Industry Article

Robotics-as-a-Service (RaaS): What Is It and Why Would You Want It?

November 02, 2023 by Misa Ilkhechi, Formic Technologies

Traditionally, automation requires a sizable investment and integration risks. RaaS empowers manufacturers to let someone else adopt the risks in exchange for an hourly or monthly subscription rate.

The question of the day in manufacturing is not whether to automate or not, but rather how to meet this critical need in today’s economy.

Traditionally, automation requires a sizable investment of your time and money. You must select, purchase, integrate, deploy, test, optimize, and then maintain a robot. Once your costly solution is ready to use, it may no longer fit your project’s shifting needs, or it may not even work at all.


What is Robotics-as-a-Service (RaaS)?

Robotics-as-a-service (RaaS) flips this paradigm by empowering manufacturers to let someone else adopt the risks in exchange for an hourly or monthly subscription rate. Think of it like hiring a robot worker at, for example, $15/hr to move 10 boxes per minute onto a pallet.

Rather than dumping your capital budget into risky efforts or trying to fill the labor gap with expensive temporary workers, RaaS empowers you to automate and scale productivity quickly and easily. What's more, with a RaaS model in which you only pay for actual productivity, you don’t invest a dime until and unless your solution is working on your floor and hitting the required metrics.

For one Arizona-based family business, ICON Injection Molding, partnering with a RaaS provider with a productivity model led to a 20% increase in production, 30% improvement in cycle time, and improved employee safety and product quality. To achieve these benefits and more, the business didn’t invest a dime until their solution was working on the factory floor, and today, ICON only pays an hourly rate when it’s working as promised.

But another question remains, how exactly does the RaaS model actually work?


Palletizing robot application

Figure 1. A RaaS solution applied to a palletizing challenge. Image used courtesy of Formic


The Easy Button for Engineering Design

Most engineers are stretched thin, overseeing countless projects at once. Working with the right RaaS provider is like pressing the proverbial Easy Button. It empowers you to outsource some of your responsibilities to a partner who will ensure your timelines, budgets, and facility needs are met – without hiring extra additional resources.

What’s more, with a pay-for-productivity model, your RaaS provider is financially invested in developing your solution quickly and ensuring that it remains working for you. In order to meet your production metrics and keep banking your hourly rate, your provider manages 24/7 monitoring and maintenance, easing your in-house burden.


Easement of Cash Flow Restrictions

RaaS puts an end to the frustration and stagnation created by budget justification capital expense cycles. All too often, engineers pour precious time into validation… only to find that the project in development for the past six months doesn't actually have the required budget. Equally frustrating is when engineers recognize multiple opportunities for process improvement and then are forced to choose only one or two per year.

RaaS removes that hefty initial investment and empowers engineers to automate purely out of operating budgets. The new automation then generates instant cash savings, while capital purchases can take a minimum of 2-3 years to generate positive ROI, if they generate ROI at all.

RaaS creates a new cycle for manufacturers like ICON, which can now use the 40% OpEx decrease created by its first RaaS cells to pay for its next RaaS automation solution.


Robot in an injection molding application

Figure 2. A RaaS solution applied to an injection molding machine challenge. Image used courtesy of Formic


Proven Solutions Drawn From an Experienced Team

With RaaS, engineers are not forced to recreate the wheel for every project you automate. A technology-agnostic provider has already spent years vetting out all the vendors and technology models so that you not only receive the best devices, but the best overall implementation strategy for your needs.

Instead of trying to hammer a nail with a wrench or create a solution from scratch, your automation partner will choose the best existing solution and then customize it to meet your needs.

ICON, for example, hired a proven robotic solution for a project that included a cooling water bath. The RaaS cell was customized to work with a 22-year-old machine and handle several steps of a process, but on the factory floors, it created an unexpected water splash. Though the solution was deployed, ICON didn’t start paying until the RaaS provider optimized the cell to resolve this issue and achieve the agreed-upon metrics.


Flexibility Through Changing Projects

Just-in-time manufacturing and unstable supply chains have left many businesses struggling to adapt to customers’ shifting needs. While automation may present an obvious immediate solution, this inability to forecast makes it even harder to justify the traditional risk and expense associated with purchasing automation.

A flexible RaaS program, in contrast, will shift with your projects – which means you’ll no longer need an automation graveyard. Your provider can update programming as needs shift or if a project changes entirely, swap your current machine out with one you can use.


Inspecting a robotic installation

Figure 3. Designing and implementing a RaaS installation. Image used courtesy of Formic


For ICON, automating via RaaS means the manufacturer is now prepared to fulfill customer needs – whether orders are for 1,000 parts or 10,000.


How Do I Get Started With RaaS?

If you have not been able to justify automation due to the barriers of cost, risk, expertise, or even bandwidth, now is the time to do some ROI calculations to compare how you traditionally purchase automation with Raas offerings. Beyond the massive capex outlay required to purchase, remember to factor in the costs associated with components, optimization, and a lifetime of maintenance.

With all that and more covered by RaaS hourly or monthly subscription rates, the math will undoubtedly speak for itself. Then it’s just a matter of digging to find the RaaS provider who is willing to adopt the risks and offer the expertise, flexibility, and partnership to help your business start or elevate your own automation journey.


Robot performing palletizing operation