Robot builders react to "shakeout" editorial.
Back in our April 1983 issue, we ran an editorial entitled "About the shakeout in robotics.' The main point was that the robot industry in the US would not necessarily follow the pattern of the auto industry, with only a Big Three or Four surviving.
"Considering the fact that Japan now has about 150 companies building robots,' said the editorial (and lately we read that the number may be closer to 250), "it's not unreasonable to forecast that the number of robot builders in the US will increase.'
Financial strength would certainly enhance the chances for survival, but the main criterion, we felt, would be expertise in applications. "Whether large, small or in-between,' the editorial said, "the viable (robot) producers will have one characteristic in common: They'll be experts in system design and problem solving for specific kinds of applications. In short, the focus will have shifted from the robot to the system.'
After publication of the editorial, we invited robot builders to write and give their reactions. Following are excerpts from two of the responses:
"The shakeout has already begun,' writes Richard J Becker, industry marketing manager for Nova Roboties Inc, East Hartford, CT. "The Robots 7 show was characterized by the absence of folks who had been at Robots 6 with less-than-ready products.
"A few other companies have made public announcements of their withdrawal from robotics. Laura Conigliaro (industry analyst with Prudential Bache) publicly questions the continued interest of some of the giants when profit margins don't live up to expectations.
"There will be turmoil,' Becker continues, "but I don't think it's going to last more than five years or so. There will unquestionably be both big and small companies that will survive because they offer systems expertise, and advanced controls and software.
"The big breakthrough in the use of robotics will come, however, when either American industry realizes that they must relax stringent ROI guidelines and begin thinking about long-term survival (my guess is that this will happen by the end of 1984), or when cheap robots become available.
"At every robot show and user conference for the past several years, I have seen scores of potential users scanning the aisles, searching for that $15,000, DC servodriven, programmable robot. The low-cost stand-alone robot is going to appear--soon.'
Bonnie Mefferd, advertising manager for Positech Corp, Laurens, IA, makes the following comments:
"Having suffered through a year and a half of non-robot people who have done nonresearch, making bold pronouncements about where we can all expect to see our market head in the near future, we take our hats off to Tooling & Production for its invitation to ask us what we think.
"We also salute you for your insight into what is not one robot market, united and single purposed, but rather a market that is diversified into segments, some as yet not identified. For example, we are currently addressing applications in defense applications, in meat-packing processes, and in plants with (load) weight requirements of 5000 lb, as well as in the traditional metalworking plants.
"Each application requires a different solution. At this stage, each is unique, but custom-designed products soon become standard.
"How does the current robotics revolution look to us?' Ms Mefferd continues. "It looks like any other revolution in early stages: diverse, varied, difficult, and with the normal confusion and misunderstanding attendant upon revolutions.
"Joseph Engelberger calls us upstarts. Laura Conigliaro calls us fly-by-nights. On the other hand, our shareholders call us a company with great potential.
"We see ourselves rather like one of the thoroughbreds lined up at the starting gate. The odds on our winning are higher than on horses that have won before, but the payoff is more fun.
"Positech intends to continue, with our limited financial resources and marketing network, to do what we find we can do: design special answers to new problems. We aren't going to worry about the giants who are building assembly, welding and painting robots. They're getting all the attention right now, because those are the first applications to have been identified, but there are millions more waiting to be born.'
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|Title Annotation:||Tooling & Production|
|Publication:||Tooling & Production|
|Date:||Jan 1, 1984|
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