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Status · Opportunities · Prospects


2 Low Cost Robotics

Foreword 2

About Dr.-Ing. Sebastian Feldmann 4

What is Low Cost Robotics? 8

Low Cost Robotics and Man-Machine Interaction 9

1 The Triumph of Robotics in the Context

of Industry X.0 10

Categorization of Robot Systems 14

2 Before using Low Cost Robotics 16

3 Possible Application Scenarios

for Low Cost Robotics 20

Development of Robot Use 26

4 Opportunities and Risks 30

Comparison of Purchase Costs 32

5 Prospects 34

Frequently Asked Questions 36

Low Cost Robotics 3

This e-Book about
Low Cost Robotics ...

4 Low Cost Robotics

provides a comprehensive overview of the potential to completely revolutionize the
how the field of robotics has developed and future market environment. An extremely
triumphed in the age of Industry 4.0. Specifi- active community of low cost robotics fol-
cally the digital revolution of Industry 4.0 will lowers is developing, which is tackling re-
be examined, considering today’s conventio- search, new innovative product creation and
nal robot models can increasingly be enhan- system solution development. Technological
ced or completely replaced by smaller, more entry barriers are also becoming increasin-
cost-effective models. In addition, it will be gly reduced for non-technical users, allowing
examined how automation applications that even the most complex application scenari-
have previously been considered useless os to be implemented much faster and more
are now becoming more and more practi- cost-effectively than in previous years.
cal. Young, innovative companies have also
shown that the use of low cost robotics can New, motivated and flexible research teams
be quite cost-effective. are doing a great deal of the work contribu-
ting to the rapid development in this young
Within this e-book, an initial insight into the market segment. However, the possibilities
complex world of industrial robots, as well arising raise new questions for considerati-
as the meaning and purpose behind the use on. How would someone adequately assess
of such technology will be provided. The ov- the risks involved? How do you make the
erarching purpose of “Low Cost Robotics” right decision for your own specific applica-
is to provide support for the formulation of tion based on a multitude of possibilities?
decision-making criteria and the selection of In addition, the persons responsible for the
industrial robot technology, especially within system must ask themselves the question;
the industrial environment. what must be given priority in the purchase
and implementation of a low cost robotics
The relatively new field of low cost robotics, system?
where cost-effective robot models with inno-
vative functional concepts are used, offers

Low Cost Robotics 5

These topics and specific aspects are exa- gic possibilities of applications used in cor-
mined in detail in this e-book. A preliminary porate environments. The following topics
understanding into the topic of low cost ro- are discussed:
botics is essential in order assess the strate-

· What is low cost robotics?

· How did low cost robotics evolve from a historical perspective?
· Categorization of robot systems
· Low cost robotics-what must be considered before use?
· Possible application scenarios of low cost robotics
· Development of robot use
· Opportunities and risks when using low cost robotics
· Purchase costs in comparison
· Prospects

6 Low Cost Robotics

Dr.-Ing. Sebastian Feldmann earned
his doctorate in Mechatronics Engineering
at the University of Duisburg-Essen. In the
course of his various research projects, he
developed several driving simulator proto-
types (presented at the ‚Designstudio NRW‘, and a series of robot
prototypes, including the medical assistance
robot FAROMIR ( and the
humanoid robot HUMECH (www.humech.
Furthermore, Feldmann is an honorary mem-
In 2015, Feldmann won the Adesso Solutions ber on the board of the Kaliber Kulturverein
Award for his concept of barrier-free interac- in Kamp-Lintfort, and a lecturer at the De-
tions of robots, machines and plants via a partment of Communication Systems at the
cloud-based infrastructure. Hochschule Rhein-Waal. He is also currently
heading the development of a high-tech door
Later, he established the company NectOne protection system for motor vehicles at Kie-
using proceeds from the EXIST Founders kert AG in Heiligenhaus.
Scholarship award he received. The founda-
tion of the company is based on mechatronic Dr. -Ing. Sebastian Feldmann has published
product development (sensors, actuators, a large number of relevant pieces about ro-
control technology), the cross-divisional in- botics. He is a well-known expert in the de-
teraction of machines and plants within the velopment of robotics and industrial auto-
framework of Industry 4.0, and the develop- mation solutions, as well as in mechatronic
ment of state-of-the-art applications in the processes, the integration of cloud technolo-
automotive industry. gies, image processing, and sensor and actu-
ator systems for machines and plants.

Low Cost Robotics 7


Since low cost robotics is a relatively new can be achieved in the implementation pro-
subject, there is no universal definition for cess. The industrial robot BAXTER from Re-
the term. The common misunderstanding think Robotics can be used as an example.
regarding the topic is how low cost robotics Using sophisticated sensor technology, BAX-
is different from traditional industrial robo- TER is capable of working in close proximity
tics. So, what are the differences between to humans. BAXTER costs more than 26,000
low cost robotics and conventional industri- US dollars for the end customer and can be
al robots in terms of performance, quality or programmed without prior programming
functionality? Low cost robotics is not only knowledge. In addition, modular expansion
utilized in “pick and place” scenarios, but components are available, which help this
also in complex applications and collaborati- robot to be used in a variety of scenarios as
ve forms of man-machine interaction. soon as it is needed.

