation. These resources provide information, articles, white papers, e-books, and checklists to help SMBs get started and succeed in implementing automation solutions.