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The Real Costs of an

Industrial Robot
Table of Contents

Executive Summary…………………………………………………………………… 3
Robots are Becoming Less Expensive and More Accessible………. 5
What Does A Robot Cost?………………………….……………………………… 8
Should You Choose Collaborative?......……………………………………...12
Budgeting for Integration: Four Times the Robot Cost……………...16
Sensors, Accessories and Cell Configuration………………………….....23
Reducing Costs…………………………….…………………………………………...30
What Next?………………………..…………………………….……………………...35
Executive Summary
In today’s industrial market, the cost of flexible robotic automation is
dropping, while unemployment is also low. The need to fill low-skill positions
and tasks in the manufacturing environment is driving up numbers in robotics
integration and the adoption of robotic solutions. In response, and to spur
growing demand, robotics manufacturers are continuing to develop control
and programming toward greater usability, requiring less expertise to operate
and program robots in the factory.

By examining the cost of one class of general-purpose robot arms, as well as

all of the additional commissioning costs, including tooling, safety and training,
this report aims to give readers a better understanding of the cost of deploying
a robot.

Our research found that a typical six-axis robot arm with a payload of between
5-10 kg and reach of approximately 1m costs in the range of $25-35,000 USD.
Collaborative arms cost more, but require less expenditure in safety and

With help from experts from Yaskawa Motoman, Kawasaki Robots, and
Universal Robots, we explored the additional costs, which range from 2-6 times
the cost of the arm, depending on the needs of the application.

Choosing the right integrator and the right robot for the task is essential for
driving down costs. In addition, comprehensive planning of the project will
help keep costs on track. In the end, the time involved in getting a robotic cell
up and running to begin realizing ROI may be more important than the capex
needed to deploy it. One faster, but more expensive, way to do this is by
choosing a pre-engineered cell for your task. For example, the Yaskawa
Motoman ArcWorld arc welding cell costs just over $150,000 USD, but can be
up and running within days of delivery.

To learn more about the most cost-effective way to deploy robotics in your
production environment, start by researching your target process, using the
human operator’s knowledge. Contact a system integrator that specializes or
has experience in this process application, and plan to send personnel for
training with the manufacturer.

Robots are Becoming
Less Expensive and
More Accessible
The cost of labor is increasing, and the availability of workers is decreasing. The
reduced supply of workers is stoking the demand for industrial automation around the

“[Unskilled labor jobs] are currently very difficult to fulfill from a resource
perspective for most companies. The sense of urgency from the market and the
customer base is based around the problem that, ‘I can't find anybody in my region,
and I actually can't deliver to my customers if I don't find somebody.’ And the
interesting part about that? It doesn't make a difference where you are in the world.”
Said Jurgen von Hollen, CEO of Universal Robots. “Everyone thinks, ‘Oh, well, if you're
in China or if you're in Mexico, you're going to find people.’ Absolutely not. It's the
same thing in every country I go to. They have the same discussion. They say, ‘Wow, if I
want to grow in scale, I can't. I just can't.’"

Source: Economist Intelligence Unit; IMB; Institue for Arbeitsmarkt- and Berufsforschung;
International Robot Federation; US Social Security data; Mckinsey analysis

According to a recent report by McKinsey, the cost of industrial robots is decreasing

even as labor gets more expensive. Since 1990, the average cost of robots has
decreased by half. Demand for robots has a compounding effect on their cost, as
production of robots shifts to special economic zones and lower-cost regions.

Whether a customer’s interest in robotic automation aligns with these trends or

not, their robotic integration project doesn’t have to be prohibitively expensive. This
report will inform readers on the details of getting a robotic cell up and running for a
reasonable cost and in a reasonable time frame.

What Does
A Robot Cost?
Robots come in all shapes and sizes, from autonomous mobile platforms, to SCARA,
delta and cartesian kinematics, to articulated arms with four, five, six or more axes,
with payloads ranging from a few grams to a few tons. Robots for painting, welding or
washdown have specialized design features. Some robots are designed to work within
extreme accuracy and precision. Each of these machines is designed for a specific set
of applications—far too many to cover in one document. However, all robots are
integrated in much the same process, and the basic costs and principles are relevant to
most cases.

So, no matter what a reader of this report will be doing with robotics, the insights
below will be useful and relevant.

To get a sense of what robots cost today, we’ll focus on general-purpose robotics: six
axis arms with a relatively small payload and a reach of approximately 1m. This is a
large market segment, and these robots are capable of a wide variety of tasks,
• Arc welding
• Shot blasting
• Deburring
• Machine tending
• Pick and place
• Sorting
• Kitting
• Assembly
• Other material handling tasks

For every major robot vendor most North American readers have heard of, there are
a dozen Chinese brands competing for a smaller slice of the market. Siasun, Foxconn
and Estun are among the largest Chinese players. For this report, we’ll set those aside,
and focus on the largest and most popular vendor brands in North America. contacted these manufacturers for pricing information.

