ABB to Manufacture Robots in America
Posted on Jul 13, 2015 4:35 PM. 4 min read time
It seems like ‘the times they are a changing’ in the manufacturing world. With the economic bankruptcy of Detroit and the crash of its economy, as well as the various other financial crises especially in 2008, it seems like the United States is finally recovering and beginning to bringing back manufacturing jobs.
As prices were lower in undeveloped and Asian countries, some enterprises tended to buy stuff overseas in order to chop their prices at home. As time went by, we began to realize that the manufacturing process was a big part of the economy and if we didn't invest in it then our whole economy would go down with it. We can now see a shift in mentality and see companies like ABB establishing plants in North America to manufacture their robots.
Someone has to build those robots!
As cited by CNBC: ''Someone has to build the robot''. In fact, contrary to what most people might think, robots are not built by robots (well, not yet I guess). For different reasons, it is still humans that are doing most of the assembly tasks. So, since manufacturing robots in North America will bring jobs back to North America, hand crafting them makes this move even more interesting in terms of jobs. Especially if you look at where ABB's robot manufacturing plant will be located: Detroit, Michigan. A city that has grown up and lived with manufacturing processes for decades (especially in the automotive market). Seeing a lot of automotive manufacturers shutting down plants, the city had some hard times and is slowly recovering from these events. With a geographical positioning that will allow plants to feed all the US and have a direct entry into Canada. It is a very interesting way to expand for ABB. With their two existing plants in Sweden and China, ABB was able to deliver robots onto American soil in 20 to 25 weeks. Now with the new plant in Detroit, delays are expected to be only 6 to 10 weeks.
ABB is the first of the Big 4 (ABB, Fanuc, KUKA, Yaskawa) to manufacture robots in North America. Most of them will be doing all their operations in their European or Asian plants, ABB decided to go to the States to develop a better coverage of a market that is growing fast. Even if the US robot market is not increasing at the same speed as the one in Asia, it is still pretty interesting for a company to invest into a $7.5 Billion US market. ABB already has research and engineering offices in Sweden, the Czech Republic, Norway, Mexico, Japan, the USA and China. I don’t have any information on which robots will be manufactured in the US plant or any details on how ABB usually works when it's time to export manufacturing processes to other countries, will they begin with a few models or bring in the cavalry right away.
Other robot manufacturers
As you probably know, ABB is not the only robot or robotic device manufacturer in North America. The hype around this news is basically the fact that this company is part of the Big 4 and that it is a milestone in terms of robotic development. However, younger companies have been born and raised in North America and have built a solid reputation in the robotic world.
- Rethink Robotics: The Boston based company has made their name with their now famous Baxter. A collaborative robot with a ''face'' (it's actually a screen). The robot can monitor its surroundings and is able to carry objects with its two arms. They recently pre-launched a new robot model called Sawyer. The robots are intended to do industrial applications like machine tending, packaging, etc.
- Boston Dynamics: Another Boston based company that is well known for their Atlas robot which was part of the DARPA Robotics Challenge. This company was one of the Google acquisitions in 2013 and is really focused on humanoid and animal-like robots.
- Clearpath Robotics : The Canadian based company from Kitchener, ON focuses on mobile robots. They have an open source platform that allows the end user to do several operations from their mobile platform. Sensors and a robot arm or 2 can be added to their mobile platform to accomplish different operations in logistics, manufacturing, industrial or research spheres.
- Robotiq: The Quebec based company is a spinoff from the Laval University Robotics Laboratory. The company is focused on robot end effectors (Grippers). It also produces a Force Torque Sensor. They now have the 2-Finger 85 Gripper, the 3-Finger Adaptive Gripper and the FT 150 Force Torque Sensor. All hardware is built to be tough for executing industrial applications (machine tending, assembly, pick and place), but can also be flexible enough for research applications like the APC and DARPA.
And the list is larger than this. Just thinking about what Google acquired over the last few years and you can add a minimum of 4-5 more companies. It is a very large world but most of the time robotics companies are startups that just keep growing a little bigger every year. Nothing compared to a giant like ABB. It is still pretty cool to have such diverse expertise in the robotic field near home. Notice that North America doesn’t have a background like Switzerland, Germany or Japan in terms of robot manufacturing, but... the first robot was made in the US right? ;-)
It will be interesting to follow how ABB sales will take off in the USA. With Americans known to be very patriotic, it wouldn't surprise me to see an increase in robotic sales in US following this move. Go Robots Go!