Hiring out robots, creating flexibility
Those who describe Smart Robotics simply as ‘a temp agency for robots’ are selling the start-up short. Heico Sandee, who set up the Eindhoven firm in the spring of 2015 together with fellow managing director Mark Menting: ‘We offer customers flexibility in two ways: 1) they can rent from just one month and 2) we supply software developed in-house along with our robots, which means they do exactly what the customer wants them to do – and which makes it very easy to teach them new tasks.’ Which is to say: ‘Our marketing concept is new and so far unique. But the biggest innovation is in the technology, our software development.’
Heico Sandee, who founded Smart Robotics together with Mark Menting: ‘We offer customers flexibility.’
Smart Robotics (10 employees, most of them recruited from Eindhoven University of Technology) serves customers in the high-tech manufacturing sector, food (who have to deal with large fluctuations in capacity due to seasonal products) and logistics. With robots which do production line work: moving, sorting, packaging and palletising products; loading and unloading machines, and so on. Sandee: ‘You can use them 24/7, at competitive rates. The average rental price of our robots is approximately the same as what a temp on day shift costs, roughly €3000. The robot can operate two shifts or 24/7, with virtually no additional costs. The equivalent hourly rates are competitive with outsourcing to low-wage countries, with the additional bonus that you have the process in your own hands and nearby – and you no longer have to worry about high logistics costs and quality issues.’
The business model of Smart Robotics consists of: robot rental (you can of course buy them if you wish), maintenance contracts, support in (re)configuring robots and the sale of upgrade packages to keep robots up-to-date ‘in the field’. ‘In rental mode, we stay in touch with our customers and can alert them to new applications we are developing which may be of interest to them. That way, we are continually working to help them make their processes better and better. We are in discussions with a number of parties to take that further – to a business model in which we ultimately get paid for each action performed by the robot and are responsible for its operation. A risk which at the same time offers opportunities: if we succeed in making it twice as fast, then we benefit too. That’s the direction we want to go in’, says Heico Sandee.
Smart Robotics has the drive to ‘always stay two or five steps’ ahead of the competition – which is not there yet but will undoubtedly come. ‘We have various plans in the pipeline to steal a march on copycats. One of them we recently announced: the partnership with a temp agency to start marketing our robot in combination with a temp. That means we are taking greater responsibility and are able to offer customers a broader palette of solutions.’
The approach is proving successful, says Sandee. ‘On average, we sign one contract per week for robot rentals. Which is more than we had expected. But the opportunities for growth in our market are massive, so that won’t be a problem. The goal is to organise ourselves in such a way that we can handle that demand.’
Read also the other Articels in Link magazine, South Netherlands special 2016