Japan faces a labor shortage impact in 2024 as new overtime regulations for truck drivers come into force. This is being called the ‘2024 problem’ - its potential disruptions need technological help. The world´s number one robot manufacturing country is developing automation strategies that will not only target logistical issues but also a wide range of industry challenges the new working time legislation will cause.
“The government´s overtime cap is an important step to improve working conditions for employees,” says Takayuki Ito, Vice President of the International Federation of Robotics. “Industrial and service robots deliver great solutions to automate. Robots relieve workers of dirty, dull and dangerous work and help to close productivity gaps.”
Robots load and unload cargo
In Japan, the average annual working hours for a heavy truck driver were 2,568, which is 444 hours longer than the national average for all jobs - labor ministry data from 2022 reveal. Placing cargo in and out of trucks and warehouses is one of the most time- consuming tasks of truck drivers. Mobile robot solutions in transportation and logistics can help. To free up truck drivers from loading and unloading cargo saves them up to 25% of working time during a day´s shift. Robots also help reduce errors in order fulfillment by automating repetitive tasks such as picking and packing.
Robots speed up warehousing
Warehouse robots in use today range from compact autonomous mobile robots to large-scale automated storage and retrieval systems. Their use reduces the amount of time required to move goods and they can handle heavy loads and dangerous materials without putting human workers at risk.
Professional service robots are booming
The benefits of robots for transportation and logistics are documented by latest statistics: on a global scale, more professional service robots were built for the transportation of goods or cargo than for any other function. Sales grew by 44% with more than 86,000 units sold in 2022 worldwide, IFR reports.
Workplaces of the future
“Regulations of overtime work and the demographic change will require the adoption of automation technology in many branches of the Japanese economy,” says Takayuki Ito. “The challenges of the trucking industry are good examples to show how robotics and automation deliver adequate solutions for our workplaces of the future.”
iREX 2023 in Tokyo (November 29 – December 02)
The International Robot Exhibition (iREX) in Tokyo is highly regarded both in Japan and abroad as one of the largest robot exhibitions in the world:
The total number of service robots sold for professional use hit 158,000 units in 2022 - an increase of 48%. Shortage of staff is a strong driver for companies to automate.
“The service robot industry is developing at a fast pace,” says Marina Bill, President of the International Federation of Robotics. “Shortage of skilled workers and a lack of staff applying for service jobs boosts demand. IFR identified almost 1,000 service robot suppliers worldwide delivering autonomous services.”
Five top applications for professional service robots by units sold
Mobile robot solutions in transportation and logistics established a strong market share: more professional service robots were built for the transportation of goods or cargo, than any other function. Sales grew by 44% with more than 86,000 units sold in 2022. Robot sales for open indoor environments with public traffic were up 78% and reached almost 37,300 units. Many of these robots are intended for food and beverage delivery in restaurants.
Hospitality robots enjoy growing popularity: More than 24,500 units (+125%) were sold in 2022. Robots for mobile guidance, information, and telepresence account for most of these robots.
Sales of medical robots were down 4% to about 9,300 units. Almost 4,900 surgery robots (+5%) were sold, but sales of robots for rehabilitation and noninvasive therapy were down 16% to less than 3,200 robots.
Robotics sales in agriculture grew by 18% with almost 8,000 units shipped in 2022. More than 5,800 robots (+9%) were sold for agricultural tasks like milking and barn cleaning. The lack of human workforce in agricultural regions and demand for more sustainable agriculture make service robots a key player in this market.
The market for professional cleaning robots grew by 8% and reached almost 6,900 units sold. The main application is floor cleaning with 4,900 units sold – up 10%. This represents more than 70% of shipments in this application group.
Service robots for consumer use
Service robots for consumer use are produced for a mass market, which makes it a very different segment compared to service robots for professional use. Sales of robots for consumer use reached about 5.1 million units in 2022 vs. 158,000 units sold for professional use.
Today, we find the strongest consumer demand in areas of domestic household robots. Almost 4.9 million robots were sold in 2022. The most used application is indoor domesticfloor cleaning with about 2.8 million robots sold. Robot vacuums are common in private households for many years now. Apart from cyclical volatility, IFR´s statistical department predicts growth potential in the low double-digit range over the next few years.
Like robot vacuums, gardening robots are already familiar in people´s daily live: Sales of lawn mowing robots reached 1.1 million units in 2022.
Social interaction and education robots are the second largest consumer application group with 157,000 units sold in 2022. While sales of education robots reached almost 104,000 units, shipments of social interaction and companion robots were reported with about 53,000 units.
Please note: World Robotics Service Robots report is sample data. Data is NOT projected to the whole industry. Sample composition varies each year. Compiling or comparing data from different World Robotics Reports is strongly discouraged. All numbers at World Robotics Service Robots 2023 report based on a sample of 239 companies.
Orders for World Robotics 2023 Service Robots and Industrial Robots reports can be placed online. Further downloads on the content are available here.
The new World Robotics report recorded 553,052 industrial robot installations in factories around the world – a growth rate of 5% in 2022, year-on-year. By region, 73% of all newly deployed robots were installed in Asia, 15% in Europe and 10% in the Americas.
“The world record of 500,000 units was exceeded for the second year in succession,” says Marina Bill, President of the International Federation of Robotics. “In 2023 the industrial robot market is expected to grow by 7% to more than 590,000 units worldwide."
Asia, Europe and the Americas - overview
China is by far the world´s largest market. In 2022, annual installations of 290,258 units replaced the previous record of 2021 by growth of 5%. This latest gain is remarkable since it even tops the 2021 result that was a 57% jump compared to 2020. To serve this dynamic market, domestic and international robot suppliers have established production plants in China and continuously increased capacity. On average, annual robot installations have grown by 13% each year (2017-2022).
Robot installations in Japan were up by 9% to 50,413 units, exceeding the pre-pandemic level of 49,908 units in 2019. The peak level remains at 55,240 units in 2018. The country ranks second to China in size of market for industrial robots. Annual installations gained 2% on average per year (2017-2022). Japan is the world´s predominant robot manufacturing country with a market share of 46% of the global robot production.
The market in the Republic of Korea rose by 1% - installations reached 31,716 units in 2022. This was the second year of marginal growth, following four years of declining installation figures. The Republic of Korea remains the fourth largest robot market in the world, following the United States, Japan, and China.
The European Union remains the world´s second largest market (70,781 units; +5%) in 2022. Germany is one of the top five adopters worldwide with a market share of 36% within the EU. Germany´s installations went down by 1% to 25,636 units. Italy follows with a market share of 16% within the EU - installations grew by 8% to 11,475 units. The third largest EU market, France, recorded a regional market share of 10% and gained 13%, installing 7,380 units in 2022.
In the post-Brexit United Kingdom, industrial robot installations were up by 3% to 2,534 units in 2022. This is less than a tenth of Germany´s sales.
In the Americas, installations were up 8% to 56,053 units in 2022, surpassing the 2018 peak level (55,212 units). The United States, the largest regional market, accounted for 71% of the installations in the Americas in 2022. Robot installations were up by 10% to 39,576 units. This was just shy of the peak level of 40,373 units achieved in 2018. The main growth driver was the automotive industry that displayed surging installations by +47% (14,472 units). The share of the automotive industry has now grown back to 37%, followed by the metal and machinery industry (3,900 units) and the electrical/electronics industry (3,732 units).
The two other major markets are Mexico – here installations grew by 13% (6,000 units) - and Canada, where demand dropped by 24% (3,223 units). This was the result of lower demand from the automotive industry - the strongest adopter.
Brazil is an important production site for motor vehicles and automotive parts: The International Organization of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers (OICA) reports an output of 2.4 million vehicles in 2022. This shows the huge potential for automation in the country. Annual installation counts grew rather slowly with cyclical ups and downs. In 2022, 1,858 robots were installed. This was 4% more than in the previous year.
The year 2023 will be characterized by a slowdown of the global economic growth. Robot installations in 2023 are not expected to follow this pattern. There is no indication that the overall long-term growth trend will come to an end soon: rather the contrary will be the case. The mark of 600,000 units installed per year worldwide is expected to be reached in 2024.
Orders for World Robotics 2023 Industrial Robots and Service Robots reports can be placed online. Further downloads on the content are available here.
PRESS OFFICER International Federation of Robotics Carsten Heer phone +49 (0) 40 822 44 284 E-Mail: [email protected]
IFR Graphs, market presenation and press releases on selected markets in Chinese, German, Japanese and French language are available below. English translations on these markets and special graphs are available on request.
Today, IFR unveiled its highly anticipated World Robotics 2023 report. The report reveals that 2022 witnessed a remarkable achievement: a record-breaking 553,000 new installations.
Today, IFR unveiled its highly anticipated World Robotics 2023 report. The report reveals that 2022 witnessed a remarkable achievement: a record-breaking 553,000 new installations. While this represents seemingly moderate overall growth of 5%, it should be seen in the context of the remarkable 35% surge in 2021, which occurred amidst a challenging global economic environment.
China, by far the world’s largest market, could top its previous record and grow by another 5%, contributing to a staggering 52% of all new installations. Notably, the share of Chinese domestic suppliers has surged from 28% to an impressive 36%.