One of the most important reasons to choose

a low cost robot system is how cost-effective
they are. They often amount to only one tenth
of the price of a conventional robot. Howe-
ver, there are many more differences that are
more technical in nature. For instance, low
cost robots are often freely configurable with
respect to the drive units and control, while
conventional systems are not. This results Systems such as BAXTER can usually be
in an increased flexibility on one hand, and a easily controlled or programmed. In addition,
potentially increased implementation on the the simple and modular design of the com-
other hand, which should be considered in ponents makes sending extensive specifica-
the calculation of total costs. A major advan- tion lists to the manufacturers unnecessary,
tage of low cost robots is that they are built thus obstacles of such systems are elimina-
with lightweight components. The systems ted as a result.
are therefore considerably more compact in
their dimensions, they do not require separa-
te devices of peripherals for assembly and
they can be used in office-like environments.
By increasing efficiency, further advantages

8 Low Cost Robotics


The focus on integrating robots into the ming capabilities, strength of the machines
production process has been increasingly and injury prevention. Many new prototy-
fixated on the aspect of man-machine inter- pes, even in the low cost robotics segment,
action. Traditional industrial robots are gra- have new capabilities when interacting with
dually being replaced by mobile double-arm humans. For example, an integrated sensor
robots that interact with humans. This is system can determine its surroundings, and
apparent in the example of the robot system thus understand the gestures and move-
BAXTER. Such systems are capable of being ments of a human. This significantly redu-
programmed quickly, and are priced lower ces the risk of injury when humans interact
than industrial robotic products from estab- with the system. Very light components used
lished manufacturers. in systems such as the articulated arms of
the igus® robolink series can be used in the
The goal is for humans and robots to colla- immediate vicinity of a human, because in-
borate in the workplace so that humans don’t jury prevention can be reduced in advance
have to perform monotonous and repetitive through programming.
tasks, thus improving efficiency. Humans
have motor skills that allow them to carry out Smart surfaces that recognize contact
far more demanding tasks than a machine do their best to identify future interaction
can, and therefore they can devote themsel- scenarios. Essentially, the concept of the ro-
ves to more important responsibilities. Fur- bot is changing from a rigid and expensive
thermore, within the interactions between machine to a flexible, cooperative and affor-
man and machine, it is particularly important dable partner to humans that helps increase
that the robots being used are capable of productivity and efficiency.
perceiving their surroundings. That way, the
robot can know when the human has com-
pleted his/her tasks, as well as if there are
humans standing within hazardous areas of
the robot. Additionally, the robot should be
able to provide feedback on work progress
and follow-up procedures.

In the industrial robotics field, there are requi-

rements for movement dynamics, program-

Low Cost Robotics 9


// The Triumph of Robotics

in the Context of Industry X.0


The concept of an autonomously ope- One of the main reasons for this was that
rating apparatus that can take on complex, there was a constantly growing competitive
monotonous and dangerous tasks has been pressure in the globalized market, thus in-
inspiring scientists and engineers to explo- dustrial companies had to respond to more
re new limits of physics for ages. Since the individual customer requirements. It was
days of machine “walking tests,” numerous then that robotic technology gradually deve-
devices have been developed, which should loped into a key building block in the process
be considered in the processes of today’s chains of modern companies.
modern enterprise. Therefore, outlining im-
portant milestones in industrial history, spe-
cifically the outstanding key technologies of
industrialization, is essential.

Within Industry X.0, there are four develop-

mental stages that have led to the current in-
dustrial age. Autonomous, intelligent robots
and machines have been playing an increa-
singly important role since the 20th century.

10 Low Cost Robotics


around 1800
Coal mining

INDUSTRY 1.0 Heavy industry

Steam navigation
Weaving looms

Assembly line, electricity

around 1900
Telephone, telegram
INDUSTRY 2.0 Globalization
Light bulbs
Passenger airlines