Payload Reach Repeatability Price Range
Picture Vendor Robot
(kg) (mm) (mm) (USD)

LR Mate 25-30,000
FANUC 7 717 ± 0.018

ABB IRB1200 7 703 ±0.02 N/A

KUKA KR-6 6 726 ±0.01 N/A

GP7 7 927 ±0.03 25-30,000

Kawasaki RS007N 7 730 ±0.02 Under 30,000

UR10 10 1300 ±0.1 50,000

This chart is intended to give a rough idea of what this type of robot costs today:
about $25-35,000 USD.

Care should be taken when using this chart to compare these robots. For example,
the FANUC LR Mate 200iD is also available in a long arm variant, with a reach of 911
mm, and the KUKA AGILUS KR6 R700 is also available in a R900 variant with a reach of
900mm. The UR10 is also available in a 5kg payload robot which costs $35,000. There
are also dozens of other suppliers and brands which may have the best option for a
given application.

The size, payload, and reach of a robot affect its price, as well as the architecture
and number of axes. Six axis arms, as shown above, may not be necessary for certain
applications. Consider the transformations necessary to achieve the desired motions.
For example, in palletizing, a payload may need to be rotated about the z axis, but the
payload can always stay parallel to the ground in the x-y plane. As a result, palletizing
robots typically don’t have freedom in those axes.


Image source: Wikimedia Commons


Should You Choose
Collaborative robots, represented in part by the Universal Robots UR10 on the list
above, are a growing niche market in industrial applications.

While the added sensors and features increase the cost of the robot itself, the
collaborative option radically changes the needs for guarding, training, tooling, and
location in your facility.

In some applications, buying a collaborative robot will actually save money in the
long term, as the added flexibility, safety and usability provide a broader path to a
realized ROI. By definition, all collaborative robots must be safe for humans to work
alongside without guarding and have hand guiding teach functionality. However, some
collaborative robot vendors take the collaborative philosophy one step further, making
the programming and control user experience more intuitive and easier to use. Other
manufacturers, such as FANUC and Nachi, program their cobots using the same
language as their traditional robots.

For example, the KUKA LBR iiwa 7 R800 is a 7-axis, 7kg payload collaborative robot
with 800mm range and ±0.1mm repeatability. Its curved body shape is designed to
eliminate all pinch points. Each of its axes has a built-in torque sensor that can detect
contact and reduce speed and force. The torque sensing can also be used for object
detection and search, operator input, and abrasive applications. The iiwa can be taught
using hand guiding, and it uses a different controller and programming language than
KUKA’s non-collaborative robots. The Sunrise controller is programmed in Java, instead
of KUKA’s proprietary language, KRL. The German-engineered robot costs up to
$100,000 USD.
The HC10 is Yaskawa Motoman’s entry to the collaborative market. With 10kg
payload, 1200mm reach and the new Smart Pendant, the HC10 is comparable to the
Universal Robots UR10. The Smart Pendant has a new programming interface designed
to make it easier to program collaborative robot motions. One interesting feature of
the HC10 is a button near the wrist which allows the robot’s program to be resumed
after contact with a human has caused it to stop. This feature eliminates the need to
pick up the pendant and manually restart or resume the program. The company would
not divulge any price information about the HC10.

Before the company was shut down in October 2018, Rethink Robotics was an
important player in the collaborative robot market. Sawyer, the single arm six-axis
robot, cost roughly $35,000 USD and was designed to be user-friendly, with a strong
focus on teaching through hand guiding, rather than programming the motions. Before
Rethink shut down in the fall of 2018, interviewed product manager
Mike Fair about the real costs of integrating a collaborative robot.
“When customers buy robots, they're really looking for flexibility, rapid
redeployment, and they're looking for a robot to really capitalize on that and get a
good return on investment,” said Fair. “Having an easy-to-use platform gives our
customers the power to deploy robots on their own, without relying on a lot of
external integration.”

Jurgen Von Hollen, CEO of Universal Robots, had this to say about the lower cost of
integration of collaborative robots: “It really depends on the application. It could be
literally anything. Typically, I would say that for a simple application you want to try for
south of 40 grand for the package as a whole. That should be the case. Or lower.”

