image by pexels
The cobot revolution is here, and like all revolutions, there have been casualties. Well, Universal Robots has emerged as a cobot revolutionary leader. But before we get into what Universal does, it's helpful to understand what, exactly, Universal Robots does, and why there's so much industry hype surrounding the phenomenon of the cobot.
What Is Universal Robots?
Any time industry disruption happens, there are big winners and big losers. Frankly, we'd be remiss if we didn't acknowledge that Universal wasn't the first in the market with this technology, and yet today they are emerging as the leader in the "cobot" industry.
Robots are Everywhere
Whether we realize it or not, robots are a part of our everyday lives. They're the reason that devices like the one you're using are accessible to all of us. When it comes to manufacturing, robots do things it would take people ten to a hundred times as long to accomplish. By taking the time down to extremely small percentages of what would otherwise be required, robots make life better for all of us, by putting devices like the one you're using within financial reach.
Have you ever had to pass a CAPTCHA test? Usually, they explain that they just want to make sure you're not a robot! In that sense, it could be said that all of us use robots every day. That's right! Because the computer or mobile device you're using now is, in a sense, nothing more than a highly elaborate, infinite set of switches.
Robots and Computers Are Getting Smaller
They're just so tiny that you don't actually see them, but it's thanks to these switches that you're able to read this text, as each pixel of your screen illuminates in response to a particular switch. Microcircuitry, or microprocessors, are called that because the sets of switches are smaller than the naked eye can see, and nano-circuits are making such technologies even tinier.
That's why it's often been said that the amount of computing power contained on the whole of the original space ships that went to the moon were less powerful than the smart phone you're holding in your hand! So technology seems to be moving in the overall direction of the smaller and the more flexible. If robots aren't new, then what is new?
The Cobot Revolution
Remember how we mentioned earlier that in every revolution, there are winners and losers? Well, it may surprise you to know that Universal Robots wasn't exactly the first to market cobots. In fact, this is one revolution that was started by a company called Rethink Robotics in the Boston area, which is home to a thriving industry of robotics entrepreneurs of its own right, people trained at schools like MIT
Rethink Robotics was among the very best, quality-wise, in the robotics game, and lots of the technology now being used by Universal Robotics was inspired by or borrowed from Rethink Robotics. However, Rethink Robotics had major financial problems just when it was making serious waves in the industry. Their sales reps and distributors really spiked the industry's demand for "cobots," but unfortunately, they couldn't deliver. As a result, Rethink Robotics got sold to a German company just recently that's trying to turn it around.
Universal Robots Take Over the Cobot Category
Universal may not have been first to the game. In marketing and business terminology, they're what you might consider a "second mover" regarding the robot field. Burger King, for instance, is the "second mover" in fast food. They weren't first to the mass fast food market, but they copied McDonalds, and in the process, learned from the "first mover's" operations enough to not repeat those mistakes. But sometimes, second movers learn so much from the first movers that they unseat the first movers as the industry leader.
Well, here, the successful Second Mover is called Universal, and so far, they've managed to unseat the first mover that created the cobot industry, Rethink Robotics, which again is struggling to recover.
How Universal Robots Unseated the Industry Leader
In this case, the failure of Rethink Robotics to hold on to its market share was really a product of Rethink Robotics' overestimating what it would have the finances to handle. We can't really blame Rethink Robotics for running out of cash to stay solvent. And by the way, Rethink Robotics has gotten a second wind in the form of its recent takeover by the German Hahn Group. So Rethink Robotics is not dead; it's still very much a contender in the industry.
Unfortunately, Rethink Robotics was so focused on innovation that, as many Boston personality types do, Rethink Robotics failed to protect the investment it made in coming up with its competitive edge. By failing to successfully leverage its intellectual property and applicable laws, Rethink Robotics failed to prevent Universal Robots from taking advantage of all the free R&D Rethink Robotics conducted.
As a result, Universal simply took advantage of the cobot concept, learning from all the costly mistakes Rethink Robotics had made, saving on all those R&D costs since Rethink had done so much of the experimentation for them! Of course, it's more complicated than that, but that's the basic idea. So, just as investors and clients were starting to lose faith in Rethink Robotics, Universal Robots entered the field with a healthy checkbook to bolster its legions of salesmen and saleswomen, thus helping Universal Robots become the dominant company in the cobot market today.
