By Mikkel Viager, Senior Robot & Automation Advisor, Gain & Co
Why read this: When looking to buy a robot, investing some time in searching for the right supplier typically gives you a better price and a more robust solution. However, the robot market is difficult to navigate, and few companies make the proper research. Here is why they should.
Too many companies invest too little time in market research
Say you have decided to make use of robot technology in your organisation. You have already identified the process you want to automate, and your employees are ready for the challenge. Now is a good time to ask yourself: Where should I buy the technology?
Investing some time in searching for the best supplier is a great strategy, but in my experience as an independent robot advisor, few companies seem to do this. As a consequence, they miss out on better solutions, and their robot projects become unnecessarily expensive.
The robot market is difficult to navigate
Sometimes, the technology you are looking for already exists in the market as a standard solution. It might also be the case that several suppliers are ready to initiate a development project based on existing technologies. But if companies aren’t aware of this, they will not continue – and the automation journey ends before it begins.
I once visited a client who had successfully identified the process with the greatest potential for automation in their production. However, because of their limited overview, they had only asked one supplier for a robotic solution: the supplier they normally use.
The supplier suggested a solution to their best efforts, but the task was very different from what they were used to automate. Consequently, the suggested solution was too risky and expensive.
Because of this, the client had given up on the project.
The client was in the food packaging business, and the robotic solution they needed was not yet developed. However, I was able to help them identify an existing robotic solution used in graphical printing, which matched the client’s needs.
My knowledge of the market suddenly presented us with a robotic solution within budget that was even less risky to implement – and the project could go on.
There are many types of suppliers
There are many different types of suppliers out there. When looking for a solution, you should first determine what competences are needed. Supplier types can be categorised as follows:
Manufacturers generally sell robots to distributors and will only sell robots directly to very big customers, such as giant car factories. In such a case, you will buy just the robotic part of the solution and be responsible for integrating it yourself.
The distributor in each country or region also sells just a part of the solution, for example a robot arm without grippers, safety certification or relevant programming. Distributors will normally sell robots to anyone wanting to integrate it themselves.
The integrator is for many the preferred supplier of robot and automation solutions. This is because integrators can manage the whole solution, meaning that customers have very little responsibility for setting up and installing and typically just need to learn to operate ready-made technology. This is where you get turn-key solutions.
Vendors do not provide ready-made solutions but only sell separate components like grippers or robot arms. If you want to do the integration yourself, vendors can be relevant – even if they are more expensive than the distributor. This is because you might already have service agreements with said vendor, with whom you might therefore make a favourable deal.
Proper market research can give better prices and reduce the risk of the investment
Investing some time in proper market research will pay off in the long run. For example, it allows you to identify several suppliers for your project and have them all make an offer. Putting out a tender like this generates much-needed competition and often gets you a better price.
Continuing the example from earlier, I managed to collect offers from three different suppliers for our client. This provided the client with an overview of the market price range, available concepts, and allowed interaction with all three suppliers to see if they were trustworthy and good potential business partners.
Market research can also be hugely important when your project does not call for a standard solution.
If you can find a supplier with previous experience from projects like yours, you will save money because the solution does not have to be invented from scratch. And more importantly, a proven concept will minimise the risk of the investment as a whole.
While the aforementioned offers varied much in price, it was also clear to see which suppliers had previous experience with similar tasks. The suppliers with experience could suggest automation concepts which were less prone to breakdowns.
My example shows why market research matters. Doing business with your neighbouring supplier, without having scanned the market first, can be a costly affair.
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