Imagine a world where humans and robots work side by side, in harmony, to achieve the dreams and aspirations of humanity over the years. It sounds like the beginning of a science fiction novel, but that was the real vision of human-plus-robots Rethink Robotics. It was a company located in Boston, Massachusetts, until so many people were freaked out by the premise—which sounds like the beginning of the Terminator franchise. But if you think Rethink Robotics is toast, think again.

What Is Rethink Robotics?

spider robotics robot

Image Source: Pixabay

Rethink Robotics was the talk of nerds everywhere. What if—and this is a big if—humans and robots could work side by side? The market said it couldn't be done, and in fact, so many different clients of Rethink's product lines said it couldn't be done that the company notoriously shut down fairly recently toward the end of 2018.

It's a fun concept, isn't it, a "cobot" to help you with whatever you need help with, complete with a pair of eyes visible on a monitor screen that looks like a human face. Rethink Robotics successfully convinced several distributors throughout the United States to carry the torch of its "cobotic" vision, however in the ten years Rethink Robotics championed the concept of a robot to help manufacturers as well as everyday people, distributors perhaps didn't have time to get the idea out to market properly.

Saved at the Eleventh Hour

Just when the entire industry and the nation thought Rethink Robotics couldn't be saved, at the eleventh hour, a company in Germany called Hahn Group acquired Rethink. Hahn now proudly proclaims, "Sawyer is back!" Sawyer is the name of the "cobot" that personified the vision of a friendly robot that helps people. Think R2D2 but IRL (in real life).

Product Specs

The "cobot" is such a new kind of category of technology, not yet fully baked, let alone implemented anywhere, that it's difficult to really categorize and compare. Some might say that Rethink Robotics, now operating under Hahn Group, was something of an impossible dream.

However, we're featuring Rethink Robotics here because Rethink, despite its recent sale of all its assets to Hahn Group, and a near meeting with a fateful death, really pioneered the "cobot." The cobot is not dead. Despite its many patents, other companies in the industry have adopted the friendly robot model.

Of course, some of these friendly robots or "frobots" (we're totally kidding) are more friendly than others. And that's what we're going to break down for you here. But they are still being developed, so don't necessarily expect to be able to order one as a Christmas gift. Frankly, we're kind of scared of them ourselves and wouldn't necessarily want one in our bedroom while we're sleeping. All of that said, our thorough review into cobots has definitely spurred our editing staff, as it should spur you, to rethink robotics.

Pricing

Rethink Robotics' robot Sawyer is about, among other features, cost control. Not only is Sawyer more affordable than traditional robots, the company brags, it also works in environments traditionally intended only for people.

How It Compares

We picked a few similar products available on the market to see how they compare.

  • Ifm Efector
  • MPI Systems
  • Setpoint Systems

Rethink Robotics

Services: 5 out of 5 Stars

Rethink Robotics' head cobot Sawyer can perform CNC machining, metal fabrication, line loading and unloading, and many other traditional manufacturing-related functions. It also does PCB handling, packaging, and it conducts tests and inspection for quality control and other manufacturing applications.

Turnaround: 2 out of 5 Stars

With the fate of the company still regaining its footing in the wake of the near-shutdown, Rethink Robotics needs a little recovery time, however its Web site boasts that it is getting ready to fulfill your latest orders! Simply tell the Web site what you want, and they promise they'll get moving on it.

Certification: 5 out of 5 Stars

Setting up a Sawyer robot compared with a traditional robot is the difference between using a Mac Graphic User Interface and the old DOS platform. Rethink Robotics says that these robots are so safe they don't need to operate in cages like most. Also, setting them up is something that, unlike traditional robots, does not require a programmer or knowledge of a fancy syntax.

These Sawyer robots actually train visually, and they even have eyes that watch what they're doing! The real eyes are sensors built into every part of the robot, namely the arms and the way the robots monitor the torque applied to all tasks.

Customer Support: 5 out of 5 Stars

Sawyer's warranties vary depending upon your geographical region. However, for most Rethink Robotics clients, your first year of parts and labor hardware warranty is included, along with software updates lasting as long as your robot. You can opt for "SawyerCare Plus" phone and email support, again, kind of like your iPhone.

Then, if you opt for the most comprehensive package, SawyerCare Complete, you get a whopping two years of parts and labor, and the standard software updates for as long as your robot needs them.

Pros

  • First in the "cobot" game
  • Great service plans
  • Now with German engineering
  • Safe for humans
  • Flexibility over traditional robots' volume

Cons

  • Unstable company recently

Ifm Efector

IFM Efector is the first of a few more traditional robotics companies we'll be checking out here. The mission of IFM Efector is a little bit myopic compared to Rethink Robotics. A little less versatile and wide-ranged in their vision, the mission of the IFM Efector founding father was to create sensors that would create extraordinary customer service. These sensors continue to provide a wide range of applications today.

Price: $$ out of $$$

IFM Efector equipment is highly specialized. However, it is priced competitively in relation to other robotics equipment on the market. If you disagree, the IFM Efector sales team will negotiate a rate with you that meets your team's budget within reason according to market conditions for comparable parts.

Services: 4 out of 5 Stars

IFM Efector robotics are designed to provide a myriad of integrated services depending upon how they're built into your machine. Holding thousands of international patents, there is an IFM Efector sensor or another device that meets the needs of your production line.