The features that make collaborative robots safe to work with also make them
unsuitable for more traditional robot tasks requiring high-volume, high speed
performance. Examples include the fast cycle time of automotive welding, the extreme
precision and accuracy in electronics assembly, or for tasks in which the danger of the
end effector negates the safety of the robot, such as using a torch or handling
sawblades. For these tasks, a non-collaborative industrial robot is best.

Budgeting for Integration:
Four Times
the Robot Cost
Setting aside the cost of the robot, there are several additional costs standing
between a robot and a functioning robotic cell. These costs will be described in this

There’s no upper bound to the money that can be spent on a robotic cell. Custom
tooling, expensive, advanced accessories, and a complex task can quickly jack up the
cost of a project into the mid six figure range and beyond.

Jurgen Von Hollen, CEO of Universal Robots, had this to say about the cost of
integration: “It really depends on the application. It could be literally anything.
Typically, I would say that for a simple application you want to try for south of 40 grand
for the package as a whole. That should be the case. Or lower.”

Zane Michael, director of thermal business development at Yaskawa Motoman, gave

his advice on this difficult question.

“You can get the [Yaskawa Motoman GP7] on a skid for the mid to upper 20s, but
you need integration, as we've been talking about,” said Michael.

“If you search the web for a $25,000 robot, more than likely it's going to be used,
and it's not going to be completely integrated. So, I don't see the $25,000 threshold
being the entry into the market. Yes, you can get a robot, such as the MotoMini, for
less than $20,000—in a box. That's it. No grippers, no custom engineering. No safety.
Customers today are looking for a complete solution, integrated, well-packaged and

So, while it obviously depends on the environment and the application, a rule of
thumb would be probably four to six times the robot price itself for a completely
integrated package, turnkey, ready to produce parts on the customer's floor.”

The Yaskawa Motoman MotoMini is one of the smallest sixaxis robots on the market,
with 0.5kg payload and 350mm horizontal reach.

Buying the robot is just the first step in a journey toward an operating cell
performing value-generating work. Below, we’ll go over the additional costs which
contribute to a functioning cell.

End effectors
End effectors, also called end-of-arm tooling, are the robot’s “hand”: the device
attached to the robot arm which allow it to interact with the environment. The end
effector is dependent on the application. For example, a welding gun, power sander or
scanning device equips a robot for the specific process task. Grippers are used to pick
up and manipulate objects, so they’re a very common type of end effector. Grippers
include fluid- or electrically-actuated mechanical jaws, fingers, or clamps; vacuum
cups; magnets; Van der Waals forces; and many more mechanisms to pick up and
release objects.

Grippers may be used in:

• Pick and place
• Packaging
• Assembly
• Bin picking

Custom tooling solutions typically require design and fabrication, which can inflate
time and cost. Application-specific, pre-engineered grippers, such as tools for handling
large bags, boxes, or pallets, are more often specified by a system integrator which has
experience in that application than by an end user. Multipurpose grippers are
marketed as a plug-and-play solution that can be set up even by the end user.

However, selecting multipurpose grippers will not necessarily eliminate the need for
custom parts: an adapter plate may be needed to connect the bolt pattern of the
gripper to that of the robot tool flange, as well as other custom tools in the cell.

Modular kits are available which combine the customizability of custom-fabricated

tooling with the accessibility of multipurpose options.

“Gripping solutions are oftentimes one of the most complex parts of the
deployment, because grippers are unique and customized for a specific application,”
said Mike Fair. “It can take a number of weeks to go through a procurement cycle, an
engineering cycle, and then they have to build it and ship it. Oftentimes, that's gating
the deployment, and if the customer has already purchased a robot, then they're not

gaining their ROI. So, to the extent that you can have a solution that's really easily put
together and deployed quickly [such as a gripper kit], then you can start realizing that

“Well, I think what we see now in the market is that all of the clients, they demand
more from their tools. The robots are becoming more and more like a commodity,
because all the different collaborative robots can do the same things. So where do you
actually add value in our application? It's with the tools, or the equipment around the
robot. So, the clients demand more from the solutions. Clients don't only want to be
able to grip one specific part. They want to be able to grip different parts,” Said Kristian
Hulgard, General Manager of multipurpose gripper company OnRobot.

The Gecko gripper, a multipurpose end effector made by OnRobot

“The typical application for OnRobot grippers would be this high-mix, low-volume
machine shop that never considered a robot in the past, thinking, ‘Hey, we only need
to produce a hundred parts.’ Whereas with a cobot and a multi-purpose gripper, you
can automate high-mix production.” Hulgard continued.

As Hulgard suggested, multipurpose grippers are ideal for collaborative robots, as a

custom gripper with sharp corners or pinch points negates the safety of the
collaborative robot. Companies like OnRobot, Schunk and Robotiq specialize in end
effectors which fit the guidelines of collaborative robotics.