The trajectory of China's economy holds a pivotal role in shaping the future. While some backlog from 2022 still exists, the IFR Quarterly Survey reports a decline in order intake during the first half of 2023. Nevertheless, the IFR Statistical Department maintains cautious optimism, projecting a 10% growth in China for 2023. The global industrial robot market is also expected to expand by 7%, reaching more than 590,000 units.
These significant findings are presented by our General Secretary at the ISR Europe 2023 event, currently taking place in Stuttgart. This event is a collaborative effort between the University of Stuttgart, VDE, Fraunhofer IPA, VDMA Robotics and Automation, and the IFR.
In other exciting news, the IFR has launched the Go4Robotics campaign in partnership with its members. This campaign, accessible at https://go4robotics.com/, provides small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and other interested parties with a wealth of information in the form of blog articles, whitepapers, checklists, and case studies. These resources aim to help businesses discover the advantages of robotization and address any concerns. We rely on your support to spread the word about this campaign through your personal and corporate social media channels and websites.
We look forward to the next opportunity to connect with IFR members and staff in person, which will be during iREX in Tokyo from November 29 to December 1. We hope to see you there!
When the Donk Industries employees enter the factory hall in the morning, their new colleague has already taken over the night shift for them: Since 2018, an RG6 gripper from OnRobot has been automatically feeding one of the eight CNC machines of the aluminum manufacturer with workpieces – around the clock.
For the employees, this means an enormous relief, which opens up the opportunity to devote themselves to more demanding tasks. In addition, the company benefits from more efficient processes: The collaborative application has doubled the outcome of the CNC machine and ensures higher and more stable product quality.
Founded in 1932, Donk Industries is one of the largest small series manufacturers in the Benelux countries. At its site in Lopik, the Netherlands, around 100 employees produce aluminum parts of all kinds for Dutch and international customers. The foundry, powder coating plant, CNC machining department and product development are all located under one roof. The handling of all processes at one location is a logistical advantage both for the customers and for Donk Industries itself: customers only order from one supplier and receive the requested product assembled. This enables Donk Industries to respond optimally to customer requests.
The challenge of a shortage of skilled workers
But this service also comes with it challenges: As a single-item and small-series manufacturer, Donk Industries is confronted with a wide variety of products. At the same time, the company must keep its inventories low and supply customers on time. "In order to stand up to competitive pressure and meet the requirements of a small series manufacturer, we need qualified personnel," says Jaap Zentveld, Assistant Production Manager at Donk Industries, describing the situation.
In recent years, however, the company has been increasingly confronted with a shortage of skilled workers. It was particularly difficult to find personnel to operate the CNC machines - after all, this is a monotonous and time-consuming, yet less demanding task. Long cycle times cause long breaks, which the personnel spent waiting. "Employees who actually have other areas of responsibility were tied to the CNC machine," explains Zentveld. "This also had consequences for the quality and delivery reliability of the products.“
Flexible automation solution needed
Zentveld began to look for suitable automation solutions in order to deploy its employees more effectively and thus increase productivity while maintaining the same high-quality standards. The company looked at various robotic solutions and found collaborative robots among them. "We are already automating many other parts of the production process with industrial robots," says Zentveld. "However, we have to be flexible with our product variety and the small quantities involved and be able to convert our production lines quickly. In addition, Donk Industries' individual products require special handling. Collaborative applications meet these requirements in particular: They can be flexibly converted for new tasks and are easy to program. In contrast to conventional industrial robots, the combination of Cobot and corresponding end-of-arm tooling can be used directly next to humans and works directly with them.” Zentveld and his team therefore selected a collaborative robotics application with end-of-arm tools from OnRobot.
Gripper equipped CNC machine
Today, an RG6 gripper loads and unloads one of the eight CNC machines in Donk Industries' production halls. The gripper is mounted at the end of a collaborative robot arm and is combined with an OnRobot HEX sensor. This force/torque sensor provides the necessary sensitivity so that the gripper can grip workpieces precisely and perform its tasks efficiently. A specially designed loading station, the Robobooster4000 developed by system integrator Olmia Robotics, is a requirement for smooth loading and unloading of the machine. The gripper removes a component from this station and inserts it into the machine. After the milling process, it takes the finished product out and places it in the magazine. The cycle is repeated until all components have passed through the process.
Thanks to the individually adjustable fingertips, the OnRobot gripper can handle objects of different shapes and sizes. The local partner Olmia Robotics helped adapt the robotics solution to Donk Industries products. "With Donk Industries' specific requirements in mind, we recommended an OnRobot gripper," said Peter van Olm, founder of Olmia Robotics and distributor of OnRobot. "Because it is so flexible, we were able to adapt it individually to the application. The concept of the one-stop shop allows us to find the right solution for every application".
Increased efficiency, product quality and turnover
The fingertips of the RG6 can now be replaced within minutes. All the employees have to do is loosen a few screws, attach the new fingertips and screw them back in again. This enables them to quickly adjust the gripper to changing workpieces whenever the varied manufacturing process requires it. If new products are added, the employees develop suitable fingertips together with Olmia Robotics. This flexibility is reflected in time savings and better delivery reliability. "With the collaborative application of OnRobot, we have found a solution that exactly meets our requirements," says Zentveld.
The collaborative application has also doubled the productivity of the CNC machine within a short time, while the failure rate has been halved. Even without human intervention, the application runs smoothly and can be used overnight. The constant operation of the machine has even more advantages: "Production is now much smoother - you can tell this from the product quality, which is much more consistent than before," comments Zentveld.
Application takes the strain off employees
The employees also reacted positively to the helping hand on the CNC machine. "For us, the automation solution from OnRobot is a great relief," says Josine de Groot, employee at Donk Industries. "We can give up a monotonous task and thus have more time to take care of more demanding things - such as quality control or technical drawings.“
Donk Industries does not lose any jobs by automating CNC assembly. In fact, valuable working time now flows into activities that previously could only be performed inadequately. Thus, the application helps to counteract the shortage of skilled workers.
Further automation planned
In the future Donk Industries wants to focus even more on automation. "The entire project has shown us that automation is a real enrichment for our company and our employees," Zentveld sums up. "In addition, we can now produce much more efficiently.” Zentveld and his team are planning to automate further CNC machines with OnRobot solutions in order to relieve the strain on employees. In this way, the traditional company remains fit for the future - and ensures that it will be able to support its customers as a competent partner for at least another eighty years.
In the time it takes to read this article, Absolicon, with the help of ABB robots, will potentially have taken the world one step closer to Net Zero with its innovative solar technology and newly automated manufacturing process.
Climate change is an existential threat to our society. It is agreed by the vast majority that pivoting away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy is vital to preserving resources and the natural environment and enabling the transformation to a sustainable society. Solar energy is one element of the overall energy mix, and for many countries and regions which enjoy comparatively high levels of sunlight throughout the year it is an ideal solution for decarbonizing the grid. However, a caveat with solar energy is its cost. Solar technology is traditionally difficult and expensive to both develop and manufacture on a mass level.
Thanks to the use of ABB robots, Swedish manufacturer Absolicon has developed what it sees as a gamechanger for the widespread adoption of solar as an energy source. The company manufactures solar collectors, which are essentially troughs which track the sun across the sky to catch its rays. A parabolic reflector focuses the solar irradiation on a receiver, which then turns it into heat, which in turn generates steam at up to 160 degrees. Absolicon’s solar collectors are the most efficient in their class and are ideal for industrial companies and district heating networks.
Almost all industries require heat for production processes. In textiles manufacturing for instance, almost two kilograms of coal are burned for every one kilogram of cloth produced. Beer production burns two tons of diesel for every 100 liters of beer. Even industries that are not widely considered to be energy intensive can require significant amounts of heat. Drying tea leaves, for example, requires the burning of five tons of firewood for every one ton of tea leaves. Solar collectors like Absolicon’s can harness the clean energy of the sun to produce this heat while generating zero CO2 emissions. To give some idea of their emission-saving potential, every square meter of a solar thermal collector can produce the equivalent energy of 100 liters of oil.
Solar collector panels are highly complex, requiring production processes that are extremely precise, highly efficient and cost effective. To achieve this, Absolicon and ABB have developed the world’s only complete solution for the mass production of concentrated solar collectors, in Absolicon’s factory in Härnösand, Sweden.
The degree of automation has increased production drastically. Where previously Absolicon was able to produce three solar collectors per day using manual production methods, with units assembled in the field, the newly installed robotic production line, which uses two ABB robots, has enabled the creation of an automated factory production line that is capable of producing a single collector in as little as six minutes. By the time you finish reading this article a new solar collector may well be ready for delivery.
The newly automated production process significantly reduces the skilled labour requirements and production cycle time for each collector, substantially reducing the overall unit cost. The consistent performance of the robots also enables each collector to be assembled in the same way, ensuring that the highest levels of quality are maintained throughout production and that the assembled collectors can offer optimum performance once installed.
Crucially, Absolicon has not just developed the solar collector itself, but intends to export the whole robotised production unit as a turnkey solution, so that collectors can be manufactured locally. This could have significant ramifications for the solar industry, making advanced solar technology both more affordable and more accessible for companies, organizations and governments across the world.