Comparing Universal Robots to the rest of the automation robotics companies here is really a no-brainer. That's because Universal is really the only company featured here that is killing the cobot market. We'll be talking about this a lot because the cobot concept is an important one, and the other guys in this report don't come close.
What's a Cobot?
Cobot might sound like fancy industry jargon, but really, it's the most simple concept in the world. Whereas most of the competitors to Rethink Robotics here operate on the old-school model of manufacturing, you know, the model where mass production of the same item for a long period of time is the name of the game, cobots are different.
Cobots, or "Collaborative Robots," are different from the more traditional robotics manufacturers in that they are built to collaborate. That means humans and robots working side-by-side, without the need for traditional automated robots to be caged in a room all by themselves. And while Universal Robots doesn't have the cartoon eyes that Rethink Robotics had, they are still proving their value proposition in spades over the more traditional robots of their assembly-line predecessors. We'll get into how as we continue this objective and accurate review of Universal Robots and the competition.
In the manufacturing industry, because each Universal robots is unique and fully customizable by programming, it's not always a simple question of what the sale cost of each unit is as compared with the others. In the robotics and automation industry, a big cost that needs to be taken into account regarding the overall financial burden of the robot is regular programming costs, and this is going to be a key concept as we compare Universal Robots' cobots to the manufacturers stuck in the last decade we'll be comparing them to.
How It Compares
We picked the closest industry behemoths we could find to make as fair a comparison as we could to others in the silent but powerful automation industry. Spoiler alert - they're not so great as compared to Universal! Okay, so let's see Universal Robots' contenders:
Price: $ of $$$
Services: 5 out of 5 Stars
Probably the biggest value proposition Universal Roberts offers its manufacturing clients, as well as others that provide goods and services, like fast food, is the ridiculously simple and fast turnaround time you're able to implement when you purchase from Universal Robots. That's because Universal Robots' cobots are able to adjust quickly and flexibly to whatever your needs are on both the goods and services side. They're agile because they learn, and it doesn't take lots of money to "train" them.
Turnaround: 4 out of 5 Stars
Universal Robots tends to get the job done right the first time. Their manufacturing best practices allow for a quick and cost-effective turnaround. That said, they'll take the time to learn about your unique needs, not just for now, but for the future as well so that your cobot will be suited to many more tasks that you may not have even anticipated yet. Training your robot is a joy when you plan ahead, and Universal Robot sales engineers are all custom-trained to help you choose the very best option, which is why you should only buy from an authorized Universal Robots dealer.
Certification: 5 out of 5 Stars
Your Universal Robots dealer is certified to help connect you with the most cost-effective solution for your unique goods or services automation challenge. That said, there is much talk these days about robots replacing people in the workforce. Well, Universal Robots and the cobot revolution have seen to it that this is not the case when we're talking cobots. That's because the kind of certification needed to train your cobot is actually available online.
Whereas most traditional manufacturers used to make it so you had to have several advanced programming degrees to train a robot, today's co-bot is all about visuals. It's night and day, the difference between using the old MS-DOS computer and the new Mac GUI. Bottom line? Certification is quick, and you won't necessarily have to fire your current staff! Instead, they'll simply be about 20 times more productive. Sound good to you? Because it sounds great to us!
That's why Universal Robots has earned our highly-coveted five-out-of-five-stars rating for certification. You need very little certification and training, so much different than the old machine programming certifications, to master your Universal Robots cobot.
Customer Support: 4 out of 5 Stars
We've already covered how Universal Robotics successfully edged the flailing Rethink Robotics out of its top spot when it was at its most vulnerable. To do so, Universal Robotics launched a mean, lean operation predicated upon gutting all the unnecessary features - like the cartoon eyes - from its robotics.
Well, unfortunately, Universal Robotics' service part of the industry has been just a slight cost-saving part of Universal's operation. When you go to their support page, they do everything they can to try and not talk to you, although if you really need them and are determined to get through, you'll be able to find their phone number. We'd like to see Universal Robotics act just a tad more client-friendly, however, and perhaps not leave their customer service to the cobots!
Bastian Solutions is another company with a reputation for excellence in manufacturing of the more traditional style. Nobody can get into the cobot game quite as quickly as Universal Robots, however, in this case, Bastian Solutions has been very actively attempting to take advantage of the Cobot revolution trend, but they've done it in an unconventional way.