Jigs and Fixtures
Robot tooling includes end-of-arm-tooling, but also the jigs, fixtures and objects
that make up the robot’s workstation. For example, if the robot changes between tools
during an assembly task, each tool must be held securely in its position so that the
robot can reliably take it. Fixtures can also be used to help the robot dexterously
manipulate objects. For example, a fixture can be used to help the robot turn and
orient parts or hold parts in place during assembly.

Jigs and fixtures must be prototyped, built and tested. Custom fixtures are often
developed by the robotic system integrator and may require machined or formed
metal parts. Fixtures are especially important to consider before a robot is redeployed.

Polymer 3D printing can be an excellent option for production of custom tooling,

offering rapid prototyping and low barriers to entry. Simple custom fixtures can be
designed for printing with basic CAD skills. If the robot will be deployed in a flexible,
high-mix environment with several setup changes planned, investing in a 3D printer in-
house could be a wise choice for customers planning to take on integration challenges
without the help of an integrator.

Sensors, Accessories and
Cell Configuration
Building the Cell

Taken at the Robotiq User Conference 2018, this image of a robotic cell shows the
tooling, accessories, and cell configuration, including conveyors and robot stands.

Depending on the application, sensors and accessories may be required to enable

the robot to perform the task. In addition, consider the configuration of the cell, and
the components required to build it. For example, in the above photo, multiple robots
perform sequential operations. In this cell, the robots are mounted on stands which
house the robot controllers and provide the workspace for the robot. A conveyor
moves parts from one station to the other. Bowls are fixtured to the workstation,
holding parts. The robot is equipped with a multipurpose gripper and cable
management system. The workspace is also lit from below, for the robot’s vision

Vention is an online service which supplies industrial stands, automation and

equipment such as robot workstations. Vention users can use a browser-based CAD
tool to design their own custom equipment or select from a variety of pre-engineered
solutions. 24
The robot workstation pictured above was provided by Vention, and the design is
shown below:


For a more complex piece of equipment, customers should plan to spend more:

Source: 25
This piece of equipment includes a motorized 7th axis for the robot, with a
motorized conveyor system to position pallets. This example should give an idea of the
cost range of building out the cell configuration.

Vision and Sensors

If the robot will use vision, the cost of integration will rise by several thousand,
including not only the hardware, but also the increased complexity of programming a
reliable system that incorporates vision. Today, robot sensors rest on a trade-off
between cost and usability. A lower cost sensor means solving a programming
challenge orders of magnitude more complex than a higher-end product with built-in

For example, some 3D vision software can use an inexpensive Microsoft Kinect
sensor, but requires much of the setup and calibration to be performed by the user.
Other systems, such as the Canon Machine Vision RV1100, are much more expensive,
but can compare a CAD model to image data without complex setup.

Striking this balance involves careful consideration of the in-house engineering

capabilities of the end customer.

Robot Safety
Collaborative robots are designed with built-in safety features to protect human
operators working in proximity to it. As a result, cobots must comply with ISO/TS
15066, which specifies safety requirements for collaborative industrial robot systems
and the work environment. However, faster robots can collide with humans and pose a
danger. Non-collaborative industrial robot safety standards are given by ISO 10218-1,
which specifies requirements and guidelines for the inherent safe design, protective
measures and information for use of industrial robots. It describes basic hazards
associated with robots and provides requirements to eliminate, or adequately reduce,
the risks associated with these hazards.

To comply with safety requirements, most industrial robots must be separated from
humans by a fence, a cage, or even placed in a separate room. Entry to the robot work
area must be protected by safety sensors, and additional safety equipment such as E-
stops must be installed. Building and certifying this equipment adds significant cost to
a robot integration project.

Indirect costs
Additional costs of a robotic cell integration project could include:
• Training and personnel changes
• Production downtime
• Changes to adjacent stations to accommodate robot inputs and outputs
• Facility upgrades, such as installation of industrial electrical outlets

Robotic Cell Example: Kawasaki
Deburring Cell

Kawasaki Robotics deburring cell, shown at IMTS 2018 (front view)

Kawasaki deburring cell (Side view)

The photo above shows a robotic deburring cell shown at the Kawasaki Robotics
booth at IMTS 2018. In this cell, two Kawasaki RS007N robots use pneumatic grippers
to manipulate parts, presenting them to deburring spindles. The parts are picked and
placed on a moving conveyor using a vision system and conveyor-tracking software.
The cell is guarded by a Plexiglas barrier.