"Developing an automated production process enables our global business case by radically reducing the price of our solar collectors, while manufacturing them consistently to a very high quality. The productivity offered by ABB’s robots means we can make solar energy compete on price with conventional industrial heating for the first time," says Joakim Byström, CEO of Absolicon. “Our new automated production line can produce a complete solar collector every six minutes, so while competitors rely on a manually intensive manufacturing process, we can now do it with five people, two robots and a fraction of the components. This will be key in helping to meet the growing demand for renewable technologies to help meet global carbon emissions reduction targets.”
“We are pleased that ABB’s robotics solutions are accelerating the productivity, quality and cost efficiency of Absolicon’s production line to enable them to bring a renewable energy product to market at a competitive price,” says Sami Atiya, President of ABB’s Robotics & Discrete Automation Business Area. “In helping Absolicon to accelerate their production from three units a day to one every six minutes, our robotic solutions are playing a key role in accelerating the global adoption of sustainable technology, ensuring Absolicon’s production partners are able to consistently produce solar collector panels globally.”
The next phase of the project involves supplying complete robotic production lines to manufacturing partners across the globe and ABB and Absolicon have agreed they will collaborate on the development, sales and marketing of the robotic production line worldwide.
“Our vision is to enable a cost-effective mass-production of solar collectors across the world, to produce heat directly from sunlight,” adds Byström. “Our work with ABB to create this automated production process is a key enabler to realize our vision, while ABB's global service organization will be a very valuable resource for our new customers as we roll-out our new automated production line globally.” The first installation has already been delivered to a partner in China, and framework agreements for the acquisition of robotic production lines have been signed with businesses in a dozen countries, with ABB supplying the robots for all new installations.
Production is underway at Togg’s new Technology Campus. Turkey’s global technology brand and first smart and connected EV manufacturer has an ambitious target for its Togg Technology Campus for electric vehicles: to be one of the most environmentally-friendly plants in Europe. Dürr planned and built the paint shop as a general contractor and supplied systems for the final assembly process. NEXT.assembly, Dürr’s bundled technology spectrum for final assembly as a complete solution was used for the first time, enabling Togg to achieve unparalleled efficiency in vehicle assembly.
175,000 units smart and connected EVs are to roll off the production line annually at the Gemlik Togg Technology Campus in western Turkey by 2030. The turnkey paint shop project was awarded to Dürr in 2020 and a second order for the final assembly system followed in 2021. Together, they covered all plant engineering, application technology and marriage, including fully automatic screwdriving stations and inspection equipment. “The pretreatment and cathodic electrocoating systems are already rated for the final expansion stage, while the plans include provision for doubling up of all other power units in the layout. Therefore, Togg can react quickly if the capacity requirements increase, for example, by adding a second oven or an entire line,” explains Bruno Welsch, CEO & President Paint and Final Assembly at Dürr Systems AG. Production started only recently.
Cutting water, electricity, and heat consumption
Togg initially opted for a lean painting process to minimize energy demand. The base coat and clear coat of the internal and external paint finish are applied in a single topcoat line with integrated primer application, eliminating one drying phase. The solvent-based paints contain 30 to 35 percent more solid content than standard paints to achieve the required layer thicknesses with lower discharge rates.
The EcoDryScrubber dry separation system concentrates the solvents released into the exhaust air fully automatically and separates the overspray –saving resources in many ways. The system requires virtually no water and very little energy for air conditioning, which is usually one of the highest energy consumption processes in painting. Spray booth air recirculation of up to 95 percent means that heat and electricity consumption is reduced by up to 80 percent and 50 percent, respectively. This reduction also pays off economically, with energy consumption reduced by up to 60 percent. Togg goes well beyond the legal requirements with one additional measure to protect the environment. The Oxi.X, a regenerative thermal oxidizer (RTO) that can be operated auto thermally – in other words, without a primary energy supply for the burner – disposes of the booth exhaust air.
Latest technology for high-color brilliance
Togg insists on high standards not only for environmental friendliness but also for coating quality. Next-generation Dürr robots apply the paint, including the seven-axis EcoRP E043i, which is mobile enough to paint doors from the inside and open tailgates. A unique technical feature is the EcoBell 3 atomizers equipped with two main needles, which apply colored clear coats for particularly shiny surfaces. The second main needle eliminates the time-consuming rinse cycles previously required, reducing detergent consumption and ensuring the fastest color changes within the required cycle time.
A new way of looking at final assembly
Togg benefits from NEXT.assembly in the final assembly area. Whereas individual components were previously the focus, the final assembly system is now considered a whole unit to make vehicle assembly as efficient as possible. NEXT.assembly bundles all of Dürr’s technology and consulting portfolio for maximum efficiency in the vehicle assembly process. The result is the most comprehensive final assembly portfolio on the market to-date. It is available as a complete solution or in individual modular parts. “Togg is the first car manufacturer to choose a complete solution from our final assembly offering. We developed a highly customized, resource-conscious solution that results in high synergy and efficiency at all levels along the whole line with precisely coordinated processes,” reports Andreas Hohmann, Vice President Consulting & NEXT.assembly.
Modern conveyor technology for doors and bodies
Dürr’s overhead conveyors ensure efficient processes. A total of 57 lightweight overhead conveyors transport the vehicle doors to a separate door pre-assembly line. Another 50 heavy overhead conveyors are provided for transporting the bodies. With the potential for future digitization, subsequent process integration or maintenance analysis tools is possible.
Window gluing as part of line tracking
One way to save material in pre-assembly is through precise dosing with the EcoShot Meter, which is suitable for almost all thick matter for sealing and gluing. The dosing unit, which is suitable for 1K and 2K applications, can also apply PU adhesives for window gluing. At Togg, these are used in the fully automatic gluing of windows and panoramic glass roofs. The automated process happens while the body is being conveyed (line tracking), making it much more efficient than the previous stop-and-go process where the vehicle conveyor had to be stopped for installation.
Flexible marriage process thanks to automation
Togg is ideally equipped for the specific marriage process for electric vehicles with a line divided into seven individual stations, including the fully automatic x-bolt screwdriving station with six individual spindles. They fasten the front-axle module, the battery, and the rear-axle module automatically with a total of 30 screwing points. A downstream manual screwdriving station fastens another 14 screwing points, which can be easily automated in the future.
Next generation of filling
The ProLine Cube guarantees faster and more high-quality filling for all media. As the technological core of the filling system, the fourth Somac adapter generation – the ergonomic G4 Blue Adapter – determines the fill quality and process time.
Exact 3D axle geometry measurements
The battery-powered vehicles are inspected and aligned in two complete end-of-line systems by the wheel alignment stands x-wheel, among others. They are equipped with the new x-3Dsurface sensors. These provide 3D measurements of axle geometries and align them with an extremely high level of precision and reliability. The wheel alignment stands are combined with the headlight measurement and adjustment systems x-light as well as the complicated ADAS calibration systems x-DASalign, which are used for calibrating the SVC (Surround View Camera), FLC (Forward Looking Camera), and FLR (Forward Looking Radar). The roll/brake/ABS test stands x-road for dynamic roll, brake, and ABS testing complete the end-of-line system.
“As the principal supplier, we work closely with Togg to meet high environmental and quality requirements,” says Bruno Welsch. The service offering is rounded out by the Turkey-based Dürr team, which will take over the ongoing servicing of the system in the future.
IFR and IEEE Robotics and Automation Society (IEEE/RAS) are looking for applicants for the next IERA Award. Deadline for submission is February 10, 2024.
The IERA award is jointly sponsored and organized by IEEE Robotics and Automation Society (IEEE/RAS) and the International Federation of Robotics (IFR). It highlights and honors the achievements of inventors with value creating ideas and entrepreneurs who propel those ideas into world-class products.
All submitted entries will be evaluated based on criteria that give equal consideration to both innovation and entrepreneurship. The winner will be awarded with a plaque and a $2000 cash prize. For additional details on the award and a list of the winners from the previous years, please see IEEE webpage.
In 2024 IEEE/RAS will host the IERA Award presentation. The finalists will present their innovation at a session which will be part of the ICRA 2024. The ICRA takes place from May 13 to 17, 2024 in Yokohama, Japan.
Labor shortage has become one of the most pressing challenges for small and midsized enterprises (SME) in OECD countries. The manufacturing sector is hit especially hard by high job vacancy rates. Since robots are becoming easier to install, implement and operate, SMEs have greater access to automation. The new Go4Robotics online platform by IFR provides independent guidance for their automation journey.
“The lack of skilled labor is a strong driver for automation in many countries,” says Dr Susanne Bieller, IFR´s General Secretary. “In fact, statistics from the EU say that three quarters of all companies across the EU have a problem attracting workers with the required skills.”
Robots increase attractiveness of employers
Given a choice, many young people prefer to work in a company that uses future technology. If there is a robot operating on the shopfloor, the employer can advertise a job to prospective employees as work that involves controlling a robot. This is oftentimes a game-changer. Since the robot takes on the 4 “Ds” of dull, dirty, dangerous and difficult work, their use is even more attractive. Employees have more time to skill-up for more interesting jobs.
