August 14, 2015      

Rethink Robotics has partnered with Sonoco Alloyd to sell its Baxter and Sawyer collaborative robots with Sonoco’s blister-packaging technologies as a single offering.

Boston-based Rethink’s two-armed Baxter is built for fixed automation, while the newer one-armed Sawyer is intended for high-precision tasks. Both are designed to be easy to program and to operate safely alongside human workers.

Under the strategic alliance, Sonoco Alloyd, which is a unit of Sonoco Products Co., will resell the robots as an integrated component of its parts-transfer and heat-sealing system. The DeKalb, Ill.-based company designs packaging systems “from concept to shelf” for the medical and retail industries.

“Rethink Robotics provides a differentiated technology that we have begun to use in our own factories, and we are now able to pass those innovations on to our customers as well,” said Jeff Christensen, vice president and general manager of Sonoco Alloyd.

The integrated robot will add $25,000 to $40,000 to the total cost of a packaging system, said Kim Sanderson, a Sonoco Alloyd marketing specialist.

Robot co-workers could help the economy
The partnership between Rethink Robotics and Sonoco is one of several efforts by robot makers and logistics providers to improve speed and efficiency through industrial automation in the face of global financial pressures. Some industry observers expect smart and collaborative robots to save money and increase productivity, although some worry about dislocated workers.

Sonoco will resell Baxter as part of its packaging systems.

Rethink’s Baxter is part of Sonoco’s packaging offerings.

In response to such concerns, Jim Lawton, Rethink chief product and marketing officer, wrote in Forbes: “Let’s rethink the definition of work. It’s happening now as savvy companies recognize that unlocking the potential for sustainable innovation lies in an integrated workforce where humans and robots work side by side. In this model, robots do the highly repetitive, low-skilled work, and humans then are able to take on the roles that make a difference to customers and to the bottom line. Jobs that require cognitive skills and creativity. Jobs that contribute to product innovation and competitive value. Jobs that keep manufacturers — and the ecosystem they support — growing, thriving and contributing to the economy.”

The collaborative robotics market could grow from $95 million this year to more than $1 billion in 2020, according to a report from ABI Research.

Rethink expands its reach in Asia
Rethink is also opening an office at the Garage+ Incubation Center in Taipei, Taiwan. The center has worked with more than 60 startups so far.

“With a growing labor shortage, increasing wages, and an aging society in Asia, we are launching Sawyer in this market to help manufacturers be successful amidst these challenges,” said Scott Eckert, president and CEO of Rethink Robotics. “Sawyer was specifically designed for a broad range of applications that are simply not being addressed by other automation solutions. This smart, collaborative robot will be a game-changer for Asian manufacturing.”

The Garage+ Incubation Center is an initiative of the nonprofit Epoch Foundation, which was founded in 1990 by Taiwan-based companies including Acer Group, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TSMC), and Delta Electronics. The foundation’s mission is to facilitate connections between academia and industry for innovative technologies and to promote economic prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region.

Rethink is hiring in locations across Asia, said a spokeswoman. The company’s customers include Cutting Dynamics Inc., Henderson Sewing Machine Co., Schneider Electric SE, and Rapid-Line Inc.