Manufacture This

The blog of the Alliance for American Manufacturing

This Boston-based, Made In America company is redefining how we think about robots.

Robots are a reality in the 21st century. And when it comes to enhancing manufacturing their benefits are undeniable.  At the same time, implementing robotics and automations in certain areas of manufacturing or small manufacturing operations is unrealistic, cost prohibitive, or simply impossible due to the limitations of the technology.  So where does that leave manufacturers with high seasonal demands, constantly shifting work lines, small operations, or tasks that can’t be automated?

Rethink Robotics, a Boston based company, wants us to do just that: rethink robotics in manufacturing and the workplace.  The company, noting that “up to 90 percent of manufacturing tasks still can’t be practically automated,” sought to develop a robot that excelled in all the areas where traditional automation failed.  The two solutions the company currently offers are named Sawyer and Baxter, both designed and manufactured in the U.S.

When Rethink Robotics founder Rodney Brooks was producing the Roomba vacuum at iRobot in the 2000s, he saw first-hand how challenging and inefficient the off-shored manufacturing process could be. – Rethink Robotics

The two different robotics platforms that are easy to program, can be quickly repurposed to a different task, and collaborate with a traditional workforce. Diverging from standard automation strategies, the robots are meant to collaborate and enhance an existing workforce by operating side-by-side and interacting with them intelligently. 

Baxter | Courtesy of Rethink Robotics, Inc.

This commitment toward a collaborative robot drove Rethink Robotics to design a user friendly programming mechanism and interface.  The Sawyer and Baxter robots have digital “faces” with eyes that focus and telescope where it is moving next thereby creating a more relatable presence.  Additionally, the robot is equipped with sensors to be aware of its environment to avoid bumping into people or to wait for them to prepare the next job which removes the need for protective cages or advanced programming.

It’s the new model for flexible production – people and robots working side by side, doing what each does best.  It’s a proven strategy to maximize resources, gain efficiencies, and provide a competitive advantage for your business.  It’s the future of manufacturing – and it’s up and running today. Rethink Robotics

Companies using these robots find that Sawyer and Baxter allow employees to complete more complex tasks while utilizing the robot to accomplish simple and repetitive tasks.  With implements and attachments ranging from vacuum pickup systems to various clamps, Baxter and Sawyer have a wide array of functionality and can supplement and enhance most manufacturing operations. For example:

  • Steelcase uses their Sawyer system to perform mundane tasks allowing the workforce to engage in more challenging machining. Steelcase says, “We don’t want employees to feel that the robot is there to take their job away. It’s there to assist them.”
  • The Rodon Group implemented the Baxter system for packaging tasks over the course of three shifts. The company utilizes the re-tasking features of the robot to move it from station to station mid-shift. 

Rethink Robotics has created something new and accessible to the average manufacturer with simple programming mechanisms and a base prices under $30,000.  This Boston-based, Made In America company is redefining how we think about robots, while creating systems to enhance manufacturing operations to make them competitive on an international scale.