Dan Hasley, director of sales at Kawasaki Robotics, described the cost of this cell:
“The whole cell costs between $150 and $250,000 depending on the options that you
need. So, this cell, which includes a vision system, part locating, higher speed
conveyors, and conveyor tracking,” said Hasley. “This robot features a cantilever design
on its upper arm, which gives it an extended range and maximum flexibility, but also a
very compact design. Like a lot of Kawasaki robots, the air lines and control signals are
brought out to the upper arm. So, you’ll notice that in this robot, the air lines are
connected right to the top of the arm, making for a very clean dress. Everything else
goes internally to the robot. We're also putting valves on the air lines internal to the
robot, built-in. So, you don't have to have a box sitting on top of your robot within
these valves.”

Reducing Costs
Creative Engineering
Automating tasks that were historically performed by humans sometimes requires
human senses, such as vision, touch and interfacing with machines. For example, in a
CNC mill tending task, a human operator might perform the following steps:

Action Human Senses Used

Pick blank from a tray Vision, touch

Secure blank in machine vise touch

Close door vision

Start machine Vision, touch, operating machine HMI

Wait for process to complete Vision, hearing

Open door vision

Remove part touch

Place finished part on a tray vision

As humans, we have advanced sensing capabilities built-in, and it’s easy to take
them for granted when describing a task. When designing a robotic cell to perform the
task, it’s critically important to catalog the details of how the task is done, in order to
properly equip the robot to perform the task. For comparison, here is how a robot
could potentially perform the same task.

Action Robot Senses Used

Pick blank from a tray Vision

Programmed path to coordinate position of vise, actuate

Secure blank in machine vise
vise using PLC

Close door programmed path motion

Programmed path to press HMI button, or control via

Start machine

Wait for process to complete Timed delay

Open door Programmed path

Remove part Programmed path

Place finished part on a tray vision

Automating a task requires ingenuity and creativity. While one solution to a problem
could require an expensive vision system or force sensor, another solution to the same
problem may not require sensors at all.

A good system integrator will have the experience to find the most economical and
reliable approach to a task to avoid unnecessary complexity and cost. When choosing
a system integrator, customers should ask if they have experience with similar
applications. Many integrators specialize in particular applications or industries.

ROI: More Important than Capital

Robotic automation is expensive. However, Dan Hasley brought up an important
point: In an equipment investment, the initial capital outlay really only matters if you
don’t realize a return.

Hasley: “When you look at the overall cost, and then examine the process cost
savings, or the increase in productivity, or the increase in quality; there's many ways
that they can quantify and assign a value to those benefits that they'll achieve that will
offset the robot cost. Our customers are looking for something usually that's going to
pay back less than a year. So, it doesn't matter if it's going to cost 100,000 or 25,000 or
300,000. If the robotic cell creates enough value such that they make that money back
within a year, they've got something going.”

Pre-engineered Cells: Realize ROI

As Dan Hasley said, payback period is a more important figure than initial outlay for
a robotic cell for many customers. In that case, any method of reducing the integration
period and getting the robot up and running faster creates real value.

One approach is the pre-engineered cell. Available from most robot manufacturers,
including Yaskawa Motoman, FANUC, KUKA and Kawasaki, as well as from innumerable
distributors and system integrators, the pre-engineered cell integrates all the costly
components of a cell discussed in this report and pre-packages them into one product.
These cells are sold at a premium but are turnkey solutions and drastically lessen the
integration time.

To learn more about this option, we spoke to Yaskawa Motoman about the
ArcWorld 1200, a pre-engineered welding cell solution.

According to the company, the Arcworld 1200 is available with two robots for
$160,000 USD, or with a single robot for $100,000 (prices approximate).

“Here, the basic robot, it has the welding power source on it. It has vision, a laser
finder telling me where the weld joints are. It has a servo positioner. It has all the
safeguarding that meets the NCR-IA specs, right? So, all of that adds up that, again, our
customers that don't have the ability to do that want to buy a complete solution,” said

For more information about pre-engineered cells, contact the robot manufacturer
or your local distributor or system integrator.

What Next?
Once a factory has a robot, the opportunities for future automation expand.
Personnel gain valuable experience with the robot, equipping the factory for
future automation projects (at lower cost.) The robot can be redeployed for other
tasks, helping unlock more opportunities for automation. In addition, an
automated cell adds seasonal flexibility. Many contract manufacturers struggle to
maintain correct staffing levels during changing busy seasons and contracts. A
robot adds a buffer.
Costs of automation, like all industrial equipment, are negotiable and subject to
individual cases. Interested parties should visit a trade show, such as IMTS,
Automatica or Pack Expo, to learn more about robotic automation opportunities.