By Justin Geach
Automation is quickly transforming every industry—from time-saving software for business administration to large-scale robotics systems for manufacturing. Small companies, particularly in the metalworking sector, have been slower to adopt, largely because of the high upfront investment that automation requires. However, the growing Robots-as-a-Service (RaaS) model is making advanced automation more accessible and efficient than previously imagined.
RaaS is a concept similar to Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), allowing machine shops to leverage automation (including robots and related software) via a subscription. This enables ultra-fast implementation without a major upfront investment in new infrastructure or expensive machinery. Customers can also quickly scale machinery up or down as needed, depending on order volume, labor needs, and other fluctuating factors.
RaaS presents an opportunity for machine shops to realize the benefits of automation with less risk, as well as a significant business opportunity as demand for robotic parts increases. For smaller but fast-growing manufacturers, RaaS can be your bridge into the future of metalworking. Here’s how.
How RaaS Can Transform Machine Shops
RaaS improves metalworking operations in the same ways as traditional automation models, dramatically increasing productivity and cost efficiency. But since RaaS is a much more easily deployable model for automation, it offers some distinct advantages, including:
• Maximizing scalability and flexibility.
RaaS allows machine shops to experiment with a wide range of robotics solutions and configurations without committing to a significant upfront investment and potential risk. Many providers also make it easy to scale subscriptions up or down based on current or projected production needs, enabling greater adaptability in a dynamic market. For example, when incoming orders slow down, customers can scale back their subscriptions to save costs until demand picks up again.
• Enhancing competitive advantages.
In most cases, the current market landscape favors companies that can innovate quickly. RaaS providers can take the uncertainty out of automation and provide expert guidance on what solutions will best help customers achieve their goals. Even better, machine shops can implement solutions quickly without creating cash flow issues, removing the biggest obstacle to automation.
• Creating safer work environments.
In addition to the productivity gains associated with automation, RaaS allows machine shops to be deployed in high-risk environments. The barriers to traditional automation models can delay investment and implementation, but RaaS lets managers automate with less concern for cost, reducing exposure to dangerous situations and the chance for employee injuries.
• Upskilling the workforce.
Workers can reallocate their time and energy to more high-level tasks when machines take over repetitive and monotonous tasks. This creates opportunities for workers to acquire new skills and become a more versatile and adaptive workforce. Depending on the scale of automation at a company, it may even make sense to upskill workers to enter more complex roles, such as robot programming, maintenance, and quality control.
• Ultra-fast implementation.
RaaS essentially removes the largest barriers to automation: high cost, the demands of installation, and the need for in-house resources to set up and manage. This enables machine shops to implement new machines in a matter of weeks rather than months. Some RaaS providers may even be able to implement automation more quickly. Just make sure to prepare employees for the change and provide adequate training.
Moving Metalworking to the Forefront
The Robots-as-a-Service market is more than a way to help metalworkers innovate — the industry’s growth also creates an exceptional business opportunity. As of 2022, the market valuation for RaaS ballooned to $1.5 billion. Experts predict it will grow to $6.2 billion by 2032, at a remarkable CAGR of 15.3%. Robotics suppliers won’t be able to meet this massive demand without the metalworking sector.
Already, RaaS providers need to expand their inventory of solutions to provide their customers with all the robots they require. As a result, robotics manufacturers will have to increase their output internally and potentially contract with third-party machine shops to fill orders more quickly. Even when the initial production boom subsides, the market will see an ongoing need for replacement parts as equipment breaks down and requires repairs. Clearly, RaaS represents a symbiotic opportunity for metalworkers to open up a new industry while growing manufacturers take a leap forward in efficiency.
RaaS will create a permanent market opportunity for metalworkers to capitalize on. But with so much growth predicted by industry experts, the real question is whether your robotics machine shop is prepared to keep up with demand. SMT
Justin Geach is the Global Director of Marketing at Master Fluid Solutions.