SMEs learn to use robots
The new online platform Go4Robotics by the IFR raises awareness of the many advantages robotics provide. Small and midsized enterprises find educational content that comes with a checklist. Experts are dispelling myths about segments that are relatively new to automation. Managers learn how to benefit from new trends like easy-to-program robots for non-experts.
It is with great sadness that the robotics community bids farewell to Prof. Rezia Molfino. She passed away on August 19, 2023 at the age of 80.
Rezia M. Molfino was a full professor of control of mechanical systems and robot mechanics at the University of Genova until her retirement in 2013. Her research in the robotic field has focused on simulation techniques as an effective tool for the design of new robotic architectures and their management. She is the author of more than 250 scientific works dealing with robotics, the control of nonlinear systems, factory automation, and intelligent manufacturing.
Even as emeritus professor, she remained active serving robotics research and strongly supported the education of the next generation of robotics engineers.
She was a partner in several national and international academic-industry joint projects and a member of numerous advisory boards and program committees of international scientific conferences as well as an invited speaker at round tables of international conferences and fairs. She has organized seminars and workshops on robotics and automation.
She was elected President of SIRI, the Italian Association of Robotics and Automation, in 2000 and filled this office until 2016.
Since 2000, she served as national coordinator at IFR, the International Federation of Robotics and remained active member of IFR's General Assembly until her demise.
Her dedication and passion for robotics will be missed. Please join us in offering heartfelt condolences to her family.
As technology advances, robotics is becoming an increasingly important tool across industries to enhancing efficiency, productivity and safety in the workplace. Whether you’re interested in automation solutions, cobots, autonomous mobile robots or automated guided vehicles, we’ve got you covered with the latest news, trends, and expertise in the world of robotics.
As technology advances, robotics is becoming an increasingly important tool across industries to enhancing efficiency, productivity and safety in the workplace. In many parts of the world, labor shortages, missing skilled labor and rising labor costs are a further driver for automation solutions.
While the trend of “democratizing” robotics opens up new customer segments, many companies, especially small- and medium-sized enterprizes (SMEs) are still doubtful whether robotics is also the right solution in their specific situation.
They expect automation to be expensive, elaborate and complex. But in fact, small-scale automation is a highly beneficial option at lower costs. Partial automation is boosting productivity without incurring high costs, optimising processes and thus relieving the strain on staff. This becomes more and more important, as SMEs have to compete on a global level and customer requirements are on the rise, too. Customers are calling for greater flexibility, more product variants and smaller batch sizes – not to mention consistently high quality on top.
With our new campaign go4robotics, IFR wants help SMEs on their automation journey and provides valuable information on the exciting field of robotics.
Whether one's interested in automation solutions, cobots, autonomous mobile robots or automated guided vehicles, the IFR campaign provides you with the latest news, trends, and expertise in the world of robotics.
In our Expertise Center, one can discover the latest trends, stay up-to-date with the latest developments and innovations in robotics with numerous free articles, whitepapers and e-books on deep dive topics.
Industrial robots in Europe are on the rise: The European Union´s (EU) 27 member states installed almost 72,000 units in 2022 – up 6% year-on-year. These are PRELIMINARY results, presented by the International Federation of Robotics (IFR).
“The top five adopting countries within the EU are Germany, Italy, France, Spain and Poland,” says Marina Bill, President of the International Federation of Robotics (IFR). “They account for about 70% of all industrial robots installed within the EU in 2022.”
Germany is by far the largest robot market in Europe: about 26,000 units (+3%) were installed in 2022. This was a share of 37% of total EU installations. Worldwide, the country had the fourth highest robot density, following Japan, Singapore, and the Republic of Korea.
The automotive industry is traditionally the main customer of industrial robots in Germany. 27% of the newly deployed robots were installed in this industry in 2022. This was 7,100 units, down 22% from the previous year – a cyclical investment behavior well known in this segment. In the general industry, the main customer was the metal industry that installed 4,200 units (+20%) in 2022. This is above the pre-pandemic level that fluctuated around 3,500 units per year with a peak level of 3,700 units in 2019. Installations in the plastic and chemical products industry were back at a pre-pandemic level - up by 7% to 2,200 units in 2022.
Italy is the second largest robot market in Europe after Germany. An all-time high of almost 12,000 units (+10%) were installed in 2022. This was a share of 16% of total EU installations.
The country has a strong metal and machinery industry: Sales reached 3,700 units – in 2022 - up 18% compared to the previous year. Robot sales in the plastic and chemical products industry grew by 42% with 1,400 units installed. And the country also has a powerful food & beverages industry. Installations went up by 9% reaching 1,400 units in 2022. Demand from the automotive industry was down by 22% to 900 units. This segment is dominated by the Stellantis Group that resulted from the merger of FIAT-Chrysler and PSA of France.
The robot market in France ranked third in Europe in 2022. Annual installations went up by 15% with a total number of 7,400 units. This is less than a third the number of neighboring Germany. The main customer is the metal industry with a market share of 22%. The segment installed 1,600 units – up 23%. The automotive industry grew by 19% and reached 1,600 units. This represents a market share of 21%. The French government’s €100bn stimulus package for investment in smart factory equipment that came into effect mid-2021 will create new demand for industrial robots in the next few years.
Annual installations in Spain grew by 12% with a total number of 3,800 units. Robot installations are traditionally determined by the automotive industry. According to the International Organization of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers (OICA), Spain is the second largest producer of cars in Europe following Germany. The car industry in Spain installed 900 units – up 5%. Sales in the metal industry grew by 20% and reached 900 units. Automotive and the metal industry accounted for almost 50% of the robot installations in 2022.
Robot installations in Poland had been on a strong upward trajectory for nine years.
Annual installations reached a total number of 3,100 units in 2022 – the second-best result after the new peak level of 3,500 units in 2021. Demand from the metal and machinery industry was up by 17% to 600 units in 2022. The automotive industry displayed a cyclical demand with 500 units installed – down 37%. The war in neighboring Ukraine dampened the manufacturing industries. But investments in digitalization and automation technologies will benefit from a total of €160 bn in EU investment support between 2021 and 2027.
Robot installations in European countries including non-EU member states reached a total of 84,000 units – up 3% in 2022.
Please find the video of the market presentation with preliminary figures by Marina Bill on our YouTube Channel.
As part of a slate of activities promoting entrepreneurship and innovation in robotics, finalists for the Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Robotics Award (IERA) presented their projects to a panel of judges at the 2023 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA), held in London 29 May – 2 June.
“The IERA Award recognizes category-creating, world-changing robot companies,” said Andra Keay, IERA Awards Chair & Vice President of the RAS Industrial Activities Board. “Previous winners of the IERA Award have redefined the role of robots in the real world and if you asked the average person on the street to name a robot, the chances are that they would name an IERA Award winning robot, like iRobot, Kiva Systems or Universal Robots.”
This year’s finalists were Dr. Aaron Edsinger and Professor Charlie Kemp of Hello Robot for the Stretch Robot; Zen Koh, from Fourier Intelligence for The ArmMotus EMU; Matthew Allan of Australian Droid and Robot for the Explora Robot; and Thomas Hähn of United Robotics Group for Plato.
Zen Koh and the team from Fourier Intelligence ultimately won the IERA Award for The ArmMotus EMU, a 3D back-drivable upper limb rehabilitation robot that adopted an innovative cable-driven mechanism designed for clinical settings.
“Zen Koh from Fourier Intelligence and The ArmMotus EMU are worthy winners of the 2023 IERA Award, exemplifying innovation in robotics with a global impact,” said Andra Keay, IERA Awards Chair & Vice President of the RAS Industrial Activities Board. “The combination of smart adaptive rehabilitation and entertainment technology can transform our healthcare landscape.”
“We are truly honored to have the ArmMotus EMU recognized as a finalist and awarded this prestigious accolade,” stated Zen Koh, Co-Founder and Global CEO of Fourier Intelligence. “This recognition reflects our unwavering dedication to driving continuous advancements in rehabilitation technology.”
Fourier Intelligence was named the winner during the ICRA Awards Ceremony in London, and presented with a plaque and a US $2000 prize. For additional details on the award and a list of the winners from the previous years, please see the IEEE webpage.
About IERA Award
Established in 2005, the IERA Award is presented annually by the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society Industrial Activities Board and the International Federation of Robotics. It highlights and honors the achievements of inventors with value creating ideas and entrepreneurs who propel those ideas into world-class products.
When using robots in the pharmaceutical and medical fields, Stäubli is one of the pioneers. For decades, the company has been dedicated to the development of robots for life science applications and today can offer a wide range of four- and six-axis kinematics for these areas.
Hundreds of examples in medicine and pharmaceuticals demonstrate how the further development of robotics is opening up new areas in these highly sensitive fields of application. Here is a small selection of pioneering solutions.
A clear vision on surgical procedures
One world-first in medical robot technology is the RoboticScope
system designed by – again – a startup company, this time from
Innsbruck/ Austria. The three founders of BHS Technologies GmbH have
designed, to describe it very briefly, a combination of a high-precision
robot, a high-resolution 3D camera and an innovative head-mounted
The result: The surgeon is able to look directly into the operating
field via a Head-Mounted-Display (HMD). Two digital microdisplays
integrated into the HMD directly in front of the surgeon’s eyes show
high-resolution, real-time 3D images relayed by the dual camera lenses
mounted on the robot head. The position of the robot determines the
visible image, allowing the surgeon to operate in a freely selectable
and completely relaxed head position.