around 1970
Computing machines

INDUSTRY 3.0 Personal computers

First industrial robot
PCB assembly
since 2000

The internet
INDUSTRY 4.0 Cyber-physical systems
Lean manufacturing techniques

Low Cost Robotics 11

Robotics for Flexible and Complex Appli- During the introduction of motors, the tele-
cations phone, the combustion of engines and elec-
tricity came the globalization process of the
Observing the developmental stages of in- Second Industrial Revolution. The inventions
dustrialization shows the impact of intro- made during this time contributed signifi-
ducing new technologies and how complex cantly to the success of the automobile in-
requirements on products and production dustry, which gradually developed into one of
processes come into play. The potential for the most important technology influencers
automated machines and systems is de- of the modern age. Global transportation of
monstrated in the earliest stage, like the need goods and services was now also much ea-
to manufacture uniform quality goods and sier to handle. As a result, the potential sales
laborers having to spend time on monoto- market of a product was globally accessible.
nous and dangerous tasks.
On one hand, there were great opportunities
for the owners of these technologies, but on
the other hand, many of the traditional sales
markets completely changed. Local sup-
pliers could often no longer stand up to the
pressure of new costs. Markets were flooded
with a variety of low-priced, high-quality and
mass-produced products, which made the
economy unprofitable for many local busi-
nesses and led a massive collapse of enter-
The patent for a mechanized loom was sub- prises.
mitted during the First Industrial Revolution
in 1785. In the first version, looms had to be With the introduction of microprocessors
operated by two employees to generate po- and the mass production of assembled
wer, but they were enhanced soon after. In PCBs, the Third Industrial Revolution began.
1787, Edmond Catwright opened a steam- Products were increasingly found equipped
powered loom factory, which led to a subs- with mechatronic functionalities. The de-
tantial improvement in the efficiency of fab- mands of the functionality and complexity of
ric production. many products rose progressively. The key
technologies required for this were, however,

12 Low Cost Robotics


steps were implemented in the shortest pos-

sible time. The core technologies of robotics
became increasingly widespread and gradu-
ally interesting for small and medium-sized
enterprises, as well as for private operators.

With the turn of the century, a completely

becoming available in other countries. The new chapter of industrial history developed,
question concerning this was how to coun- which is referred to as the Fourth Industrial
ter competitors who, for example, had better Revolution. Products and procedures started
access to resources or more effective pro- rapidly developing within the framework of
duction costs. Industry 4.0. The entire product lifecycle is
now monitored from the handling of raw ma-
It has been proven that those companies terials to the execution of products. The field
were able to significantly stand their ground of industrial robotics is no longer confined
in a globalized market, respond compliant- to clunky and expensive industrial robots—
ly to customer requirements and regularly mobile robots are being used to transport
develop new and improved products. It was products from one workstation to the next,
therefore no longer sufficient enough to pro- and smaller, more cost-effective systems are
duce a single product line in bulk. Rather, pro- being used where conventional industrial
ducts had to be made more attractive to the robots have been unviable for economic re-
customer in certain iteration steps in order asons.
to be a step ahead of the competition—be
it new design, advanced functionality or in-
novative features, it could be anything that
gave customers new buying incentives. As
soon as it had to be retrofitted into a new
product line, a conventional production line
became regularly too expensive and unviab-
le. The triumph of industrial robotics began
at this point. Production lines equipped with
industrial robots were able to react much ea-
sier to production steps, and new production

Low Cost Robotics 13


Different prototypes are being tested in al- also differentiated into parallel and serial
most all fields of robotics. There is now systems. Parallel-driven robots are often
a whole range of robotic systems criteria used where high precision and fast travel dis-
that help to appropriately classify desired tances are required. Serial systems are used
systems. There are many categories used in places where, for example, a large working
to distinguish the robotic systems. Subdi- chamber (space that the robot can reach by
visions of the criteria include, for example, its arm/manipulator) has to be covered.
whether the robots are operated in a statio-
nary manner, how many degrees of freedom The possibility to program the systems as re-
they have, and the driving method on which quired and equip them with appropriate grip-
they are based. Whether the required system pers, sensors or accessories makes low cost
has a stationary or non-stationary operation robotics a true triumph. Although not all sys-
should also be the first factor that is verified. tems will meet all flexibility, performance and
The latter categories usually include mobile cost requirements, an accurate analysis of
robots that drive, swim or fly. the framework conditions can help find and
implement the optimal system.


Stationary robots are generally used in indus-

trial production processes, adding efficiency
to the workflow. Stationary robot systems
usually consist of the moving part of the ro-
bot (manipulator) and various motors (actu-
ators) that drive the manipulator. This makes
direct interaction with the environment of
the robot possible. Tasks such as gripping,
sorting, packaging, assembly of PCBs, laser
welding or the fine machining of a product
can be implemented. Stationary robots are

14 Low Cost Robotics

Stationary robots (including robot arms with global motion axes)

• Cartesian robots/line- • Single-wheel robot

ar robots (ball)
• Cylindrical robots • Two-wheel robot
• Spherical robots • Three-wheel and
• SCARA robots (Selec- multi-wheel robots
Mobile robots (drive wheels)
tive compliance as-
sembly robot arm)
• Articulated robots
(robot arms)
• Parallel robots

• Bipedal robot (Huma- • Floating robots

More robot models (stationary/non-stationary)

noid robot) • Flying robots

• Tripedal robot • Mobile spherical ro-
• Quadrupedal robot bots (Robotic balls)
• Hexapods • Swarm robots
Mobile robots (driving legs)

• Others

Low Cost Robotics 15


// Before using
Low Cost Robotics


Young companies in particular are currently loads or long life cycles are generally not
stimulating the market with new and uncon- meant for use in lengthier or larger operations.
ventional technologies. These companies
handle obstacles well, such as high acquisi- Companies will typically make a large in-
tion costs or burdensome programming con- vestment when implementing robotic sys-
cepts. Through testing innovative applica- tems, which must be paid, ideally, in part via
tion scenarios and keeping costs down, the increased operations. If after a few years, no
development of low cost robotic concepts by adequate support is guaranteed by the ma-
these companies is often worthwhile. Howe- nufacturer, companies could pay the price.
ver, caution is necessary to avoid falling into Established manufacturers, such as igus®
a cost trap: if products aren’t well-received, or KUKA, can counteract this risk with well-
savings can quickly turn into debt. Products established product lines, with KUKA serving
that have not been tested to stand up to high the low cost segment only conditionally.

