TOKYO -- Kawasaki Heavy Industries and a Japanese arm of Swiss competitor ABB will separately launch rentals of industrial robots, allowing manufacturers to cut capital investment while adapting to fast-changing markets in smartphone parts and other products.
Kawasaki Heavy starts renting out in April collaborative robots that stop moving on contact with people, in partnership with Mizuho Bank-affiliated Century Tokyo Leasing. The machines can perform tasks that generally require two arms and are handled by humans, such as building certain parts or packing boxed meals.
The robots cost 2.8 million yen ($24,900) each, plus tax. But Kawasaki Heavy will rent them out for around 200,000 yen a month under a six-month contract. The companies hope to eventually take in tens of billions of yen through robot rentals.
ABB will work with Orix Rentec, a subsidiary of leasing giant Orix. They will kick off the service with 10 human-friendly robots and aim to expand to 30 units by the end of the year. They will first offer six-month contracts, with the option of a 24- or 36-month renewal. Orix Rentec will also consider renting out robots from manufacturers other than ABB.
It takes about a month to program conventional robots and build safety buffers between them and human workers before they can be brought online. Almost no companies rent these machines out, since they are not ideal for short-term use. But collaborative robots do not need to be separated from people and require little programming, enabling them to get down to work in just two or three days.
The rental scheme will allow facilities that have never used industrial robots before to try them out without making a full commitment. It could also help boost return on assets, or how efficiently a company's assets are used to generate revenue.
Demand is strong for renting machinery that can start operating quickly. While rentals and leases account for 40% or so of aircraft and construction machinery now in use, such arrangements account for less than 10% of machine tools and robots that require a lengthy installation process.