How to Get a Good Deal on a Used Robot

Lots of deals are available on pre-owned industrial and household robots.

If you’re running a small business or just tired of vacuuming your home—and could use the help of a robot—consider buying one used at a big discount.

Prospective buyers include small businesses looking for a hand with strenuous tasks, such as loading 50-pound packages onto pallets. Many buyers of used bots are first-time buyers, pleased that they can find a fully refurbished industrial robot that sold for $80,000 new for just $30,000 or so.

Homeowners can find deals on a variety of used bots, including ones that vacuum the carpet or mow the lawn, by searching for “certified refurbished” robots. A refurbished iRobot Roomba vacuum cleaner, for example, costs 20%-30% less on than a new one.

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Besides searching online, it’s also worth calling robot manufacturers, dealers and repair shops to ask about unadvertised deals.

“I don’t know how many of us buy new cars, but I always buy a certified pre-owned product,” says Dan Magsig, applications director at Alliance Robotics, based in Ohio. Other resellers include Pa.-based Industrial Robotix and Ohio-based RobotWorx.

Magsig has sold refurbished robots to a wide range of businesses, including a farmer in Maine and an energy bar company in Canada.

Record-high sales of industrial robots are leading to an uptick in the number of high-quality robots hitting the secondary market. Last year, an all-time high 27,700 industrial robots were ordered in North America. “We’re expecting another record this year,” says Jeff Burnstein, president of the Association for Advancing Automation. Major robot manufacturers looking forward to increased sales this year include Fanuc, Denso Robotics, ABB Robotics and KUKA. Resellers look to Fortune 500 companies to scoop up used robots, especially eyeing the automotive industry, which is far and away the leading user of robots.

Used robots still have years of work left in them. Large manufacturers sell industrial robots after as little as one-fifth of their life span. To make sure they last, resellers put the robots through the wringer with an extensive inspection. They then replace and fix parts, test again and finally add a fresh coat of paint.

What’s more, since new robots are getter cheaper with more capabilities, buyers of used ones will have even better choices in coming years. Advances include robots that work closely alongside humans and robotic arms that can assemble small parts.

Introducing robots into the workforce can keep small businesses humming amid growing domestic and foreign competition. Work can be done faster with higher quality, and many companies welcome the chance to take workers off dangerous tasks.

The initial setup can be a challenge, though. It takes planning to figure out if and how a robot fits into your business, and then the robot needs to be specially programmed to perform its unique job. But resellers help train company employees to operate them and also help with troubleshooting once the robot is in place.

Still unsure if the robot is worth the cost? Expect more companies that let you take robots for quick spin before you buy. San Francisco-based Lumoid, for instance, lets users try out drones. Other companies offer robot rentals for parties or conferences. Expect more services to crop up with a range of new robotics. Plus, the big guys, like KUKA, offers rentals of industrial bots if you only need them for a limited time.

John Miley
Senior Associate Editor, The Kiplinger Letter

John Miley is a Senior Associate Editor at The Kiplinger Letter. He mainly covers technology, telecom and education, but will jump on other important business topics as needed. In his role, he provides timely forecasts about emerging technologies, business trends and government regulations. He also edits stories for the weekly publication and has written and edited e-mail newsletters.

He joined Kiplinger in August 2010 as a reporter for Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine, where he wrote stories, fact-checked articles and researched investing data. After two years at the magazine, he moved to the Letter, where he has been for the last decade. He holds a BA from Bates College and a master’s degree in magazine journalism from Northwestern University, where he specialized in business reporting. An avid runner and a former decathlete, he has written about fitness and competed in triathlons.