The surgeon retains control over the exact image field and viewing
angle, automatically steering the robot with contact-free head
movements. He can easily select the viewing angle of the 8x zoom lenses
and even control a sophisticated menu from a microdisplay, allowing the
activation and control of further functions.
In this application, the hygienic design and – no less important –
the highly precise and jerk free motion of the Stäubli TX2-60L were the
reasons for selecting this type of robot. They make sure that the
operator always has, in a literal sense, a clear picture of operating
As with the entire range of latest six-axis Stäubli robots, the
enclosed structure allows for a protection class IP65, with the wrist
being IP67 compliant. With cleanroom class ISO 5 as a standard, this
six-axis machine allows BHS to save on the potential extra costs of
upgrading to a cleanroom version. While in the operating room, the
TX2-60L is covered with a sterile sleeve, further preventing any
particle emissions and making it ideal for use in these stringent
In addition, the new machines are more lightweight, rigid and
powerfully motorized, making them even more dynamic. With an accuracy
of 0.02 millimeters, they are more precise than ever before.
The six-axis machine is driven by a Stäubli CS9 controller receiving
signals from its own digital safety encoders (one per axis) and an
integrated safety board. All coordinates of the robot, as well as speed
and acceleration, are logged in real time.
Some 500 surgeons around the world have now trialed the RoboticScope.
The device is so intuitive that more than 90 percent of users master it
after just ten minutes. The TX2-60L contributes to this success by its
hygienic design and precise, jerk-free movements, giving just one more
example for the use of Stäubli Stericlean robots in pharmaceutical
production, innovative medical technology and in the operation theater.
Sterile filling of hyaluron gel
Zellwag Pharmtech AG - a company of the renowned Swiss company Rychiger AG - has recently developed a fully automatic filling and sealing system for hyaluron gel (HA gel). This ingredient is in great demand because it works as a true fountain of youth for the skin.
The Z-810 R-2 machine fills and closes syringes with HA gel not only under cleanroom conditions but also under vacuum because injecting air under the skin is extremely dangerous and must therefore be avoided.
A Stäubli TX2-90 Stericlean six-axis robot is able to handle syringes, vials and cartridges in a confined space. In the first machine of its kind, which was delivered to a pharmaceutical company, the robot receives a tub with one hundred prepared and sterile syringes and holds the syringes precisely under the filling valve in such a way that two are filled at a time. After 50 cycles, all syringes are filled. The highly dynamic Stericlean robot places them back into the tub which is transported by a conveyor system for further processing. In this way, filling rates of up to 2,200 syringes per hour are achieved, the limits here being set by the viscosity of the gel and not by the robot.
A major characteristic of this multi-format line is the high degree of flexibility. Nested and sterile containers with different formats such as syringes, vials and cartridges made of glass or plastic can be processed on the same filling line. The user, in effect, is able to adapt the line to the current demands of the (beauty) market. He can do so in short time because when it comes to programming, there is another unique feature of the Stäubli Stericlean range: thanks to their uniVAL plc interface, the six-axis robots can easily and quickly be programmed directly via PLC from well-known manufactures, in this case a Siemens plc.
This eliminates the need for complex subsystems and interfaces that are difficult to understand, from programming to qualification – and it allows programmers to continue working in their familiar environment without having to learn the robot programming language.
World´s first robot-based reclamation of hip femoral bones for implants
There are robot applications, though, where flexibility is just a minor issue. This is the case in the automated line of Belgian start-up company Texere Biotech. Here, Stäubli Stericlean robots process femoral heads (i.e. the top end of the human thigh bone) in a fully automated line into cuboid implants known as “bone allografts”.
These implants are in high demand as “natural” material for replacing bone material after, for instance, tumor surgery. But the supply is smaller than the demand because up to now, the “bone banks” relied on manual production methods with poor yield. And the danger of cross-contamination could never be excluded totally.
Dr. Denis Dufrane, founder of Texere, worked for a number of years as a specialist in bone grafting – and he settled his company with the desire to supply a greater number of allografts. The solution: Six Stäubli Stericlean robots are installed in a hermetically sealed and extensively glazed 40ft module. The femoral head is inspected, cut by a fully encapsulated waterjet machine, chemically treated, sterilized and inserted into vacuumed vials.
Hygienic standards are extremely high: For each hip bone, a separate kit of vials, labels and even grippers has to be provided. When selecting the robots, there was no doubt that Stäubli proved to be the best solution because the Stericlean robots offer unrivalled hygiene standards.
Dr. Dufrane is satisfied that the time, effort and capital investment in the system has been worth it: “For the first time, we have realized a completely automated system for processing bone tissue. The results include a significantly better yield, higher volumes and lower costs. Above all, full automation gives us a very high level of safety. Contamination, including cross-contamination risks, can be excluded. This is poised to become now a new gold standard for bone implants.”
Small and large series are covered by Bahner and Schäfer as well as single pieces and prototypes - in numerous variants and made of different spring steel types. With a new robot cell from ICM built around a Kawasaki robot, the traditional company is getting ready for the future.
Since its foundation in 1931, the Saxonian Bahner und Schäfer GmbH has been producing technical springs and bent parts for numerous industries in the third generation. In two production halls at the Oelsnitz site, the family-owned company manufactures components for customers throughout Europe and North America, always precisely tailored to individual requirements and special applications. Small and large series are covered by Bahner and Schäfer as well as single pieces and prototypes - in numerous variants and made of different spring steel types. With a new robot cell from ICM built around a Kawasaki robot, the traditional company is getting ready for the future.
Managing Director Tabea Schäfer, who has been responsible for the technical springs division since taking over the company in 1993, is focusing on automation and technical innovations in order to promote the long-term growth of her company. Thus she decided early on to focus primarily on small and medium-sized series in order to be able to supply small and medium-sized customers flexibly and precisely.
A personal relationship with her customers and fast response times and deliveries have proven to be key factors for Tabea Schäfer's success from the very beginning.
For a long time, some production processes were still carried out manually by the employees at Bahner and Schäfer, such as subsequent chamfering or the individual positioning of parts for subsequent heat treatment. This procedure not only required more time and money, but also always presented the risk of deformation.
Automation: The choice fell on ICM and Kawasaki Robotics
For Tabea Schäfer it was clear for a long time that something has to happen. The challenges have changed rapidly over the years, today automation is an important factor to meet the demand and special requirements of customers from many industries.
At the opening of the SME 4.0 Competence Center in Chemnitz, she came into contact with ICM on the recommendation of other companies and was quickly convinced. The ICM - Institut Chemnitzer Maschinen- und Anlagenbau e.V. is a non-profit research institute for innovations and system solutions in mechanical and plant engineering, with a special focus on small and medium-sized enterprises. Although three other suppliers were also guests at Bahner and Schäfer, ICM was able to score points above all with its broad expertise in various fields, says Schäfer: "Our project was complex and not all developments could be planned in advance from the outset. We don't have our own in-house engineer, so it was all the more important for us to have a qualified contact person who not only tells us how it's done, but also receives, checks and implements our ideas in a targeted manner. The combination of ICM and Kawasaki Robotics was therefore exactly right for us".
The premise of the search for an automation solution was and is simple: more flexibility.
"The bending machine for production is flexible, so the robot system must be too," says Schäfer.
Requirement: Increased production and relief for the employees
Before the first robot came along, there were concerns among the staff, but for Tabea Schäfer it was clear: "If we miss the opportunity to automate now, we might not have any orders in 10 years because we will be too expensive then. That way we will remain future-proof in the long term". The employees' worries quickly disappeared and the benefits became clear: the growing number of new jobs could be handled without pressure, and automation provided the necessary breathing space.
In addition to relieving the strain on the employees, automation also had another important task to accomplish: After reunification, many older employees with a great deal of specialist knowledge were hired, who are now gradually retiring. The generation change that took place in this way brings many young employees who value family-friendly working hours. The use of the robot system provides the necessary planning and automatic scalability of production.
Challenging, but successful: The implementation of the system
After the decision for ICM and Kawasaki Robotics was made, the implementation started promptly. The project turned out to be challenging, but due to a close and flexible cooperation it could be implemented in a timely manner.
"The planned robotic cell had to integrate itself not only into the available space, but also into the already established process chain - flexible and easy to operate," says Anton Ivanov, ICM project manager. At the center of the system: the Kawasaki Robotics RS010L. The RS010L is part of the universal R series for small to medium payloads, suitable for assembly, material handling, machine loading and many other applications. It has a maximum load capacity of 10 kg and a reach of 1,925 mm. Its special design enables the high-speed robot to have a longer reach and an extended working range.
The system automates the previously manually executed separation process of the bent parts, which at times was performed by up to 4 employees: The RS010L robot removes the parts from the bending machine and feeds them to a register for suspension or to an ICM designed end finishing machine - precisely and without unnecessarily bending or jamming the parts. An X/Y linear axis system with 3x2 m travel gives the robot, which is installed on the ceiling, additional room to move and acts as a seventh and eighth axis. "The design of a stiff portal as a three-legged construction was very challenging, as a classic four-legged portal was out of the question under the given installation conditions. Its vibration behavior was optimized using modern FEM simulation," says Anton Ivanov. Since flexibility plays a key role and the system has to be adapted quickly to different bent parts and materials, the robot can automatically pick up the appropriate gripper at a tool change station - ICM relies on gripping systems from the specialist Zimmer Group.
