Market Overview

Rethink Robotics CEO Scott Eckert Promotes Manufacturing Robot Baxter

Rethink Robotics President and CEO Scott Eckert wants to help return manufacturing jobs to the United States from overseas by introducing an automated robot into manufacturing plants. His name is Baxter. He appeared on CNBC's Squawk Box on Thursday morning to talk about the robot.

"Baxter is in robot with common sense, and what that means is that Baxter has built-in intelligence. It knows about the job it's doing. It knows about the part it's working on. It knows whether you as a co-worker is in its work space or not, and Baxter can adjust dynamically to changes in that environment," said Eckert.

Baxter costs $22,000 to buy, which equates to $4 an hour over the robot's average lifespan depending on how you use it.

"The comparison is: If you've got a person that is taking plastic parts and putting them in a box in China, and you outsource to China to do that for $2 bucks an hour. When you add the transportation costs, the long lead times, the risk of [intellectual property] loss, you're are better off doing that in the U.S. and we'll give you a robot," said Eckert.

Eckert went on to say that robots have been involved in U.S. manufacturing for 30 years, saying that "70 percent of all robots in the world are in car manufacturing and other, sort of, heavy industrial equipment."

A vast majority of U.S. manufacturers don't have any robots, Eckert continued. According to him, 300,000 small to medium sized manufacturing businesses don't have robots. He said that Baxter can be introduced as a "productivity tool" to all businesses, including the smaller ones.

"We focus on what we call the 'Three Ds': The dirty, dull and dangerous jobs in a manufacturing environment. People can do much more highly skilled activity," said Eckert.

What does this mean for the workers at those businesses?

"We actually don't think about Baxter as replacing anybody. The Baxter is a productivity tool that works side-by-side with the person. So, think of it this way: A person can produce so many widgets per hour. A person plus a baxter can do one-and-a-half to two times as many of those widgets per hour, and that's the way our customers are thinking about it," said Eckert.

Baxter can work on his own, and Eckert said that many costumers have the robot simply packing boxes at the end of a machine, but it can also be trained to work as a "co-worker/buddy." The attractive thing about Baxter, he said, is that it can work side-by-side with factory workers.

"In U.S. manufacturing today, there actually is a labor shortage. Despite the high unemployment number in the U.S., there actually aren't enough people going into manufacturing. The average age of a manufacturing worker in the U.S. is 45 today," said Eckert.

Eckert said that Baxter has "a lot of union support."

"The unions are well aware of the use of these sorts of automation tools because if the output of their workers goes up, their wage rate goes up, the unpleasant jobs are done by some other form of automation," said Eckert.

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