Why a cobot pays back in 195 days (and why an industrial robot probably does not)


If you search the internet for the average payback time of a collaborative robot, you’ll find 195 days on almost every website. At least that is what manufacturer Universal Robots claims. We do not know about you, but we prefer to do the calculations ourselves.

Purchasing a collaborative robot means investing money with the expectation in mind that money with a return of investment over a period of time. It’s a good idea to compare the investment to the yearly cost savings. We will provide an overview for the both of them.

Yearly cost savings

Estimating cost savings is always a struggle, especially when it’s your first cobot implementation. A good start is to consider all of the elements in the equation below. Challenge your supplier on the ones that are related to the performance of the cobot.

Potential yearly savings = FTE [Unit] * Shifts [Unit] * Salary [€/year] + Downtime [€/year] + Scrap [€/year] + Recruitment and training [€/year] + Social cost [€/year]

  • FTE = Full-Time Equivalent = workload of operators to potentially save (f.e. FTE = 0.5 if 50% of the time of an operator comes free for other tasks)
  • Shifts = Amount of shifts per day
  • Salary = Yearly operator salary
  • Downtime = Potential savings related to downtime
  • Scrap = Potential savings related to scrap parts
  • Recruitment and training = Potential savings related to recruitment and training of operators
  • Social cost = Potential savings related to social, health, medical, and insurance expenses regarding safety and ergonomics

Yearly income increase

Apart from the savings related to a cobot taking over some repetitive human tasks, one could also argue that the cobot could have higher productivity than the operator as it can operate 24/7. In some situations, higher productivity could mean increased earning. We will not go deeper into this topic.

Collaborative robot investment

Investment of cobots requires the consideration of the purchase, implementation and maintenance costs - all of which are equally important. Cobots with a higher price tag might be easier to program and require less maintenance. Let’s look at the total investment.

Investment = Cobot [€/year] + Gripper [€/year] + Fixture [€/year] + Implementation [€/year] + Maintenance [€/year]

Industrial robot investment

The investment cost of a cobot project is significantly lower than that of an industrial robot project. Here are some additional costs to take into account if you are thinking about purchasing an industrial robot.

Investment = Robot [€] + Gripper [€] + Fixture [€] + Implementation [€] + Maintenance [€] + Fencing [€] + Custom automation [€]

Fencing = price of fencing (in general not needed for cobots as safety is a built-in feature)

Custom automation = cost of custom automation like an automatic door, force-torque sensor, etc. (in general not needed for cobots as sensing is a built-in feature)

The third advantage of cobots is that the implementation cost is lower than that of an industrial robot. In a lot of cases, a collaborative robot is programmable by demonstration. The cobot arm is then manually moved in the different positions to learn instead of code writing.

For these reasons, collaborative robots have a better payback time than industrial robots. Of course, there might be other reasons to choose an industrial robot over a collaborative robot. Industrial robots handle higher payloads and can operate at higher speeds.

Payback time

The payback time is the time needed to gain back the money spent on the project. It is the result of the investment divided by the cost savings and income increase. After this period you will make a profit.

Payback time = Investment [€] / (Yearly cost savings [€/year] + Yearly income increase [€/year])

Qviro’s mission is to reduce the time and effort of calculating your payback time. We do this by providing information and price transparency about the whole cobot market. If you have a cobot-related question, feel free to ask for our opinion.

Updated 06/07/2022