Conclusion of the new system after one year of operation
After its commissioning in April 2019, the new plant was able to quickly optimize production through automated handling: The number of pieces produced is significantly higher, and if necessary, night-shift operation is also possible without any problems, thus allowing for much more flexible production. "Previously, there was no shift work at Bahner and Schäfer, but the robot offers the necessary flexibility and can, for example, completely automatically handle its own shift. Furthermore, the system frees the workers from monotonous work and the production assistants can devote themselves to numerous other tasks," explains Marcel Ott, who is in charge of software development for the project at ICM.
The system can be adapted for new parts in less than 15 minutes. This means that Bahner and Schäfer can change over production in the shortest possible time. The system around the Kawasaki Robotics RS010L also ensures consistently high quality: the deformations of the bent parts that often occur in manual operation are a thing of the past.
"All information on the status, the current workload and the current cycle can be read out and visualized at any time. This means the system can also run overnight or over the weekend - with a full overview," says Marcel Ott.
The robotic cell can be adapted to new productions in the shortest possible time thanks to a quick gripper change and the possibility of attaching different parts.
The first step of automation is done - what's next?
The automation at Bahner and Schäfer continues to progress: Tabea Schäfer and her team are planning to map even more applications with the existing Kawasaki robot - this is how the investment already made is to be optimally utilized. In addition, in the future especially younger employees of Bahner and Schäfer will be trained in the handling and programming of the robot.
The demands on production are also growing: in the future, even more complex bent parts and springs are to be produced, and more often small quantities of individual parts. There are also already plans to use robots on other machines for removal in the long term - for example, for the post-processing of tension springs for reworking. When it comes to automation, the traditional company is taking a step-by-step, but long-term and continuous path.
Exciting times for the global robotics industry! We just returned from the Automate show in Detroit, whose lively show floor symbolized the huge opportunities for robotics and automation on the North American continent, with manufacturing industries and logistics investing strongly in technology to overcome the labor shortage.
Exciting times for the global robotics industry! We just returned from the Automate show in Detroit, whose lively show floor symbolized the huge opportunities for robotics and automation on the North American continent, with manufacturing industries and logistics investing strongly in technology to overcome the labor shortage.
IFR used this occasion to gather their members in a series of meetings, and also presented the preliminary 2022 figures on the global robot installations ahead of the Executive Roundtable. Total installations in manufacturing in North America rose by 12% to 42 thousand units. This proves that the US, Canada, and Mexico are key markets in the global growth of robotics automation, and the automotive sector is once again leading the way. We should note that the figures published really are preliminary and should be noted with caution – we still expect substantial changes to the final figures that will be published in World Robotics on 26 September 2023.
Congratulations to the two Engelberger Award Winners, Roberta Nelson Shea and Jeff Burnstein. Jeff does a great job driving the robotics industry in North America, particularly in the US, and deserves the award for leadership recognizing his four decades of commitment for A3. Roberta has received the award for application, honoring her outstanding work over the course of her career in global robotics safety. As a convenor for the ISO TC 299 Working Group on Industrial Safety, she not only greatly contributes to the progress of the safe deployment of industrial robots around the globe, but is also a great role model for women choosing a career path in robotics.
I am also happy to congratulate Zen Koh from Fourier Intelligence for winning the IERA award for Outstanding Achievements in Commercializing Innovative Robot and Automation Technology 2023. The price was awarded for their upper limb rehabilitation robotics device ArmMotus during ICRA 2023 in London.
There is not much time to rest as the Automatica fair will open its doors in Munich soon. IFR has also scheduled some meetings there, and will present the preliminary 2022 figures for Europe during the IFR Executive Roundtable. At the panel discussion, Ralf Völlinger (Fanuc), Enrico Krog Iversen (OnRobot), Adrien Brouillard (Stäubli) and Thomas Burger (SBS-Feintechnik) will discuss how Europe can increase its resilience by investing in robotics and automation.
Looking forward to another busy week of exciting discussions, networking and hopefully meeting you in Munich.
The Executive Board of the IFR has elected Japanese Takayuki Ito (Fanuc Corporation) as its new Vice President. Mr. Ito succeeds Kenji Yamaguchi (Fanuc Corporation). Mr. Ito represents IFR along with IFR President Marina Bill.
The 65 year old Takayuki Ito has a track record of more than 40 years in the robotics industry.
He serves as Senior Managing Officer for the Robot Business and Sales Division of the Japanese robot manufacturer Fanuc Corporation. Takayuki began working for Fanuc in 1981 as a Software engineer. In 1997 he had been active as Executive Vice President, FANUC Robotics North America Inc. in Detroit. 2002 he returned to his parent company serving the role of General Manager at the Robot Technology Center at Fanuc HQ.
In his new role as Vice-President Mr. Ito assists, Marina Bill, who serves as IFR President since 2022.
The North American robotics market showed strong growth: Total installations in manufacturing rose by 12% and reached 41,624 units in 2022. Number one adopter is the automotive industry: companies based in the US, Canada and Mexico installed 20,391 industrial robots – up 30% compared to 2021. These are preliminary results, presented by the International Federation of Robotics (IFR).
“North America represents the second largest operational stock of industrial robots in the world after China,” says Marina Bill, President of the International Federation of Robotics (IFR). “The United States, Canada, and Mexico are key markets in the global growth of robotics automation, and the automotive sector is leading the way.”
Cyclical demand from automotive
In the United States, demand from car makers and manufacturers of components rose by 48% in 2022. Installations thus display the cyclical demand pattern well-known from this customer segment. After a few years of contraction, down from the peak level of 15,397 units in 2017 to 9,854 units in 2021, installations surged to 14,594 units in 2022.
Installation counts in Canada largely depend on investments of the automotive industry that accounts for 40% of robot installations. Sales to automotive declined by 36% with 1,258 units installed in 2022. This is below the pre-pandemic level of 1,897 units in 2019. The robot installations to manufacture parts and accessories for motor vehicles were significantly down by 45% with 995 units sold. Motor vehicles, engines and bodies on the other hand grew by 99% with 263 units sold.
Robot installations in Mexico are also determined by the automotive industry that accounted for 66% of the robot installations in 2022: Sales grew by 16% and reached 4,222 units in 2022 – the second best result since the peak level of 4,805 units in record year 2017.
Installation counts in other industries exceeding the 4,000-unit mark in North America are: electrical/electronics (+28%), metal and machinery (-9%), and plastic and chemical products (-4%). They each represent a 9% market share of industrial robot installations in 2022.
Automate – the largest robotics and industrial automation trade show in North America organized by the Association for Advancing Automation – will return in 2024 and then continue as an annual event. McCormick Place in Chicago will host next year’s event May 6-9, 2024, and in 2025 the show will be back in Detroit. Automate, which had historically been held every other year, saw unprecedented demand in back-to-back shows in 2022 and 2023.
In the industrial laundry sector, automation has made it possible to process up to 100 tons of textiles per day, almost entirely without human intervention. However, until recently, loading towels or bed sheets into laundry folding machines was still a genuinely manual task.
This is where Sewts, a Munich-based start-up, comes in with its new robot system, VELUM, that can perform this task without causing creases.
“The market potential is significant," explains Sewts co-founder Till Rickert. He estimates that there are around 25,000 laundry businesses worldwide that could benefit from the technology. The first VELUM systems have already been installed, with customer Greif Textile Mietsysteme in Wolfratshausen, Bavaria, using the system since November 2022. The robot system processes an average 500 to 600 textiles per hour, automating a task previously performed manually.
Currently, the performance of the VELUM system is comparable to that of a human operator, but with continuous over-the-air software updates, the system’s range of functions is continuously expanding, improving its efficiency. Depending on the workload, the VELUM pays for itself after one and a half to two and a half years, according to Rickert.
“One initial challenge was the tight installation space in which very fast movements have to be executed”, explains Rickert. Sewts used two simulation tools during development. FANUC ROBOGUIDE software to analyse robot movements and space requirements, and advanced material simulation software to simulate the behaviour of different types of textiles. The system installed in Wolfratshausen uses two FANUC M-10iD robots with a payload of 12 kg and a range of 1,400 mm.
The VELUM system’s centrepiece is its intelligent software that can analyse deformable materials and predict their behaviour when gripped. When combined with a FANUC robot and a 3D camera system, the software can identify textures, seams, and corners of individual textiles, locate them in space, and create control commands, enabling the robot to grasp textiles at an ideal point in real-time.
Sewts plans to increase the number and performance of VELUM systems gradually. The start-up is already working on the next innovations, robots with vision systems to process textile returns for large online retailers in the future. Due to labour shortages, such returns are often processed in far-away countries, resulting in long transport routes and wasted goods. "In the future, thanks to automation, such processes could take place close to the customer," Rickert hopes.