Turnaround Time: 4 out of 5 Stars

IFM aspires to ship your units almost as fast as they return your calls, which is immediate.

Certification: 3 out of 5 Stars

Lacking the visual trainability of the Cobots from "Rethink Robotics," the IFM Efector products often require standard backgrounds in mechanics and robotics to allow you to integrate IFM product into your assembly line or plant successfully.

Customer Support: 5 out of 5 Stars

IFM has customer support centers located all around the world for where and when you need them most. They aim to provide immediate customer support and respond to emails within 15 minutes.

Pros

  • Great Better Business Bureau rating

Cons

  • Not as versatile as Rethink Robotics
  • Not as inventive as Rethink Robotics

MPI Systems

When you need equipment for your Wax room, MPI is your company. What's a wax room, you ask? It's a critical room in many factories, and can often be fully automated. The wax room of any plant often features a wax injector. Of course, each Wax Room brings unique challenges of its own, and no company has got wax covered more than industry leader MPI.

At their dedicated, state-of-the-art facility in New York, MPI achieves supreme wax injections with its state-of-the-art wax injecting machines. It not only automates the injection of wax but the assembly, too. MPI creates great patterns of wax that are used in automotive, medical, and turbo industries.

Services: 4 out of 5 Stars

Wax modeling, wax semi-automatic injecting, and wax pattern forming are among the services that make MPI the wax leader.

Turnaround: 5 out of 5 Stars

An industry leader in the art and science of Wax Room support, MPI has lots of happy returning customers, boasting the highest quality control of wax room equipment in the industry.

Certification: 3 out of 5 Stars

In order to operate MPI Wax Room automation equipment, you do need to be a carefully trained and certified wax room equipment operator. If you're not, you may find your ears full of wax!

Customer Support: 4 out of 5

MPI is big on customization and is looking to keep you a loyal customer. Because quality control is one of their major sales benefits to using their robots over human assembly, they are more than happy to work with you to make sure precise manufacturing of your parts is achieved.

Pros

  • Great Better Business Bureau rating
  • Robot automatically changes formula as needed
  • Extreme precision
  • Highly accurate patterns formed
  • Reduces scrap material by 50%
  • Great long-term investment
  • Lease the MPI production house or buy machines

Cons

  • Built specifically for wax rooms
  • Less "human" than Rethink
  • Doesn't monitor torque
  • Obsessed with wax rooms

Setpoint Systems

Setpoint systems is another automation robot company that helps you manufacture what you need to get made at a price that meets your budget. They make everything from composites, energy storage, munitions, automotives, and entertainment applications, like roller coasters. They're also a believer in "lean manufacturing," but that doesn't necessarily mean customization and versatility to the extent that Rethink Robotics can adapt quickly.

Price: $$ out of $$$

Naturally, nobody publishes prices in an industry predicated on this level of customization. However, they say they're really good guys who like to negotiate to make sure you can get equipment from them that manufactures your product at a price that won't break the bank for you.

Services: 4 out of 5 Stars

Setpoint robots, available for you to order, promise to be indispensable to your operation. They offer more traditional assembly-line manufacturing or mass-quantity manufacturing as well as customizable "lean manufacturing" solutions across many varied industries.

Turnaround: 5 out of 5 Stars

Setpoint systems deliver their products on the schedule that they agree to deliver their products on to your manufacturing base.

Certification: 3 out of 5 Stars

Setpoint Systems is a more traditional robotics company compared to "Rethink" in that it's geared more toward producing machines that do what you order them to do, with less capacity for machine learning once they're in operation.

This generally means that you need certified machine operators and traditional, fairly rigid safety measures in place. However, Setpoint has benefited from the advances in the industry Rethink has made, as is evident in their simplistic, almost human-like, torso-and-arm design—although no eyes!

Customer Support: 4 out of 5 Stars

Setpoint Systems delivers the manufacturing devices on time so as not to cost you extra time and money that you don't have, because, as Setpoint reps say, "time is money." And they've been pleasing their clients like you for 25 years, with a staff of over 100 creating the robotics and custom automation you need. They stand behind their products and their warranties as they have for a quarter century.

Pros

  • Fully customized robots
  • Custom automation for your specs
  • Sells to various industries

Cons

  • Not as "smart" as "Rethink"
  • Limited capacity for learning
  • Doesn't monitor torque
  • Obsessed with wax rooms

Conclusion

The obvious winner in the battle of the robots is also the robotics manufacturer and re-thinker that almost didn't make it past the end of 2018, but that came through in stunning style. The winner here is the robotics firm that has set trends in the industry that Setpoint Systems, IFM Efector, and MPI Systems are all struggling to keep up with.

At the end of the day, there is no manufacturing robotics system that learns with the ease and finesse of the Rethink Robotics systems. Rethink goes beyond customization and allows for a level of safety, with its unique torque-sensing technology, that makes it possible for its robots to work side-by-side with the people on your production line.

It's also versatile, meaning that you don't have to make a million widgets of the same kind, but you can make and sell fully customized widgets of the varied patterns and types you need. There's one clear winner here, and that, of course, is Rethink. We're glad that Rethink and its robot Sawyer have been sparked back to life by a miracle of that famous German engineering. Thanks, Hahn group!

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