16 Low Cost Robotics


Some of the greatest dangers of low cost ro- basic questions can be broken down into a
botics in professional application scenarios few core themes. Regardless of the purchase
are the basic technical and economic con- price of the robot, the specified, basic techni-
ditions. As the saying goes, “you get what cal conditions determine to what extent a pl-
you pay for,” the use of innovative and cost- anned production scenario can be implemen-
effective concepts utilized by mostly young ted. In order to make an accurate decision,
companies entails a number of risks. There the following general conditions are usually
is often no guarantee of long-term mainte- considered:
nance of the apparatus or the repair of com-
ponents and wear parts. One reason for this Number of available degrees of freedom of
lies in the fact that the market environment the robot (degree of freedom = DOF)

is very fast-growing in the field of robotics. Stationary or non-stationary system (mobi-

lity of the robot)
Moreover, a reliable supply of spare parts for
several years can rarely be guaranteed by Required precision or accuracy at the end
effector (requirements on the component
these companies. Users also have questions
that interacts with the environment)
about the reusability and recyclability of the
Load capacity of the robot at the end effec-
robot arms in changing application scenari- tor
os. Can your robot arm, for example, undergo
Required working chamber
a modular extension or can the length of the
Travel speeds and number of movement
arm be varied?
Modular, flexible configurability of the
In conclusion, a suitable robot must be ap- entire system (including later rebuilding
plied to an application with great thoughtful- possibilities)
ness. A solution can be, for example, the use Required sensors for environmental detec-
of a low cost articulated arm from the igus® tion
robolink series. If this is the case, an estab- Programming and compatibility with exis-
lished manufacturer is always available, who ting control systems
also ensures long-term and reliable product Processing quality and protection against
support. This ensures planning reliability, as environmental influences

well as access to tested components verified Investment and maintenance costs

by stress tests that can also withstand con-
tinuous operation. If you plan to use a low
cost robot for any application scenario, the
existing basic conditions should be conside-
red first. Subsequently, the technical require-
ments that are necessary to allow a robot to
perform a work step are considered. These

Low Cost Robotics 17

A number of well-known prototypes were from Kuka clearly shows that good optics
compared from a series of existing product does not automatically suggest compre-
brands. It is easy to see that there are big dif- hensive integrated technical features of a
ferences in the design, sales price and load robot. For example, significantly more cost-
capacity, depending on the manufacturer. effective models are also suitable to enable
The comparison of these important factors modular configurability, or to achieve a high
can help make a rough estimation on the load-bearing capacity of the end effector.
suitability of the appropriate model before Therefore, a high selling price and a great
purchasing it. The example of the Youbot look does not correlate to the product’s ca-

Phanton X Reactor DesiArm Widow X Mark II igus robolink DC (BV)

Sales Price [$] 550 850 1.500 4.240

Degrees of freedom 6 4 6 5

Absolute weight [kg] 1,36 0,75 1,33 18,5

Load capacitiy [kg] 0,6 1,4 0,8 2,5

ROS compatibility Yes Yes Yes Yes

Material ABS PLA/ABS ABS Alu/Plastic

Modular design No Yes No Yes

Injury-proof Yes Yes Yes Yes

18 Low Cost Robotics


pabilities in harsh environmental conditions, sal Robots UR3, it is evident that similar per-
or to its overall quality. Most importantly, it formance data can potentially save a large
always depends on the individual application amount of investment costs.
conditions in which the robot arm is used.
Some robotic models from the low cost seg-
ment are now capable of achieving the ba-
lance between quality, technical features and
an affordable selling price. In comparing the
igus® robolink D articulated arm with Univer-

Dr. Robot Jaguar Cyton Gamma 1500 Universal Robot UR3 KUKA Youbot

8.750 12.000 23.000 24.200 Sales Price [$]

4 7 6 5 Degrees of freedom

10 2 11 7,4 Absolute weight [kg]

4 1,5 3 0,5 Load capacitiy [kg]

