Cobots- Improving Access to Industry 4.0

19:17 | 05/09/2018 Industry

Vietnam is emerging as a manufacturing powerhouse, attracting investors with its strong network of trade agreements, strategic location and competitively priced labour.  2017 saw record foreign direct investments (FDI) of USD 35.6 billion, driven by investments from Japan, South Korea and Singapore.    

cobots also enable the existing workforce, whether skilled or unskilled, to work more efficiently, thereby maximising returns on pre-existing investments in staff, facilities and processes.

the country enjoys a manufacturing edge over its peers, globalisation and the Industry 4.0 revolution are posing increasingly greater challenges for Vietnam’s businesses. Southeast Asian countries are leveraging advanced technology and robotics to transform their industries, increasing productivity, lowering labour costs and expanding globally. Vietnam risks being left behind if it does not take immediate steps to transition towards this technological revolution.

Recently, Prime Minister Nguyễn Xuân Phúc acknowledged that the country’s embrace of industry 4.0 is slow and has not kept up with the trend. Cost remains a major deterrent, making businesses hesitant to adopt automation.

Dispelling Misconceptions

While companies recognise the merits of automation, there is often a misconception that substantial costs are involved. This includes hefty initial investment, high maintenance costs and complex installations with layout changes. Moreover, business owners assume robotic automation requires the need of highly skilled engineers to program and maintain the robots.

Affordable, more capable and flexible technologies such as collaborative robots (cobots) are lowering barriers to automation for businesses of all sizes. Cobots - robots designed to work side-by-side with people – offer manufacturers a “bite-sized” or financially/physically less daunting way to address automation. Lightweight and compact, they fit into production lines without overhauling existing infrastructure.

Cobots have in-built safety features, making it safe for people to work in close proximity without having to install safety barriers (subject to risk assessment). Their intuitive programmability and user-friendly nature allows them to be easily deployed to various tasks even by those with little robotics experience.

This is exemplified by several cobot adopters in Southeast Asia, namely PT JVC Electronics Indonesia, a car audio-visual and navigation device manufacturer. The company deployed seven cobots within its busy workspace to enhance its competitiveness. Integration of cobots helped reduce operational costs by USD 80,000 while improving productivity and output quality. The company’s engineers, who were new to robotics, successfully installed Universal Robots (UR) cobots into the production line within months. The Indonesian manufacturer achieved 100 per cent Return on Investment (ROI) in just 30 months.

Examining the True Value of Automation

When deciding to automate, businesses should build a solid business case examining the true value of automation. This includes identifying which processes would benefit and choosing the ideal technology.

Many businesses calculate ROI by using payback period, taking the cost of the robot and dividing it by the monthly salary of a worker. To accurately calculate ROI however, start with the initial cost and consider the short-term and long-term tangible/intangible benefits.

Businesses should also take into account fees for additional system accessories and any integration charges. This includes future maintenance costs, whether the robot redeployed is able to meet changing needs of the business, and changes to factory floor layout. Other important considerations include employee-related expenses, including training and setting up safety barriers (if needed, and typically the case when deploying traditional industrial robots).

On the flipside, cobots have minimal integration costs due to their ease of use, flexibility, small footprint, easy programming and the ability to update and maintain technology in-house. Their use provides security against rising traditional costs such as increasing labour costs, thereby further protecting profits. They also offer flexible deployment through modular implementation, resulting in fast payback and easy redeployment, thus utilising cobots throughout their entire lifespan.

As a tool, cobots also enable the existing workforce, whether skilled or unskilled, to work more efficiently, thereby maximising returns on pre-existing investments in staff, facilities and processes.

There are various resources available in Vietnam for those looking to familiarise themselves with cobots. The Viet Nam-Japan Training and Transfer Centre by The Saigon Hi-Tech Park provides relevant courses on automation and robotics solutions, particularly for engineers. UR also offers free technical workshops with its partners, Tan Phat Automation and Servo Vietnam, to boost knowledge on robotics. The company also launched the UR Academy, offering free high calibre robotics training at To date, over 20,000 users from 132 countries have participated in this programme which includes nine hands-on online modules on basic programming for UR robots.

Moving Forward

As Vietnam sets its sights on becoming an industrialised country by 2020, it needs to maintain its competitive advantage by employing advanced technology and robotics. With the emergence of cobots, perceptions on automation have evolved from them being expensive, complex and requiring high maintenance, to being affordable, flexible and user-friendly. This allows greater access to automation for businesses of all sizes, helping them enhance their competitiveness with foreign firms as the global economy moves towards Industry 4.0.

Pham Sao