The potential of second-hand robots became apparent to IMAX Pro some ten years ago. At the time, the SME, which is closely linked to a company that builds timber frame houses, was looking for suitable machines to automate a production line for wooden prefabricated building components.
“We noticed at the time that there was little technical difference between new and refurbished robots,” says CEO Cédric Moutschen. “The delivery time of second-hand robots was also remarkably shorter – a few weeks instead of months – and the prices were much lower. So, the decision to choose devices that had already had a life in another industry was quickly made.”
In the meantime, IMAX Pro has grown into a company fully dedicated to the development of robotic solutions, primarily for the timber industry. Moutschen explains: “For that sector specifically, there is our RobotMob, a robotic arm mounted on a rail, which is controlled by 3D software that we developed ourselves. A multifunctional tool at the end of the arm enables a variety of tasks, such as sawing, milling and drilling, with millimetre precision. The robot is also extremely safe. If the operator approaches too close, the system automatically shuts down.”
Not every RobotMob is built from a second-hand robot. Some of the devices are new. It is the customers of IMAX Pro who choose whether or not to go for a refurbished unit. “When it comes to our second product, the so-called interim robots, it is a different story,” says Moutschen. “These are always second-hand. We call them interim robots, because companies can rent them for temporary, difficult and repetitive jobs for which you can’t find workers today.”
“This second type of robot is easy to move and can be quickly adjusted to the specific needs of the customer. We not only rent them out to companies in the timber industry, but also beyond. This proves to me that the reuse of discarded robots can also become a success story in other sectors, and that it presents itself as a promising solution for the entire manufacturing industry.”
HALF AS COSTLY
Some 70 percent of the robots marketed by IMAX Pro are refurbished. Moutschen: “It is highly possible that this percentage will increase in the future. Due, in part, to the coronavirus pandemic, the delivery times of new industrial robots just keep getting longer and longer. This might give a boost to the second-hand market.”
IMAX Pro acquires its robots through a firm specialised in buying up and refurbishing the devices. “We then further adjust the robots according to the customer’s wishes. We do not know exactly from where our supplier obtains the machines, but they are most likely from the automotive industry. What we do know, however, is that a refurbished robot is about half the price of a new one. For our customers, this is a major benefit.”
So, are there disadvantages to working with second-hand equipment? “There is no warranty period, or a very short one,” says Moutschen. “But on the other hand, refurbished robots last a very long time. Some of our second-hand robots are more than 10 years old and still working just fine. One disadvantage, though, is that they are not suitable for highly complex projects. If your production line can never be shut down for a repair, then you had better choose a new robot."
“Can refurbished robots have a third life? I don’t think so. The IT that controls robotised devices is evolving very rapidly. The same applies to the technology behind the motors. This makes repairs increasingly expensive, which means that, in the long run, it eventually becomes more profitable to buy a new robot. So, after their second lives, our robots can retire.”
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