Sales of industrial robots in India reached a new record of 4,945 units installed. This is an increase of 54 percent compared to the previous year (2020: 3,215 units). In terms of annual installations, India now ranks in tenth position worldwide. These are findings of the report World Robotics, presented by the International Federation of Robotics (IFR)
“India is one of the world's fastest-growing industrial economies,” says Marina Bill, President of the International Federation of Robotics. “Within five years, the operational stock of industrial robots has more than doubled, to reach 33,220 units in 2021. This corresponds to an average annual growth rate of 16% since 2016.”
Today, India is the world’s fifth largest economy measured by manufacturing output. According to World Bank data, India´s manufacturing value added in 2021 was USD 443.9 billion, a 21.6% increase from 2020.
The automotive industry remains the largest customer for the robotics industry in India with a share of 31% in 2021. Installations more than doubled to 1,547 units (+108%). The general industry in India is led by the metal industry with 308 units (-9%), the rubber and plastics industry with 246 units (+27%) and the electrical/electronics industry with 215 units (+98%).
Impressive potential for India
The long-term potential of robotics in India becomes clearer when compared to China: India´s robot density in the automotive industry, which is the number of industrial robots per 10,000 employees, reached 148 robots in 2021. China´s robot density hit 131 units in 2010 and skyrocketed to 772 units in 2021.
The Indian government supports growth in the industrial sector as one of the vital figures that affect the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Today, the country´s GDP of about USD 3 trillion ranks in fifth place, head-to-head with the UK and France – behind Germany, Japan, China and the USA - the International Monetary Fund reports.
Outlook for India
“As a result of the recent supply chain disruption, companies are rethinking their nearshoring strategies in Southeast Asia,” says Marina Bill. “India has traditionally been a popular destination for nearshoring in the manufacturing segment. The Indian government wants the country to be considered for new diversification options such as friendshoring, which is partnering with countries that share similar values and interests.”
The manufacturing sector is also expected to benefit from the government's initiatives to boost its competitiveness and attractiveness for investors. The Production Linked Incentive (PLI) scheme, for example, currently set to run until 2025, subsidizes companies that create production capacity in India in robot customer industries like automotive, metal, pharmaceuticals, and food processing.
Robots help to create new jobs
New manufacturing capacities in India are an important step to provide adequate education and employment opportunities for its people: According to projections of the United Nations, India now has a population of 1,4 billion, surpassing China for the first time. This means that India has a large and young workforce that can drive economic growth and innovation. India is expected to have the largest working-age population in the world by 2027.
The automotive industry has the largest number of robots working in factories around the world: Operational stock hit a new record of about one million units. This represents about one third of the total number installed across all industries.
“The automotive industry effectively invented automated manufacturing,” says Marina Bill, President of the International Federation of Robotics. “Today, robots are playing a vital role in enabling this industry’s transition from combustion engines to electric power. Robotic automation helps car manufacturers manage the wholesale changes to long-established manufacturing methods and technologies.”
Robot density in automotive
Robot density is a key indicator which illustrates the current level of automation in the top car producing economies: In the Republic of Korea, 2,867 industrial robots per 10,000 employees were in operation in 2021. Germany ranks in second place with 1,500 units followed by the United States counting 1,457 units and Japan with 1,422 units per 10,000 workers.
The world´s biggest car manufacturer, China, has a robot density of 772 units, but is catching up fast: Within a year, new robot installations in the Chinese automotive industry almost doubled to 61,598 units in 2021- accounting for 52% of the total 119,405 units installed in factories around the world.
Electric vehicles drive automation
Ambitious political targets for electric vehicles are forcing the car industry to invest: The European Union has announced plans to end the sale of air-polluting vehicles by 2035. The US government aims to reach a voluntary goal of 50% market share for electric vehicle sales by 2030 and all new vehicles sold in China must be powered by “new energy” by 2035. Half of them must be electric, fuel cell, or plug-in hybrid – the remaining 50%, hybrid vehicles.
Most automotive manufacturers who have already invested in traditional “caged” industrial robots for basic assembling are now also investing in collaborative applications for final assembly and finishing tasks. Tier-two automotive parts suppliers, many of which are SMEs, are slower to automate fully. Yet, as robots become smaller, more adaptable, easier to program, and less capital-intensive this is expected to change.
Chengda Biotech manufactures vaccines for rabies, encephalitis and other diseases. The vaccine is cultivated in cell factories: small trays which not need only handling but also oscillation flips, i.e. continuous movement in order to make the vaccine material reproduce itself. In a new factory in Benxi, Stäubli TX200 Stericlean robots fulfil these tasks. It is the first application of this type of robot in China´s bio-technological production.
The production of vaccines by means of biotechnology is a complex process that has to run steadily and under stable conditions. These are good pre-conditions for automation, which is exactly what Chengda Biotech has achieved.
The company whose full name is Liaoning Chengda Biotechnology Co. Ltd. Established itself in 2002 in Shenyang. Today, more than 800 employees are here producing human vaccines. The two main products being produced are a rabies vaccine („ChengdaSuda“) and an inactivated encephalitis vaccine („ChengdaLibao“), both produced in annual quantities of about 10 million copies. Furthermore, Chengda Biotech has succesfully developed vaccines to fight other diseases like hepatitis A, HPV and influenza - all of which are manufactured using biotechnology. Here, the company makes use of a high-density bioreactor platform.
For the production of the hepatitis A vaccine, a new factory in Benxi was established. Its aim was to produce 3 to 4 million units per year while making use of a high degree of automation.
A robot in the cell factory
At Chengda Biotech in Benxi, a great example of automating new production takes place – robots fulfil the sensible task of handling cell factories. These are frames with 160 trays contain a nutrient solution in which adherent cells are inoculated. The cells are growing, while the medium in the trays needs to be changed. In a second step, virus-infected cells and virus media are added. Finally, the virus – which is the highly effective vaccine – can be „harvested“.
The task for the Stäubli TX200 Stericlean robot is to grab these frames, which are manually pushed to the positioning point. In order to do so, the robot positions its arm in front of the frame where a vision system installed at the end of the arm detects the exact position where the clamp connects. For this task, a Stäubli connecting system is employed.
The TX200 Stericlean then handles the cell factory and places it at the operating site. While doing so, it carefully shakes the frame in order to distribute the liquid evenly. Then the robot deposits the frame at the scheduled place where the cells are growing.
Cell culture growth with the help of a robot
The robot performs a manoeuvre called an „oscillation flip“. Here, the robot regularly shakes and flips the product for long periods at different stages of cell culture. The entire cell culture process lasts more than ten days, with high requirements for robot stability.
At the stage when cells are added, the purpose of the oscillating movement is to evenly distribute the medium and the cells in the trays. At the fluid exchange stage, the cell fluid is poured with the help of the robot; at the virus harvest stage, viruses and cells in each layer are harvested, again supported by the Stäubli TX200.
Highest GMP level is achieved
One reason to automate this complex process was the desired stability of the environmental conditions, including the temperature. Because the robot reduces manual operations and the working environment temperature is unchanged from the entry and exit of the staff, it can better ensure the uniform stability of the finished product. Furthermore, then highest levels of cleanliness are achieved: The original process environment was GMP A + C. After using Stäubli robots, it was upgraded to the highest level, GMP A.
For obvious reasons, the production environment of the cell factories needs to be regularly – about once or twice a month – disinfected. For this process, Chengda Biotech uses VHP (Vaporized Hydrogen Peroxide). While this would not be possible with a normal robot, the Stäubli TX200 Stericlean is designed for such demanding environments, as its name denotes. The surface of this type of robots has a special coating, the key structure is made of stainless steel, and the entire housing is fully sealed. Therefore, this robot is resistant to hydrogen peroxide and other highly-efficient cleaning methods.
The advantages of automated vaccine production
From the viewpoint of Chengda Biotech, the robot-supported automated cell production also offers the advantage of reduced investment and operating costs. Following the installation of the robot, the number of CO2 incubators was reduced. At the same time, consumables such as protective clothing for the staff reduced, too, as well as the energy consumption of the temperature control.
Another point is safety and stability: As workers do not need to enter the factory room, the danger of contamination is minimized. With a temperature of 37°C and a 5% CO2 proportion in the breathing air, the conditions are far from perfect for the staff. Furthermore, the overall weight of more than 100 kg for a single cell factory frame simply requires some kind of automation. Chengda Biotech decided to fully make use of this principle.
Decision after careful consideration and comparison
Director of biological vaccine production sums up the results: „The robot solution offers lower cost and higher efficiency. It occupies less space, the process design is more flexible and – what is most important – it guarantees a high and stable quality of the vaccine that we produce.“ The comparison between several robot types and brands came to the following result: „Stäubli Stericlean robots have an advantage in stability and they are the only robots that meet the GMP A level requirements. There are also many successful application cases in the pharmaceutical industry. In the experimental comparison, the use of these robots exceeded our expectations. Stäubli has also provided high-quality services and technical support – including pre-sales simulation, after-sales service and training.“
Follow-up effects are expected
The exceeding of expectations led to a fast decision: Due to the research and the experiments, the customer's confidence in this solution and the Stericlean robots product had grown, so the order increased from two to three. It is the first successful application of a Stäubli TX200 Stericlean aseptic version in the domestic bio-pharmaceutical field. Stäubli China expects that other companies will follow this path of automation: At present, there are 48 vaccine companies in China, and more than half of them use cell factory processes which require handling and oscillating of the trays in which the vaccine is cultivated.
