Did you know that you can now rent a robot worker—and it’s cheaper than a human’s hourly rate? For more than a century, Polar Manufacturing has been producing metal hinges, locks, and brackets in south Chicago. Some of the company’s metal presses, which are hulking, massive machinery that tower over a worker, date back to the 1950s. Polar hired its first robot employee last year to fulfill increased demand amid a labor shortage.
What does a robot worker do?
The robot arm does a simple, repetitive task: It lifts a piece of metal into a press and bends it into a new shape. The robot worker is compensated for the hours it works, just like a human.
The robot, which is leased from a firm named Formic, costs the equivalent of $8 per hour, compared to a minimum pay of $15 per hour for a human employee, according to Jose Figueroa, who supervises Polar’s manufacturing line. Apparently, deploying the robot allowed a human worker to do alternative tasks, resulting in increased output.
Formic leases standard robot arms with its own software after purchasing them. They’re one of a small but rising number of pay-as-you-go robots making their way into businesses.
We all know what this means though: Smaller companies will potentially suffer, because they can’t spend the capital to invest in new technology, while struggling to get by with the minimum wage increase.
Many industries are experiencing labor shortages as a result of the pandemic, yet many smaller businesses are hesitant to invest in automation. Steve Chmura, chief operating officer at Georgia Nut, a confectionery company in Illinois, that has been struggling to find employees and as a result rents robots from Formic, shared: “Anything that can help reduce labor count or the need for labor is obviously a plus at this particular time.”
By altering the economics, the robot-as-employee strategy could help automation grow more quickly into smaller enterprises. Formic, for example, sees a potential to grow a large business by serving a large number of small enterprises. Many companies are using the data they acquire to better their goods and the operations of their consumers.
Robots have been taking up new professions in recent years as technology has improved and grown easier and less expensive to deploy. Robots carry supplies to some hospitals, and some offices have robotic security guards. These robots are frequently rented from the firms that manufacture them.
In October, the International Federation of Robotics, a global group that studies robot trends, predicted that the number of robots sold last year would increase by 13%.
Elsewhere, a brain-controlled robotic arm can now sense touch.
Photo via Lovepik