The New Face of Automation: Renting Robots
A solution to the labor shortage or a new obstacle for workers?
Manufacturing companies are using a robot-as-employee approach to combat the labor shortage flooding the US. Since the pandemic started, the US has suffered from a highly unusual shortage of workers. The fear of the virus and the bad working conditions have incited many people to leave the workforce.
Covid immigration restrictions have reduced by 2 million the amount of working-age immigrants in the US. People are retiring early (some took advantage of stock market profits from bonanza years, while others decided to stay on the sidelines after being pushed out by company cuts) reducing the labor force participation from 63.4% (Jan 2020) to 61.8% (Nov 2021).
Now, with the demand for workers back to pre-pandemic levels but fewer people willing to accept any job, some companies have found the perfect solution: Renting robots — and they cost less than paying a human worker.
A new business model: Renting robots
Taking advantage of the unique circumstances of the pandemic, companies like Formic, Locus Robotics, and Rapid Robotics have begun to lease robots — in contrast to selling them, which would force their customers to incur extremely high up-front costs, often unaffordable for small companies.
One such company leveraging the new robots-as-a-service economy is Polar Manufacturing, which, amid growing demand and labor shortage, decided to hire its first robot employee from Formic. Jose Figueroa, who manages the production line at Polar, told Wired that “smaller companies sometimes suffer because they can’t spend the capital to invest in new technology.” However, by renting the robot, they only spend $8/hr compared to the $15/hr minimum wage for people. Lower cost with higher productivity.
Spending $100K on new technology would’ve been unaffordable, but for $8/hr Figueroa would like to see 25 robot workers in 5 years. He says Polar doesn’t plan to replace any of its 70 human workers, but “may not need to hire new workers.”
Westec Plastic Corp is another example. This plastic molding factory has now three robots on the payroll from Rapid Robotics. They…