If robotics are to make their way to automotive service areas, one fundamental question will first have to be answered:
Would robots in service be considered a tool to help techs do their jobs, like a good set of wrenches — and thus the financial responsibility of the tech — or a piece of dealership-owned capital equipment, such as a lift?
If we're to use the way most current service departments operate as a guide, the answer to the question might determine who would potentially buy them, and whether they get built at all.
It may seem outlandish that a technician would be asked to purchase robotics, such as perhaps an exoskeleton suit, that might cost tens — or even hundreds — of thousands of dollars. But if that makes the technician quantifiably more efficient and saves wear and tear on his body, how different is that than an expensive piece of diagnostic equipment or a specialty tool that might only be used occasionally?
Mark Davis of Seminole State College in Sanford, Fla., says that in all but the most progressive dealerships, service technicians must buy their own tools — an expense that, along with their education and training, can run into the tens of thousands of dollars. The cost is one of the factors crimping the supply of technicians.
"Right now, the technician is responsible for the majority of their tools. And most of the money that's being made in the service areas of a dealership is the result of the technician," Davis argues.
While automating some jobs with the help of robotics would no doubt make a technician more productive, dealers might be reluctant to pay technicians more for a higher skill set.
"Even some of the new equipment is getting sophisticated enough to where the technician will have to have higher technology skills than they have in the past," Davis said.