homepage_name! > Editions > Number 119 > Interview - Jurgen von Hollen

Jürgen von Hollen, President of Universal Robots

Automation is the Competitive Advantage You Need

Universal Robots started in 2008 and since then more than 31 000 cobots have been installed globally. We see a need for increasing the level of automation across all industries and the collaborative robots market is growing very fast. For us, it is proof that our vision of empowering people and providing access to automation solutions to companies of every size is becoming a reality. Also, a key aspect is that cobots may take over strenuous tasks and thus relieve humans from such processes, giving them space and time to make use of their full potential.

1. Tell us something more about your company?

Universal Robots is the pioneer of the collaborative robots market. Collaborative robots, also known as cobots, were brought out in 2008 by Esben Ostergaard, a co-founder of Universal Robots, as a new category in robotics. We develop small, user-friendly, flexible, and cost-effective industrial robots with which a man can safely work with in the same workspace. They are also easy to program and use, significantly lowering the barrier to automation. Cobots may be used virtually by any company, as a tool that in hands of a human may boost flexibility and productivity of a company.

2. How is your technology a cost-effective solution for industrial operations?

Collaborative robots can be useful in most production companies. They deal well with tasks such as picking and placing objects, polishing, packaging and palletizing, quality control, assembly, and screw driving to mention just a few. Cobots can be used in standard applications, such as pick & place, or painting, but their flexibility, 6-joint construction, and the ability to rotate 360 degrees on all joints, allow the end-user to use the robot in very specific applications. This flexibility puts the control over the process in the hands of the operator and does not depend on the limits of applications specified by the manufacturer of a robot. Simple programming and the ability to move cobots to new processes from day to day are a great value both for small and medium-sized enterprises and multinationals. Also if we look at the development of the end-of-arm tooling and all the systems and software for cobots, the potential of the whole collaborative robots ecosystem for end users is huge.

3. What effect does your automation and robotics have on workload efficiency?

Collaborative robots can help to neutralize limitations related to the lack of flexibility. Cobots work well in a situation where the scale of production or assortment needs to be changed in a short time horizon. They are particularly useful in manufacturing setups that involve higher-margin, mass-personalized products, which is a global trend right now. The flexibility of application makes it possible to increase the efficiency of the process that is at the moment crucial for the company. In addition, due to the repeatability of movement (about 0.03 mm in case of UR robots), they help to obtain high quality products and reduce material waste. Besides, cobots are a great value when it comes to human resources shortages – they can perform the given tasks on their own, enabling employees to focus on different areas. They can also help companies reshore manufacturing. For SMEs, cobots remain the best way to gain the benefits of automation without breaking the bank.

4. How can implementing automation alongside employees improve safety?

When reflecting on a man and machine working together on the factory floor, the need to consider the safety and compliance requirements of this new kind of workplace has become paramount. As a leading manufacturer of collaborative robots, we are spending a significant amount of time ensuring that our robots are not just meeting compliance standards, but that they are taking safety to the next level in the same way that Universal Robots’ technology helps advance productivity and process innovation for companies across the globe. In fact, due to the 17 advanced safety functions embedded within our patented safety system, cobots can be operated cage-free (subject to risk assessment) in the vast majority of the thousands of applications now installed worldwide. It is important when talking about safety to consider that the cobots may take over processes which are risky for people; manipulating sharp elements for instance. One of the safety functions is the power and force limiting, which means that the robot will stop safely when a worker comes in contact with the arm. [z1]

5. Within this industry, how do you see the development of collaborative robotics so far? And, in your opinion, where does the journey lead?

When talking numbers: Universal Robots started in 2008 and since then more than 31 000 cobots have been installed globally. We see a need for increasing the level of automation across all industries and the collaborative robots market is growing very fast. For us, it is proof that our vision of empowering people and providing access to automation solutions to companies of every size is becoming a reality. Also, a key aspect is that cobots may take over strenuous tasks and thus relieve humans from such processes, giving them space and time to make use of their full potential.

6. In what sectors and geography, do you see the demand coming from?

Actually, our cobots are used all around the globe now. We see a huge interest in the EMEA region, the Americas, and Asia. As far as industries are concerned, the first comers in implementing innovations are the automotive and electronics sectors, however from what I can see the demand is coming from almost every industry. This is related again to the flexibility us cobots – there are barely any limitations in the applications in which they can support humans and companies. Among our clients are for instance an Indian company which deploys 170 of UR robots, as well as some Danish micro companies employing just a few people and our robot.

7. How would you look at the market potential for cobots when compared to the traditional robotics market?

The development of the collaborative robotics, as well as how this innovation is spreading, is fantastic. Almost every day I see a new case study from a different part of the world showing how companies are boosting their operations thanks to collaboration between machine and human. The overall robotic market is growing at a level of circa 19% year over year whereas the collaborative robots market is growing between 60 or 70% year over year. Cobots made robotization accessible for a vast amount of small and medium companies that could not afford automation before. I mean not only money, but also time and the skills required for the implementation. This is a huge market which is starting to be aware of new solutions and benefits they can get from those technologies.

8. Are you planning on expanding your production outside Denmark?

All of our R&D and manufacturing resources are based in Denmark, in Odense. This is where our company was born and this is a good place to be. The Odense robotics cluster is a very inspiring place in terms of automation and robotics, attracting the best people.

9. Where do you see the biggest challenges in the future?

We are looking forward to what the future will bring. The ongoing challenge as well as our mission is to show end customers specifically from all around the world and from very different industries how they can individually benefit from collaborative robots. That they can automate almost anything.


[z1]Katka, please verify


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