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In-house vs Outsourcing: How to Source Robotics Expertise

Alex Owen-Hill
by Alex Owen-Hill.
Posted on Oct 05, 2016 7:00 AM. 7 min read time

How do you choose between investing in in-house robotics expertise and paying for an outsourced integrator? In this article, we discuss five important considerations for choosing who will integrate your collaborative robot setup.

We all know the benefits that collaborative robots can have for our businesses. They're cheap, flexible, fast to integrate and have a small footprint on the workshop floor. On the Robotiq blog, we have provided loads of advice about how to ease the integration process, best practices when setting up an automation cell and a whole collection of free eBooks to make integration as easy as possible.

But, there's one big question we haven't answered: Who should carry out the integration!?

We have shown that buying robotics is cheaper than outsourcing labor, meaning that robotics is a good way to keep manufacturing in-house. Is the same true for robotics expertise? Should you hire an external robotics integrator or invest in training for your in-house workforce?

In this article, we compare in-house robotics expertise with outsourcing to find out which factors are most important.

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Insourcing Is Dead? Outsourcing Is Dead? Who do I Believe?

You would be forgiven for getting confused when you look for advice about outsourcing. Some commentators proclaim "outsourcing is dead" whilst others insist "outsourcing is the future." It's impossible to know who to believe, as the arguments for both insourcing and outsourcing are both very compelling.

The dilemma is not unique to robotics. It is present in various fields, including training, software development, technology adoption and maintenance.

In fact, almost every manager has asked themselves, at least once: Should I outsource this task or bring it in-house?

The simple response to such contradicting trends is just to ignore them. Don't believe any one source of information. Sure, keep yourself informed about what other companies are doing, but don't think "I must outsource because apparently everyone is doing it." Similarly, don't fall into the trap of thinking "I must do it this way because that's the way we've always done it."

The advantages of both insourcing and outsourcing are constantly changing as the market changes. The best way to assess your need for robotics expertise is to examine it on a case-by-case basis, whilst keeping an open mind.

How Insourcing and Outsourcing Apply to Robotics

There are at least three ways that insourcing and outsourcing can apply to robotics. Firstly, as we've discussed in the past, you can use robots as an alternative to outsourced labor. Secondly, you can outsource the robotic technology itself by buying into a robot-as-a-service program, such as the one we saw this year at Automatica 2016. Finally, you can outsource the robotics expertise.

How to Outsource Robotics Expertise

Outsourcing your robotics expertise will usually mean hiring an integrator. Good integrators will have deep knowledge of the technology and continually reeducate themselves on the newest developments within automation. Choosing an integrator can be a tricky task. See our previous post for a list of guidelines to follow when shopping for an integrator.

How to Develop In-house Robotics Expertise

Developing in-house robotics expertise basically boils down to training. Instead of paying for an integrator, you invest in training your workforce to carry out the task of the integrator. In the past, when automation required traditional industrial robots, this training would have been long and expensive. However, with the advent of collaborative robots this has all changed.

Training an employee to program a collaborative robot can take as little as half a day of on-site training. This is the reason that insourcing robotics expertise has become a very attractive proposition. Our 3-part blog series "How to Integrate Your First Robot" looks at some of the main stumbling blocks for in-house robotic integration.

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Insourcing vs Outsourcing: The Showdown

In this section we lay out five of the main considerations for in-house vs outsourced robotics expertise. We provide a few examples of each category, but there are likely many more. Try to add some more considerations for yourself, which are specific to your business.


Cost

Cost is usually the first consideration when comparing two solutions. However, keep in mind that it might not be the most important, even though it is "the bottom line."

In-house expertise

Outsourced

  • Training costs
  • Extra personnel costs
  • Lost work hours due to training
  • Travel costs to off-site training
  • Work cost
  • Travel costs, for contractors to your site
  • Contract writing and legal costs
  • Costs incurred by later changes to contract and work scope

 

Flexibility

One of the biggest advantages of in-house expertise is flexibility, which also happens to be one of the main advantages of collaborative robots.

In-house expertise

Outsourced

  • Easy to alter robot application or change track completely
  • Chance for more dynamic solutions, as a trained workforce continually forms ideas on how to improve the robotic application
  • Can change integrator if your needs are not being met
  • Outsourced company may be able to react quicker to changes in scale of work
  • Fixed-cost outsourcing can lead to financial flexibility in other areas of the business

 

Quality

The quality aspect of robotic integration refers to whether the robot performs as expected.

In-house expertise

Outsourced

  • Workers have vested interest in the idea, which can improve their drive towards quality
  • Quality control can be easier, as it is managed in-house
  • Can maximize use of the robotic technology as workers understand its capabilities
  • Deeper knowledge of robotic technology within the outsourced company
  • Changes to robotic setup could incur extra costs and bad will between the businesses. As a result of this, benchmarking mechanisms are vital to ensure that robots function according to specifications.

 

Control

Maintaining control over process is at the core of many businesses. Outsourcing inherently means giving up some of that control to another company.

In-house expertise

Outsourced

  • Higher level of control over the integration (could be great but maybe not)
  • Smaller confidentiality risks, as proprietary information is maintained within the company
  • You are not financially tied to the well being of another company, as you are with outsourcing, which makes your business more stable
  • The outside perspective on the task could lead to a better robotics solution
  • Potential loss of managerial control regarding how the job is carried out
  • The reputation of the outsourcing company could affect your business's reputation, in either a positive or negative light.

 

Convenience

Collaborative robots are a very convenient form of automation, and both insourcing and outsourcing can extend this convenience.

In-house expertise

Outsourced

  • Very convenient as there is practically no delay or administrative burden to re-integrate a robot to a new task
  • Robot integrators in the workforce are always in-the-loop about changes to the process, so can give input and even preempt changes to the robot programming
  • Convenient in the sense that you do not need to re-train employees if you want to use the robot for a more advanced task, you can simply call up the contractor.
  • The wider knowledge-base of contractors makes it simpler to research new robotic technology options.

 

Which Should I Choose? In-house or Outsourced?

In the end, the choice of whether you use an outsourced integrator or invest in in-house expertise depends on your business needs and available resources. Hopefully, the considerations listed in this post have given you a good place to start.

Remember that you don't have to go "all in-house" or "all outsourced." You can also choose a hybrid approach by, for example, training the workforce on the basics of robotic integration and then using an integrator when you want to add complexity, such as when adding extra sensors to your robot.

What factors do you consider when choosing between in-house and outsourced robotic expertise? Are there any jobs you would never give to an external company? Are there any jobs you would never do in-house? Tell us in the comments below or join the discussion on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook.

 

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Alex Owen-Hill
Written by Alex Owen-Hill
Alex Owen-Hill is a freelance writer and public speaker who blogs about a large range of topics, including science, presentation skills at CreateClarifyArticulate.com, storytelling and (of course) robotics. He completed a PhD in Telerobotics from Universidad Politecnica de Madrid as part of the PURESAFE project, in collaboration with CERN. As a recovering academic, he maintains a firm foot in the robotics world by blogging about industrial robotics.
Connect with the writer:
http://alexowenhill.co.uk/

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