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Financial Benefits of Cobots in CNC

Updated: Oct 12, 2023

Cobots make your CNC machines and other operations more efficient. That means more profitable productivity while boosting cost savings.

CNC machinist working with a cobot

Buying a new piece of manufacturing equipment is a big capital expenditure. What about a collaborative robot for tending CNC machines and other simple manufacturing tasks? If you haven’t considered all the operational efficiencies a collaborative robot (cobot) imparts, it might seem like merely an expensive “extra” that’s out of reach or impractical.

But in reality, many manufacturers and CNC machine shops, even small and medium-sized, are turning to cobots for their financial benefits as much as for operational efficiency. Read on to see why.

How Can Cobots Reduce Your Costs?

Once you see a cobot in action, your first impressions might revolve around higher overall productivity and profitability. This is because a cobot can:

  • Reduce idle time between cycles.

  • Increase throughput/productivity because it is constantly in motion with no breaks.

  • Run unattended or overnight.

But in addition to boosting income, the above advantages can save you money too. For example:

  • Redirect employees to higher-value tasks than machine tending or reworking parts.

  • Meaningful, interesting work attracts job candidates and encourages retention among employees (saving recruiting, onboarding, and training expenses).

  • User-friendly cobots switch between CNC machine tasks quickly without an integrator.

  • Maintenance is minimal even with heavy use, resulting in more uptime and faster ROI.

  • Less expensive than a traditional, industrial robot.

  • Realize productivity where it's difficult to fill a lower-skilled position, or consolidate it with another job.

  • Save on benefits, sick time, and PTO for additional workers when ramping up production.

Finally, a Productive Robotics OB7 cobot is cost effective because it comes as a complete package that’s easy to set up and deploy yourself.

What are Cobots (Collaborative Robots)?

Cobots working alongside human operators

It’s important to realize we’re not talking about large, traditional industrial robots. Unlike massive, caged, high-speed industrial robots, a cobot is designed to work side by side with humans without compromising safety. This allows an operator and a cobot to work in the same work cell or workstation while completing complementary tasks or even working on the same task at the same time or in rapid succession. A cobot can be dedicated to a single task or workstation, like tending a CNC lathe or laser cutter for example, or it can be moved around the shop to different machines or tasks as needed.

Financial Advantages of Cobots for Your Workforce

Some of the biggest financial advantages involve your workforce. It’s commonly thought that cobots replace human operators; instead, they often tend to change the nature of human operators’ work. When a cobot does the repetitive, dull tasks, operators have an opportunity for more interesting and high-level work. In many cases, they also have more time to get higher value aspects of their job done.

Other benefits include eliminating ergonomic challenges and injuries (e.g., bending, lifting, repetitive motions), fatigue, errors, and boredom with the work. As a result, workers avoid costly injuries and stay productive and engaged. And learning to use high-tech equipment like a cobot can also help with attracting and retaining qualified workers.

Cobots are Built for Safe Human Collaboration

Physical safety is critical to any kind of manufacturing automation. Cobots have features that make them safe around people, for example:

  • They're more compact than large-scale industrial robots, so they don't impede traffic or the workflow, and they create a smaller "work envelope".

  • They are equipped with multiple operating speeds, which means they can move more slowly around people, and speed up when running unattended.

  • On-board sensors detect people in the area and slow or stop the arm to avoid collision or injury.

  • No additional fencing or guarding is needed.

  • Cobot arms are smooth and cool to the touch with no sharp joints.

These safety features reduce the expenses associated with injuries and resulting downtime. They also help workers feel safe around the equipment, which encourages employee buy-in and acceptance.

Easy Set-Up and Programming

Teaching a cobot a task

The latest generation of cobots don’t require programming and extensive coding. In fact, the “teachable” nature of cobots, like Productive Robotics’s OB7, makes it easy to show the cobot exactly what steps to perform. Employees simply guide the arm through the correct motions by hand using a simple, intuitive user interface to store and recall work instructions. There’s no costly and time-consuming training needed. Even better, they can redeploy the cobot to other workstations in a few hours’ time without the need to pay an integrator.

Flexible Automation for Different Tasks

Cobots have a large range of motion thanks to multiple-axis rotation. This means they can reach around, through, and between objects with ease. Arms come in a range of payloads and reach extensions as well. What’s more, several types of end-of-arm grippers and suction cups are available to manipulate parts, open and close machine doors, press buttons, and pick up even delicate materials without damage.

