Many of us think of robots in terms of the fantastic inventions of science fiction. But for businesses intent on maintaining an edge in today’s competitive manufacturing environment, robotics offers practical solutions to a variety of common needs and problems.

The Robotic Industries Association defines an industrial robot as “a reprogrammable, multi-functional machine designed to manipulate material, parts, tools or specialized devices through variable programmed motions for the performance of a variety of tasks.”

In other words, robots have the potential to perform many of the complex, repetitive, and sometimes dangerous tasks typically found in a wide range of manufacturing operations. Yet many businesses continue to risk their competitive future by failing to take advantage of the many benefits that robotic systems provide.

Here are a few of the misconceptions that often prevent businesses from implementing robotic systems:

Industrial robots are not a proven technology. Installing and maintaining a robotic system will waste time and money.

Robotic systems have been employed successfully in industrial applications for almost a half-century. The leading manufacturers of industrial robots are now producing fourth-generation robots that are easy to use and highly reliable. For most applications, the initial investment is quickly offset by gains in productivity, increased quality, reduced waste, increased safety, and lower direct labor costs.

Only large manufacturing operations can afford robotic systems.

As robotic technologies have matured, costs have declined and reliability has increased to the point where robotic systems are now a practical alternative for relatively small operations, particularly welding shops struggling to retain highly-skilled and experienced employees. Robotic systems are not only practical for smaller operations; they often can provide a key competitive edge that helps them survive. Most robotic systems generate a return on investment in less than 18 months with some even sooner.

Employees resist robotic systems because of fear of losing their jobs.

Implementing a robotic system often requires organizational adjustments. Management must be sensitive to employee concerns and well-prepared for addressing the potential of worker displacement. In the long run, robotic systems usually win employee acceptance. Robotic systems free employees from the drudgery and danger of many tasks and provide training opportunities that can lead to higher-skilled, better-paying positions. One key factor for success is to involve your employees early in the project.