Yes Yes Yes Yes ROS compatibility

Aluminium ABS Alu/Plastic Aluminium Material

No Yes Yes No Modular design

No Yes No Yes Injury-proof

Low Cost Robotics 19



Living in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, USE OF LOW COST ROBOTICS SMALL SE-
we are seeing many new business segments RIES PRODUCTION USING THE EXAMPLE OF
develop, especially outside the conventional 3D PRINTING
sales markets of traditional industrial com-
panies. New technologies such as 3D prin- In order to achieve flexibility, especially with
ting or the large-scale integration of cloud respect to small and very small series, the
technologies into products and production use of conventionally and expensively pro-
machines lead to an intensive, cross-divisi- duced robots is often no longer valuable for
onal interdependence of private companies reasons of cost and space. For example, if a
and households. small to medium-sized business whose ap-
plication scenario uses 3D models that are
Numerous small and medium-sized busines- taken automatically by a robot gripper, the
ses are now able to fill market gaps that have 3D print process should be particularly con-
not previously been relevant for large com- cerned with the correct timing of the cooling
panies from an economic point of view. New process. If components are removed too ear-
ideas can be materialized at very low costs ly from the printer, cracking or unwanted ra-
through modern production processes, and pid shrinkage may occur. This can adversely
can be directly tested. Many technologies affect the quality of the components, or even
are now so cost-effective that they have be- damage them. Removing the component too
come affordable even for small businesses. late increases standstill times and causes
the 3D printer to not reach its full investment
For example, the 3D printing technology ena- potential. Thus, accurate timing is essential
bles a previously constructed printing com- for this method for several reasons and can
ponent to be produced autonomously in a be improved by using a suitable robot sys-
very short time with a huge range of availab- tem.
le materials. The component can then be in-
tegrated directly into the application without
any time delay. Thus, the product develop-
ment cycle is dramatically shortened, which
gives companies even more flexibility when
working with customers.

Low Cost Robotics 21

derstand that very high or low temperatures
are to be expected here. There is also no high
Due to cost pressure, expensive automation ambient humidity here. What does have to
solutions cannot be used here. With such be considered is whether the manufactured
a process, high investment costs would components are difficult to grip or not (grip-
quickly make production unprofitable. A low ping points, fragility, etc.).
cost robot can therefore be a useful alterna-
tive. In this application example, it does not In this case, an appropriate gripper must be
matter if the component is taken out of the mounted on the robot arm, which also ma-
printer precisely or quickly. On the contrary, kes it possible to pick up complex structu-
when handling a robot arm, the component res without destroying them. For example,
needs to be removed from the machine in a pneumatic system or a system with soft,
the correct phase of the cooling process, and flexible grippers could be used to remove the
then the next component can immediately component from the printer. Using a powder-
go to print. This ensures a consistent quality coated process in 3D printing can lead to the
of the products, while at the same time op- accumulation of dust and deposits on the
timally utilizing the occupancy times of the employed robot. Therefore, for example, a
3D printer. This is therefore an ideal scenario model that withstands these dirt accumula-
where the use of Low Cost Robotics should tions must be selected.
be considered.
• Home and household robots
Since there are various robotic models al- • Military robots
ready offered on the market by numerous • Entertainment robots
manufacturers for professional and semi- • Mechanical robots
professional applications, the question now • Industrial robots
arises as to what the criteria are for selec- • Service robots
ting an appropriate product. Looking closer • Outer space robots
at the environmental conditions of this con- • Hobby and competition robots
crete application scenario, it is quick to un-

22 Low Cost Robotics




Home and
household robots



Outer space
Hobby and robots

Low Cost Robotics 23

In addition, the aspect of maintenance plays
a greater role here than in other application
scenarios. Companies that produce 3D print Such consultation can provide, in advance,
models for customers usually do not employ important aspects that help to configure the
specialists in robotics and industrial auto- suitable system. The igus® robolink articu-
mation. Therefore, a durable, tested system lated arms can also be used, for example,
should be selected in advance, which can be in damp environments or in liquids such as
used in the long term with little maintenance oil to protect against corrosion. In addition,
necessary. Many smaller providers fail if they the robot arms from the robolink series are
can’t provide appropriate support, experi- very light. People are therefore not at risk, as
ence and extensive product tests. mostly light materials like plastic and alumi-
num are used, and the moving masses are lo-
Large, established companies such as igus® wer than in industrial robots or other low cost
offer cost-effective systems in the field of models. Humans’ risks of injury in the imme-
low cost robotics. igus® produces individu- diate vicinity of the robot drops considerably,
ally configurable articulated arms in various even around robots that lack elaborate sen-
lengths, designs and sizes, using lightweight, sors or barriers. During man-machine inter-
modular, dirt-resistant and self-lubricating action, this is a considerable advantage and
components. As a result, the articulated arm a further building block in which costs of the
is not only flexible and cost-effective, but it overall system can be reduced. A robolink
is also low maintenance with a long service articulated arm weighs only 1.3 kg in total
life. Manufacturers also offer comprehen- with 5 degrees of freedom, which also has
sive consultation or online configurators to considerable advantages in terms of energy
match companies’ available resources. efficiency. The decoupled motors only need
to move the actual robot arm without drive
units. As a result of the light structure, drive
energy is saved while providing the same
motion dynamics of a conventional robot.