These features make cobots well-suited to a variety of tasks, from machine tending, to loading and unloading parts, to grinding and deburring, and more. And because they are compact, they can even be mounted to mobile carts and moved to where they’re needed most.

Investing in Cobots for Your Facility

Cobots can be used for multiple tasks

Think of a cobot as an investment because it helps you get the most out of your CNC machines and holds many opportunities for future applications in your shop. Unlike legacy industrial robots, which are generally built for a single task and discarded once that task is no longer applicable, a cobot can be used for multiple tasks, even switching back and forth, to help operators get more work done. It’s an investment in efficiency and the ability to enhance existing (and future) resources.

ROI for Cobot Implementation

Yes, a cobot will most likely increase your productivity and throughput. But return on investment (ROI) for a cobot is about far more than just the value of parts produced vs. the cost of the machine. We suggest looking at the big picture whenever possible.

How to Calculate Cobot ROI for CNC Operations

A cobot is a flexible tool that does more than one task, so calculating ROI is more complex than the calculations you probably do when investing in CNC machines. Consider all of these factors:

  • Consistent motions of the cobot result in greater CNC machine uptime and higher throughput (i.e., keeping the spindle turning on lathes and mills and increasing productivity of CNC cutters and wire EDM machines).

  • Identical movements in each cycle mean blanks are loaded correctly each time, which reduces output variability, rework, and scrap.

  • Operational efficiencies that make it possible to scale up production quickly or take on more work without hiring more people.

  • Ability to redeploy the cobot to multiple workstations as production needs dictate.

  • Savings on worker's compensation and other costs due to repetitive motion-based injuries, hiring and training expenses, and potentially lower turnover (because the work is more interesting with a cobot!).

  • Possible consolidation of operator responsibilities and wage savings.

How Much Does a Cobot Cost?

The exact cost of a cobot depends on the specific package you are purchasing (i.e., the arm, grippers and other end-of-arm tools, the app to run it, etc.). Because everything you need is included, there are no additional costs or accessories to track down. And when you invest in a teachable cobot, you eliminate the costs associated with automation integration such as design, building, and programming.

Fast Payback Periods on Cobots

The more you use your cobot the shorter the payback period. In some cases, payback can take only months. While each shop is different and will have a different timeframe in practice, we’ve found that once you get started with a cobot for machine tending and other repetitive tasks, you’ll soon find more and more applications for it. And that contributes directly to productivity and ROI. Another way to speed up ROI time is by financing a cobot, which allows profit gains to rapidly offset monthly payments.

Cobots Offer 24/7 Automation

Cobots make the same movements over and over until they are powered off or given new instructions (or “retaught”) – no breaks, sick days, or time off required.

Increasing Productivity for Your Facility

Consider how many more parts you could manufacture if your CNC machines ran an extra shift or two each day. Now imagine that every part is loaded correctly every cycle, and each worker’s time is spent only on their most critical tasks (i.e., not opening and closing machine doors and pushing buttons). It would really add up!

Keeping that CNC spindle turning or the laser cutting means you’re more productive, and with a cobot tending the machine, you’ll gain efficiency without having to expand your workforce. You may even achieve lights-out manufacturing and improve productivity during off hours.

Cobots Offer Long-Term Financial Growth

Once it’s owned outright, a cobot contributes directly and entirely to profits. And it increases the profitability of your other CNC equipment by making them more productive. The low maintenance requirements of cobots make them a long-term investment that can be used with a variety of machines (including those you acquire in the future).

Getting Started with Cobot Implementation

Ready to get started? The first step is to look around your machine shop for cobot opportunities like:

  • Parts and steps that are error prone

  • Bottlenecks that slow down operations

  • Jobs you have trouble staffing

  • Areas in which you want to increase production

  • Simple repetitive tasks

  • Operations with ergonomic or safety risks

  • Tasks that operators find boring or tedious (they will probably be happy to point these out!)

Contact Productive Robotics Today for Cobot Manufacturing Solutions

The next step is to contact Productive Robotics to learn where and how a cobot can be used in your facility, see how easy they are to install and set up in your facility, or obtain a quote.

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