Small manufacturers are the ones that often avoid robots and automation. Source: Shutterstock

Small manufacturers are the ones that often avoid robots and automation. Source: Shutterstock

Can cobots democratize robotics in the SME manufacturing space?

COBOTS are robots designed to interact with humans in the physical world in order to support a job or task.

Think of machines in factories that pick up cups of different sizes from a common bin and distributes them to workers adding handles of different shapes and sizes on different belts. Cobots are also far cheaper than industrial robots.

In a world where MNCs and large-scale enterprises are spearheading live use cases of “lights out manufacturing” powered by fully-automated robots that can work in pitch dark environments, cobots help bridge the gap and bring smaller manufacturers into the world of robotics

Despite success stories from companies like Adidas and GE, small and mid-sized organizations have stayed away from the use of robotics.

Although their hesitation is primarily due to a lack of resources and a complicated implementation process, the reality is that it is these organizations that need it most in today’s world.

SMEs are a major building block of the Southeast Asian economy — 98 percent of Malaysia’s businesses and 95 percent of Singaporean companies are SMEs. Thailand, Hong Kong, and other parts of the region have a similar composition of SMEs.

For them, in order to remain competitive in the global marketplace, however, must start getting involved with robotics — because of the sheer precision, cost-effectiveness, and competitiveness it provides to otherwise small players competing in a global marketplace.

Fortunately, the costs of cobots are dropping drastically, making it easy for companies to explore the use of cobots in the manufacturing environment despite the budgetary challenges.

Cobots are also incredibly easy to add to an existing factory layout, making it easy to test and trial. Truth be told, most SMEs that trial cobots don’t go back to the way they used to do things simply because cobots make them so much more productive.

According to experts, in the future, more and more SMEs will be jumping on the cobots bandwagon as large industrial producers of these high-tech devices start renting them out.

IDC’s experts believe automation and digital transformation are key focus areas for business leaders regardless of industry, but manufacturers must pay special attention to the area because failing to do so might cause them to lose out to competitors who offer higher quality at cheaper rates while also bolstering their profits.