24 Low Cost Robotics


Such a robot can therefore also be operated models. For example, light flexible manipula-
with a conventional 230 V socket without a tors (robotic arms) can help those who are
complex power supply or power electronics. disabled with the use of a gripper arm moun-
ted on wheelchairs, among other things.


Often, low cost robotics uses innovative

drive concepts or new types or sensors or
drives. With that, a large number of possibili-
ties to identify new application fields and to
participate directly in market development
are emerging. What is especially difficult is
identifying suitable providers who have ad-
vanced the technology to a practical and
market-ready product. When looking at the
target groups that are to be addressed by
these technologies, very different applica-
tion scenarios arise, which initiates extreme-
ly varying demands on the used technology.

In medical technology, a strong emphasis is

inherently placed on reliability and quality of
used robots, such as surgical robots. Never-
theless, there are also some areas of medi-
cine that can very well utilize cost-effective

Low Cost Robotics 25


It is not surprising that an overhaul of the cost service provider, which is now catching
planning of production processes since the up technologically with the long-established
emergence of the first industrial robots has industrialized countries.
taken place. Due to the possibility of flexible
adaptation of automated work steps and pro-
cesses to the respective product, the variety
of products that can be processed by such With a total market volume of 290,000 indus-
methods has abruptly increased. This means trial robot units, the market growth reached
that processes need to be interlinked more its current peak in 2016. The International
effectively so that the addition of optimal va- Federation of Robotics is forecasting ano-
lue can be drawn from the process chain. ther significant increase. If we look at the
sales markets of industrial robots in more
Looking at current market data, the market detail and split the sales figures among the
growth for industrial robots has steadily in- individual sectors, the Automotive Division
creased for a number of reasons. One reason is undisputedly at the forefront of customers
is due to increased economic growth, while worldwide. Close behind is electronics and
another is due to the migration of advanced metal processing.
technology in Asia, specifically countries in-
cluding India, China and their other neighbo-
ring countries. In many cases, the production
of sub-assemblies has been shifted to a low

26 Low Cost Robotics

Estimated annual sales of industrial robots worldwide from 2005 to 2019

2017 to 2019: + 13% average growth

per year


254 254
200 178
166 159
120 120 113 121

2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016* 2017* 2018* 2019*

Units in a thousand pieces Source: IFR -International Federation of Robotics, September 2016
* forecast

Looking at the sales figures in detail from above average. It remains to be seen whether
2013 to 2015, a change of trend is apparent. this trend will continue. The automotive mar-
In the automotive sector, an overall progres- ket is regarded as almost full, while many ex-
sion seems to be emerging. The growth rate citing products are currently conquering the
from 2014 to 2015 virtually stagnates at a market in the semiconductor and electronics
high level, and in the process there seems to industry—be it the robot and drones techno-
be a real boom happening in the electronics logy or the entertainment industry.
and semiconductor industries. In compari-
son to the sales figures for 2014, the sales
of industrial robot units are disproportionally

Low Cost Robotics 27

Determined worldwide annual sales of industrial robots of the years 2013 - 2015 divided according
to industry




Plastic, Rubber

2015 2014 2013




0 20 40 60 80 100 120

Units in a thousand pieces Source: World Robotics 2016

Looking at the growth rates worldwide, es- Essentially, it is worth keeping an eye on this
pecially in Asia, there are many opportuni- field. Comparing the growth rates of individu-
ties for robotic use. The projected sales of al continents confirms this assumption. In
industrial robots in the Asia/Australia region the course of the shift of production from the
amounts to 285,000 units per year, while sa- industrialized countries to the emerging mar-
les in Europe and America are growing mo- kets, there is a special dynamic in the field
derately but steadily. Therefore, it can be of automated production. Although there are
understood that robot technology is in the obvious advantages in terms of labor costs,
forefront of its time. There is an urgent buil- Asian countries are increasingly focusing on
dup that needs to be cleared up from Europe low cost automation.
in order to not lose out in the long term. The
large-scale distribution of cost-effective ro-
botic prototypes can especially help to find Particularly in the electronics and semi-
new methods, ways to use the methods and conductor industry, as well as in the food,
establish them as a product on the market. In chemicals and plastics industries, turning
addition, a number of conventional products away from established industrial robots and
are not equipped with connected, intelligent instead considering low cost robotic sys-
features riding on the digitization wave of In- tems is worthwhile in order to explore further
dustry 4.0. The large-scale distribution of 3D possibilities for automation. Since the ap-
print technology is another growth engine. plication complexity is manageable and the

28 Low Cost Robotics


Annual sales of industrial robots of 2014 - 2015 and the forecast for 2016 - 2019