Price: $$ of $$$
Bastian Solutions is able to offer the quality of Universal's cobots in a rather inorganic way that's going to have you incur something of a price markup, either direct or indirect, as a result of buying from Bastian. That's because Bastian has negotiated an arrangement with Universal's cobot operations such that you can essentially buy a Universal robot from Bastian. This makes for an interesting situation, although we recommend going straight to Universal whenever possible to make sure you're getting the best deal absent the Bastian middleman.
Services: 5 out of 5 Stars
Because Bastian is essentially selling Universal products, they're going to be able to offer all the services that Universal offers, albeit at a slight markup that you either pay in time or money, which we'll get to a little more in "turnaround." Bottom line, you have access to most of the line of Universal cobot products, but again, we recommend going to the source, Universal, for the best support on all of that. This said, Bastian can do things Universal can't, like sell you a more elbaorate traditional robotics system, which is not really what Universal Robots is in the primary business of pushing right now, though they may tell you otherwise because of their partnership agreements.
Turnaround: 4 out of 5 Stars
Bastian is not going to be able to execute as fast as Universal on Universal products as Universal themselves can. That's just the reality of the sales situation. The trained salesmen at Bastian have a few more hoops to jump through in order to get you the best prices and get the machines delivered quickly. However, Bastian sells much more than just cobots; in the case that a more traditional robotics system fits your situation, Bastian can turnaround on more services than Universal than Universal can accomplish alone.
Certification: 4 out of 5 Stars
On the certification front, again, because you're going to a middleman for the products Bastian is shuttling to you from Universal, your certification is going to get a little bit more cumbersome. You know from earlier in this report that Unviersal offers online certification for training on its cobots, so even if Bastian completely has the costs of reselling wrapped up in the price, your staff is going to experience confusion over things like, "I thought this was a Bastian product," adding some minorly annoying kinks to the training and understanding process.
Customer Support: 4 out of 5 Stars
That said, the training on Univeral products is going to be just as handy and simple, and supported, as it would as if you were buying from Universal Robots directly. You might just face a few unnecessary hiccups in obtaining that great customer service, thereby kind of undermining the ease of the whole process. Again, neither company will tell you this, because Universal Robots doesn't want to be a bad partner; they may get out of the direct selling game entirely; but for now, it's still uncharted territory, and Universal Robots doesn't want to go the way Rethink Robotics almost did.
We're going to go from talking about the leader in an ermerging robots category to talking about the manufacturing company that prides itself being the world leader in wax room technology. So if you like watching wax harden, you're going to love this comparative report on MPI systems. Okay, so it's actually a really important part of the manufacturing process, but - we'll admit it - wax isn't as sexy as some of the other tech out there.
Price: $$$ of $$$
In comparing MPI Systems' price to that of Universal Robots, it must be highlighted that MPI Systems' legions of rentable and salable robots are programmed in the traditional way. That means if you're going to program an MPI Systems robot, you're going to either need MPI Systems' help or you're going to need a traditional robot specialist.
That's going to run up your operational costs one way or another, although last we heard, MPI systems was working on providing pricing solutions to keep up with the cobot revolution's competitive edge on price.
Services: 2 out of 5
Here's the deal. When you've got a more traditional kind of assembly-line Wax Room standard-issue robot, you're going to run into problems with versatility. This isn't to say that MPI robots aren't going to be programmable to do multiple tasks, and to execute those tasks well. What they're programmed to do they do with ultimate precision; we're talking about a master craftsman in the industry.
But you're not going to get cobot compatibility and versatility out of them just yet, and MPI has been slow to adjust, because the markets haven't yet realized the full potential of what Advanced Robotics really offers.
Turnaround: 5 out of 5
Among traditional robotics manufacturers and the industry as a whole, MPI Systems does a great job of delivering when they say they will. They wouldn't have gotten where they are if they hadn't. Companies around the globe rely upon MPI Systems for their tremendously effective, reliable, and specialized tech in robot arm tech.
Certification: 2 out of 5 Stars
When you buy an MPI Systems product, you can bet your staff of machine operators is going to have to be fully certified in all the ways that large-order factory machine operators need to be. You can handle the training at your company level or send them to MPI for help in that department, however either way, you're going to incur some major costs as compared with a more easily programmable and operable cobot.
