The case for Cheap Industrial Robots, Episode 0

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A straightforward argument is that the cheaper the robots, the easier it is for poor people to obtain them for starting their business. However, that is overly simplistic and the point of this blog post is to explain that even if there is a lot of money available for the initial investment, there is a dire need for cheap industrial robots. The story starts from the observation that the only way people on a stranded island or spaceship Earth can get more materialistic wealth, which differs from financial wealth, is that robots/machines toil for the humans. If some of the humans are counted as slaves, replacements of the robots, then the calculation would be different, but the case covered in this blog post assumes that there are no human slaves, only robots, machines in general, are in the roles of slaves from labour point of view. As with all sellable products and services,

    profit = price - cost

The cost includes everything, including the cost of material and the costs that are related to transforming that material to a sellable product. If there are slaves, then the cost includes everything that is spent on slaves. If there are employees, then the cost includes everything that is spent on employees, including the hiring campaign costs. If there is production equipment, possibly including robots, then the cost includes everything that is spent on the production equipment, including electricity, spare parts, maintenance related labour costs.

For the sake of simplicity the rest of this blog post assumes that the labour cost of manufacturing, including the labour cost of sales and the labour cost of buying raw materials for the production is considered zero. Marketing cost is considered as part of the sales cost. In that case

profit_per_product_unit = product_unit_price - 
    - cost_of_obtaining_and_running_robots_per_product_unit

If a really expensive robot produces a lot of products at high speed without needing spare parts and without needing maintenance, then its cost per product_unit can be small and it is OK for the robot to be expensive. The high price of the robot will be a barrier to entry for many people, who want to use the robot for production, but at least those people, who have the money for the investment, the expensive robot is profitable to operate. If an expensive robot is slow, then the number of product_units that it can produce is also small and in that case either the product units have to become very expensive or it is not profitable to use that robot. That is to say, the only way, how small businesses that can not afford huge investments can produce cheap products is to use cheap production equipment that has high level of automation and low cost per product_unit. The cost of producing defective or otherwise spoiled products that can not be sold is considered as part of the production cost of those products that can be sold. One of the assumptions is that the cheap robot does high quality work. In another words, in the context of this blog post the cheapness of a robot does not mean that the robot is unreliable or does bad quality work.

A historical example of a small business that has relatively cheap production equipment is my grandmother's mother, who worked at home as a freelance tailor in about 1930. Her production equipment was a foot-operated, motor-less, Singer sewing machine.

My grandmother's mother's sewing machine has only one level of drawers, the 2 uppermost drawers, one on the left side and the other one on the right side, but the rest is almost as shown on this picture.

Freelance carpenters and freelance cooks are additional examples of small business owners that produce something physical with their tools. Those tools would work just fine in 2020, if their level of automation were not that low. If the price of industrial robots came down to the price level of hand-tools and sewing machines, then depending on the performance of those industrial robots the small producers would be able to compete with the big production companies, which in turn would keep the competition going and centralization limited.

Thank You for reading this blog post.

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