2014 2015 2016* 2017* 2018* 2019*

Units in a thousand pieces Asia/Australia Europe America Source: World Robotics 2016
* forecast

workpieces to be processed are lightweight suitable method for controlling the robot and
with small dimensions, more cost-effective calibrating it to the required accuracy must
robot systems with lower capacity can be be clarified. “Out of the box systems” are cur-
reliably and frequently used. The necessary rently being offered by both established and
precision in a very small installation space very young companies. This causes a consi-
could be a problem in these application derably easier introduction into this techno-
scenarios. This can currently only be achie- logy. Some of the systems can be program-
ved by very few low cost systems. In order to med and configured simply by smart phones
be able to offer the system cost-effectively or tablets. Examples of this include Maker-
on the market, components of poor quality arm, Dobot Magician, the Franka Emika, or
are often used. The bearings, gears and dri- Techman Robot.
ves in particular should, however, satisfy the
quality requirements, as these components
may otherwise lead to an increased joint
clearance of the robot or motor. Often, only
the actual manipulators without actuators
or drives are offered in the field of low cost
robotics. It is up to the user to decide what
drives he will implement and how they would
ultimately be actuated. Choosing the most

Low Cost Robotics 29


// Opportunities
and Risks

Due to the boom in newly available and many companies have missed out on oppor-
affordable robot prototypes, products can be tunities for investing in the field of modern
manufactured more efficiently, and in higher manufacturing technologies for many years.
quality. New concepts of the movement, and One main reason for this is due to a wides-
the processing and handling of products ge- pread unfamiliarity about robotic potential,
nerates new opportunities, which can secure and another is that companies needed to
an economic advantage in the long term. The wait until the technology was mature enough
scanning and identification of a produced to ensure adequate operational safety.
component with a 3D scanner is an examp-
le of another possibility for implementing Many companies also fear that they do not
innovative production technologies. In this have enough resources to use complex
instance, a robotic manipulator is equipped industrial robot systems. To solve this, a
with a sensor, which is capable of detecting structure needs to be created that sets up,
an object in a multidimensional manner. This programs and operates these systems. In in-
method can help to reveal hardly visible de- stances like this, the potential for low cost
fects on the surface or in the structural form robotics becomes obvious. Significantly lo-
at an early stage. Such applications can be wer investment costs and the manufacturer-
implemented through the platforms of sever- independent community often offer ample
al innovative providers. support. There is thus an enormous potential
for low cost robotic use, particularly for com-
There are risks concerning the possible lack panies that have not yet considered the field
of expertise in the maintenance of such sys- of process automation.
tems. In order to avoid this, a corresponding
maintenance strategy should be developed
in coordination with the manufacturer, which
on one hand ensures process reliability, and
on the other hand makes the costs predic-
table. Due to sometimes high technological
hurdles, like in control and programming,

Low Cost Robotics 31


In analyzing the initial prices of a conventi- costs amount to 25 - 40% of conventional

onal robot system in the automotive sector, systems. Further significant cost advantages
it becomes clear that a trend towards more arise in systems engineering, since low cost
favorable overall investment costs is emer- systems can often be controlled with apps or
ging. According to Statista, the average price trained by manual placement. The low cost
of a spot welding robot plus its accessories system is also impressive due to cost ad-
in the US automotive industry was 45,000 vantages of safety measures, since they are
US dollars in 2014. However, the purchase of already designed so that people won’t get in-
just the robot itself is not enough. In addition jured during interaction with the low cost ro-
to the purchase costs of the hardware, con- bots by means of internal safety algorithms,
siderable costs are also incurred in the fields integrated sensors or their structural const-
of system engineering, project management ruction (lightweight construction).
and the implementation of additional acces-
sories such as sensors or safety barriers. Overall, the investment costs for the
All in all, in 2014 the average total invest- purchase and implementation of a low cost
ment cost for a conventional industrial robot robotics project can be reduced to approxi-
amounted to 133,000 US dollars. The costs mately one third of the costs of a conventi-
for systems engineering are very important onal system—of course, always on the pre-
here. In the case of a professional design of mise that the requirements for load capacity
such a robot system, corresponding system and dynamic specifications can be covered
requirements must be planned and specified. by the low cost system.
Afterwards, the robot also has to be installed
on site and given appropriate connections to
energy and information networks. In additi-
on, the immediate working area of the robot
must be protected by appropriate sensors
and safety barriers.

Low cost robotics, however, can score well in

all of these cost blocks. Typically, purchase

32 Low Cost Robotics


Forecast of the price development of an industrial robot in the US by item through 2025 until
[in 1,000 USD]


9 9 9

46 46 46

45 45 45

33 33 33

2014 2020 2025

Project management Systems engineering, Peripherals, Robots

i.e.: programming, instal- i.e.: safety barriers; sensors including software

Forecast of the price development of an industrial robot in the US by item till 2020
[in 1,000 USD]



20 15



Project management Systems engineering, Peripherals, Robots

i.e.: programming, instal- i.e.: safety barriers; sensors including software


Low Cost Robotics 33


34 Low Cost Robotics


As time goes on, robots will be increasingly used in various

fields. For example, in the case of delivery services, they can be
used in the care sector or as helpers in households and offices. The
technology is increasingly improving due to the innovative power of
young, well-trained engineers. Globally, robotics will benefit greatly
in the future from globalization and the associated opportunities
that come with it. If companies start focusing on low cost robotics
now, they can draw considerable advantages from this crucial trend
of process automation. They can also benefit from the strong com-
munity, as well as established structures with only a few market-
dominating providers. All in all, in the future, a whole series of tasks
can be carried out by low cost systems. Due to the steady downfall
of technological and financial barriers of low cost robots, there is
great potential in this technology, which should also be utilized at
an early stage.

