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Towards industrial robots as a service (IRaaS)

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    February 15, 2023 9:45 PM EST

    Towards industrial robots as a service (IRaaS)

    Industrial robots form an integral part of today's manufacturing industry, due to their high versatility, precision, and fatigue proof nature. Yet, many small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) still predominantly rely on manual labor. The main barriers that prevent SMEs from utilizing robots to a larger degree are described to be the large initial investment, uncertainty about costs (total cost of ownership), and lack of expertise. An opportunity to eliminate these barriers can be found in servitisation. While paradigms such as software as a service (SaaS) or Robot as a Service (RaaS) already exist, these focus mostly on software (functionality) via cloud computing. In this paper, a new paradigm based on software and hardware is proposed as Industrial Robots as a Service (IRaaS), which is composed of four elements: Flexibility (Plug and Produce, mobility), Usability (Easy Programming, Intuitive Interaction), Safety (Standards, Strategies), and Business Models (Time-based, Usage-based). To provide an overview of the current state-of-the-art a scoping survey is performed on each of the four key elements from an IRaaS perspective.To get more news about Robots as a Service, you can visit glprobotics.com official website.

    1. Introduction
    Current global challenges, such as semiconductor shortages and other supply chain interruptions, have demonstrated a severe impact on manufacturing industries around the world. Small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) have been particularly affected, due to their lower financial resources and higher market dependencies, as compared to major enterprises (MEs) [1]. In order to remain competitive, SMEs are required to promptly adapt to changes in the market [2,3]. Fast adaptation to market changes requires rapid up or downscaling of manufacturing capabilities to meet customer requirements . At the same time, these companies aim to offer goods at a competitive price, which subsequently requires efficient means of production.

    Based on these challenges, it would be advantageous for SMEs to increase their productivity through a higher degree of automation while maintaining a high level of flexibility . One key element towards this goal can be the use of industrial robots, which offer high repeatability, high speeds, and a fatigue-proof nature, which allows them to operate 24/7. Moreover, robots are less prone to commit errors due to lack of concentration, when compared to human operators. Hence, they are often deployed to carry out repetitive or monotonous tasks, which could otherwise lead to frustration and poor job satisfaction of workers . In addition, robots are highly versatile and can be deployed for a wide range of industrial applications, ranging from performing assembly tasks to quality inspection, as well as transport/logistics .

    Despite these advantages, there are also drawbacks to utilizing robots in an industrial context. The most prominent disadvantage is the high initial investment, with costs including expensive hardware, such as the robot manipulator and additional sensors [3]. Moreover, manual installation and configuration efforts are required, which are typically carried out by experts [7]. As many SMEs lack robotics expertise within the company, they are subsequently forced to hire external specialists to set up a robot to satisfy their needs. In addition, establishing such a robotic system can take up to several months. These long setup and ramp up times, however, conflict with the rapid changes in production processes and small batch sizes, which would ultimately render these solutions uneconomical [8]. Finally, the maintenance and service required by a robotic system, including sensors and tools, are not negligible. If hardware fails due to wear or malfunction, it needs to be replaced in a timely manner and the system needs to be recalibrated. Once more, this would require skilled technicians, which might be scarce. Consequently, the two major barriers that keep SMEs from applying robots to a larger extend are the uncertainty about costs (total cost of ownership), and lack of robotic expertise.
    2. Towards industrial-robots-as-a-service
    Generally, the term ‘servitisation’ in manufacturing refers to the delivery of value to a customer without the transfer of ownership of an asset. Typically, servitisation is subscription based which also includes maintenance and support [11].

    2.1. Robots-as-a-service (RaaS)
    Based on this servitisation principle, the term Robots-as-a-Service (RaaS) has been established. Similar to other “as-a-service” theorems, the characteristic of RaaS is to rent software or computing hardware, rather than acquiring it [12]. Consequently, RaaS needs to possess the functions of a service oriented architecture (SOA) [13]. These include roles such as a service provider and a service customer/client. Where a service provider delivers a service, and a customer pays service fees based on usage. Yet, the meaning of the term RaaS has evolved over the past decade from purely software based, towards considering the hardware aspect to a larger degree as well.