Customer Support: 5 out of 5 Stars
MPI Systems has earned great ratings across the board from our editors as being tremendously responsive within minutes rather than hours. When you buy an MPI Systems unit, you're buying the full faith and confidence of the MPI systems support team. They want you to succeed so you'll keep shelling out on new MPI product when you need an upgrade, although we expect to see MPI expand its range of cobot offerings alongside its dominance of the Wax room category they helped create.
Game. Set. Match. Get ready for systems so precise they can only have originated from Setpoint Systems. But does Setpoint have the speed, agility, and inexpensive learning power of the cobot revolution? Keep reading and we'll get into the nitty gritty of this apparently hybrid robotics manufacturer that might - or might not - span the gap between traditional automation and the cobot revolution.
Price: $$$ of $$$
When it comes to the cobot revolution, Setpoint Systems is very slow to implement in their offerings of robots. As a result, you're going to see virtually all traditional-style robots. Granted, Setpoint may incorporate some features of the cobot intermittently, but they haven't really seriously implemented Universal's gung-ho, no-holes-barred adoption of cobotics tech. As a result, you're going to pay through the nose on robot maintenance costs. Now, in some circumstances, as in big mass-production processes, this may be warranted. However, if you're considering cobots for your operation, chances are there's a cheaper and easier way.
Services: 3 out of 5
Because Setpoint is skittish to adopt cobot technology into its existing lines of available offerings, it's inherently limited in the kinds of ultimate services that it can offer your business. To be fair, they're really good at what they promise they'll do, and have been doing for years. However, all it will take is for an innovative entrepreneur to figure out how to better fulfill orders with a cobot and provide merch in a more Just-in-time-capable model to unseat the companies that get stuck in the rut of doing things the traditional way - at least in most industries.
Of course, that could just be technological determinism talking, and you have to do a thorough review of your unique marketplace needs to determine whether there is indeed a valuable service proposition here on the part of Setpoint Systems.
Turnaround: 4 out of 5 Stars
Ironically, because more traditional equipment manufacturers like Setpoint Systems need to do so much to prep your machine for deployment, it will take a little longer for them to get it to you than it will take for you to obtain your collaborative robot or cobot from the likes of Universal, our featured company.
So, as a result, you're looking at a potentially costly and time-consuming programming and deployment process, which is to say nothing of the maintenance costs you'll incur from the skilled programmers you'll need if you ever want to modify your expensive traditional robot in the future, as compared with a more easily programmable cobot from Universal.
Certification: 3 out of 5 Stars
We've already gone over the detriments of going with a traditional robot manufacturer as compared with the featured Universal cobot manufacturer, however just to recap for the purpose of comparison, you're losing out here. You're losing out because the certification requirements are rather extensive in the case of most traditioanl robotics operators and implementation specialists.
They've got to know the craft your'e in expertly, and they've also got to be able to program. If you know people who can do that cheaply and quickly, then you've got an edge in using a more traditional robot manufacturing process like the solutions possible from Setpoint Systems.
Customer Support : 4 out of 5 Stars
You have to remember that in the process of obtaining customer support, there are multiple layers of "pork," for lack of a better term, in supporting a product that's inherently more difficult to program. Yes, the friendly customer support reps at Setpoint will be back with you quickly when you need their help. However, keep in mind that they're getting their paycheck explaining a bunch of complex workings of mahines which may be, or may be soon, obsolete because of the cobots offered by Universal.
The point? If you have use for a friendly, expert horse-and-buggy specialist, you'll definitely have use for the very capable experts at this potentially equally obsolete technology offered by Setpoint Systems.
If the industry gurus are any indication, as well as the very practical results that small-business owners need, are any indication, it would appear that Universal, our featured robotics provider featured here, offers the best value in the game. That's because unlike any of the automation competitors we've featured here - with the exception of Bastian, which offers Univeral cobots - Universal offers a unique technology that the others simply haven't caught up with quite yet.
Universal offers a unique product in its cobots, and so if you're installing new plant or service-oriented equipment, you should consider a cobot from Universal because of it's remarkable flexibility, particularly on smaller jobs, as compared with behemoths in the industry like Bastian Solutions, Setpoint Systems, and MPI Systems.