Low Cost Robotics 35

// FAQ

medium-sized enterprises to use automation

technology at an early stage in the process.
A multitude of new options have opened up,
especially in the areas where the use of in-
vestment and resources were not profitable
How can low cost robots can be optimally for the company.
used in today’s business environment?
The use of low cost robots is particularly What are the advantages and disadvantages
useful in automation, where expensive and in low cost robotic technology?
complex industrial robot systems have previ- Low cost robotics give small and medium
ously been very unsuccessful. Even in indus- sized companies the opportunity to enter the
tries where automation has not yet been pos- process automation field at a low cost. This
sible, manual and monotonous work steps can increase the quality and quantity of the
involved in these industries can be eradica- production process. However, there are risks
ted if low cost robotics is implemented. Here, regarding the durability of the robot and spare
there is the opportunity to further utilize sy- part availability, which can lead to unplanned
nergies of process automation through cost- costs. To prevent these problems, systems
effective systems. Low cost robots can now from established manufacturers should be
easily be implemented and programmed for used to ensure long-term and professio-
the respective work tasks. This opens up nal product support. Additionally, accurate
entirely new possibilities for implementing planning of the application scenario should
further work tasks (i.e.: sorting, pick & place, be carried out in advance. In this instance,
scanning, loading) using cost effective sys- for example, questions are raised concerning
tems. Low cost robotics also helps small and the durability, load capacity or programming

36 Low Cost Robotics


capability of the used system. If the appro- be a need in the future to use additional
priate steps are implemented early on, low process automation technology. Very small
cost robotics will achieve the desired results. and medium-sized enterprises are creating
a multitude of new possibilities that can be
How does low cost robotics differ from low used to achieve a competitive advantage
cost automation? with little investment. The use of low cost ro-
Regarding low cost automation, the condi- botics offers an ideal foundation, which is al-
tions at assembly workplaces are primarily ready being used by a number of companies
designed in a more efficient and/or cost-ef- around the world.
fective manner. For example, manual hand-
ling operations are habitually reviewed and What are the criteria used to find a suitable
improved based on examinations of the system for your own application?
workflow. This can be seen in the transfer The application scenarios of robot systems
of workpieces to subsequent workstations, are now very diverse. Due to the large number
which is done with roller conveyors. Low of available systems, the possibilities are al-
cost robots are used cost-effectively in or- most unlimited. With moving systems, there
der to utilize future interactions in terms of are now robots that perform both swimming
value creation, such as using innovative sen- and flying tasks. Even with industrial appli-
sors and actuators. Furthermore, completely cations, there are a lot of options. Industrial
new application possibilities are opening up robots can be driven in a parallel kinematic
in low cost robotics, since cost-effective sys- or serial manner, conventionally via rigid
tems such as quality monitoring can be used connecting elements, rope-based or via fle-
between the process steps. xible components. In order to find a suitable
system, it is very important to consider the
How will low cost robotics develop in the fu- requirements for system dynamics (speed,
ture? precision, load capacity, etc.). Experienced
Particularly in the electro-technical and me- providers offer comprehensive and compe-
tal processing industries, there is increased tent advice, as well as even some online con-
growth potential in the field of industrial ro- figurators.
botics. In places with difficult environmen-
tal conditions where products are handled,
processed, checked or packaged, there will

Low Cost Robotics 37

Is low cost robotics a trend that should not
be ignored?
Low cost robotics is a trend that should defi-
nitely not be overlooked. By using new, easy-
to-configure low cost systems, low cost ro-
botics is currently moving into both industrial
and household areas, which were previously
inconceivable due to high purchase costs,
difficult configurability and installation of ro-
bots. Overall, low cost robotics is currently
developing into a helpful human interaction
technology, and can be a worthwhile invest-
ment in certain professional and private situ-
ations. Continuously developing technology
and more intuitive programming interfaces
will significantly increase the spread of the-
se robot systems. Small and medium-sized
enterprises in particular can benefit enor-
mously from the opportunities created in
this way. Where industrial automation was
not previously worthwhile, new market seg-
ment can be gained through innovative appli-
cations with low cost robotics.

Why is low cost robotics considered an im-

portant part of future production processes?
The industrial production process is current-
ly undergoing a major change. The concept
of the robot is transitioning more and more
towards a partner and helper of humans,
and shifting further away from an autono-
mously industrial apparatus. Robots can
be programmed through apps or by manual
placement, and are able to respond to human
gestures and touches via smart interfaces or
internal sensors.

38 Low Cost Robotics


Low Cost Robotics 39

Published by:

igus® GmbH
Spicher Str. 1a
D-51147 Cologne

Dr.-Ing. Sebastian Feldmann

40 Low Cost Robotics