Okura Kogyo is a Japanese manufacturer of logistic equipment and systems. Their offering includes design, manufacturing, installation and maintenance of conveyors and conveying systems.
At Okura Kogyo, the staff would manually load and unload workpieces (rollers) from the processors to trolley. The manual process needs to be done carefully to avoid damaging the workpiece. Like other manufacturers globally, the company is also facing labor shortages. As such, the company was looking for a way to optimize their current resources and to increase productivity and efficiency.
“To survive and thrive in an uncertain and rapidly changing world, we need to innovate at speed and to keep pace with technology and industry change.,” says Takashi Totogawa, Director of Okura Kogyo.
Collaborative application is a clear choice for Okura Kogyo
Combining OnRobot VGC10 gripper and Omron cobot, the manual processes of loading and unloading workpieces are fully automated.
The VGC10 gripper has a customized fixture with 4 suction cups and is programmed to handle 2 rollers at a time to match the production cycle. With unlimited customization to fit various needs, the compact, lightweight VCG10 gripper is perfect for tight space and is able to lift small, odd-shaped, and heavy objects even with a smaller robot arm.
The collaborative application is installed on a mobile container, which can be moved and plugged in anywhere, anytime. It does not require big footprint and it is able to work safely alongside employees; no safety fence is needed.
“Setting up collaborative application was fairly quick, we only took 3 days for the complete deployment.” says Mr. Hiroki Kuribayashi, Sales Manager.
Employees of Okura Kogyo now do not have to perform strenuous, repetitive work on the machine. They no longer need to be stationed at the machine for hours and they are able to focus on higher value duties. Collaborative application has helped Okura Kogyo achieve an ROI of 11% while maintaining work safety and high quality output.
About Okura Kogyo
Established in 1964 in Kakogawa City, Okura Kogyo is Japanese manufacturers of logistic equipment and systems. The company has around 139 employees in Japan.
The year has started on a cautiously optimistic note for the robotics industry. Supply chain disruptions are slowly fading out and order books are filled. The robotics community is eagerly preparing for the upcoming trade shows and conferences in the second quarter of the year.
The year has started on a cautiously optimistic note for the robotics industry. Supply chain disruptions are slowly fading out and order books are filled. The robotics community is eagerly preparing for the upcoming trade shows and conferences in the second quarter of the year.
On May 22-25, Automate will open its doors in Detroit, co-hosting the ISR Americas. On the second day, the Executive Roundtable jointly organized by IFR and A3 will look at "The future of manufacturing in North America“. And on Wednesday, the prestigious Engelberger Awards ceremony will take place. This year's winners are Roberta Nelson Shea from Universal Robots and Jeff Burnstein from A3. Congrats to both!
IFR will use this industry gathering to hold a set of meetings, including its General Assembly, Robot Suppliers' Committee and Marcom Committee Meetings.
On June 1, a jury of IEEE RAS and IFR representatives will choose the next IERA award winner (Innovation & Entrepreneurship Award for Outstanding Achievements in Commercializing Innovative Robot and Automation Technology), in the IEEE/IFR Joint Forum on Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Robotics and Automation during the ICRA conference in London.
From June 27 to 30, the robotics industry has the next opportunity to gather at an international trade fair, as Automatica will take place in Munich. Another IFR Executive Roundtable will theme around “Building resilience for Europe through automation”. IFR will also host its Service Robots Group meeting during the fair.
Both roundtables will gather executives from leading robot suppliers and end users. We will use these occasions to publish the latest preliminary figures on the global robotics market for 2022 and provide an outlook on trends from industry perspective. The events are open to the media, investors, roboticists, customers and all interested in robotics. Looking forward to meeting you there.
IFR and IEEE Robotics and Automation Society (IEEE/RAS) are looking for a winner for the next IERA Award. The judges will soon nominate three applicants for a final session at the ICRA conference on June 1, 2023 in London.
The IERA award is jointly sponsored and organized by IEEE Robotics and Automation Society (IEEE/RAS) and the International Federation of Robotics (IFR). It highlights and honors the achievements of inventors with value creating ideas and entrepreneurs who propel those ideas into world-class products.
All submitted entries will be evaluated based on criteria that give equal consideration to both innovation and entrepreneurship. The winner will be awarded with a plaque and a $2000 cash prize. For additional details on the award and a list of the winners from the previous years, please see IEEE webpage.
In 2023 IEEE/RAS will host the IERA Award presentation. On June 1, 2023 the finalists will present their innovation at a session which will be part of the ICRA 2023. The ICRA takes place from May 29 to June 2, 2023 in London, UK.
The Association for Advancing Automation (A3) announced two longtime industry leaders as the winners of the 2023 Joseph F. Engelberger Robotics Awards, the world's most prestigious robotics honor: Roberta Nelson Shea, Universal Robots and Jeff Burnstein, Association for Advancing Automation (A3).
Roberta Nelson Shea, Global Technical Compliance Officer, Universal Robots, was selected as the Application winner for her outstanding work over the course of her career in global robotics safety.
Jeff Burnstein, President, Association for Advancing Automation (A3), was selected for Leadership, recognizing his four decades of commitment and vision at the global automation trade association.
Nelson Shea and Burnstein are pillars in the robotics industry and were unanimously selected by the awards committee and past chairs of the Robotic Industries Association (RIA, now A3) to win the award this year.
These awards are named after the late Joseph F. Engelberger, known throughout the world as the founding force behind industrial robotics. Since its inception in 1977, the Engelberger Awards have now been given to 136 robotics leaders from around the world for excellence in technology development, application, education, and leadership.
The winners are recommended by a panel of industry leaders based on all present and past nominations from the industry and voted upon by the past chairs of RIA. A3 is the organization that administers the award, and each winner receives a $5,000 honorarium and commemorative medallion.
“The Engelberger Robotics Award for Application in Safety is a tremendous honor to me and to all those who have embraced and contributed to robotic safety,” said Nelson Shea. “I remember meeting Joe Engelberger over 40 years ago and never imagined receiving this award. I view the award to be honoring the industry’s progress in optimizing safety and productivity. The journey has been amazing!”
“Winning the Engelberger Robotics Award for Leadership is beyond any accomplishment I could have imagined when I started at the association 40 years ago,” said Burnstein. “The award has been described as the ‘Nobel Prize of Robotics’ for good reason as it is acknowledged globally as our industry’s pinnacle of success. As an English major with no technical background at all, I am living proof that there is a home for anyone in the robotics industry.”
Roberta Nelson Shea
Roberta Nelson Shea is the Global Technical Compliance Officer at Universal Robots.
For over 45 years, she has been one of the central figures in the development of industrial robot safety standards in North America and around the world. As the convenor of the committee ISO/TC 299 WG3 (ISO/TC 184/SC2), she lead the introduction of ISO/TS 15066, which, as an extension of the established ISO 10218, is the first document defining standardized safety requirements within human-robot-collaboration. Presently the group is revising ISO 10218-1 and ISO 10218-2.
For more than 23 years, she’s served as chair of the committee that oversees the R15.06 robot safety standard. Nelson Shea’s commitment to safety is evident in her involvement with the NIOSH/OSHA/RIA Alliance, R15.08 and many other standards committees. She was also a past board of director member for ANSI and RIA.
With too many honors to name, some of the most significant include being elected one of the Top Twenty Women Making Their Mark in Robotics and Automation by Smart Manufacturing; and one of the Top 100 Women in Safety by the American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE); and winning the 2022 Goddard Alumni Award for Outstanding Professional Achievement by Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
“My work in safety standards has been both the most rewarding and most challenging in my career,” Nelson Shea said. “The robotics industry should be proud of our safety standards and the resulting low incident rate. Due to everyone’s contributions (robot manufacturers, integrators and robot users), we have made robotics great for the market and the people associated with their use. Let’s celebrate all the ways that robotics improves the world!”
Burnstein is the President of the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), the largest robotics and automation trade group representing over 1,160 global companies involved in robotics, artificial intelligence, vision, motion control and related automation technologies.
Since joining the association in 1983 as manager of marketing & public relations, Burnstein has held a variety of senior positions, culminating in his promotion to President in 2007. He is a frequent commentator in the media, often discusses automation issues with policy makers, and regularly speaks at global conferences on issues such as the impact of automation on jobs and the future of automation beyond the factory floor. Burnstein also serves on the Executive Board of the International Federation of Robotics (IFR).
“I believe my most important role for the past four decades has been to tell the story of how robotics is making our world better by performing tasks that assist people -- not replace them. Robots are enabling better, safer, and higher-paying jobs in every industry and helping solve our most difficult challenges. I hope my selection for this award will inspire others to pursue robotics-related careers in our increasingly automated future.”
The awards dinner at Automate will be held May 24 from 5:15 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in the Grand Ballroom at the Huntington Place Convention Center. Tickets for the event, which includes a cocktail reception and dinner, may be purchased when registering for the Automate 2023 Show and Conference.
Automate takes place May 22-25 in Detroit, and anyone who works with or is interested in automation can attend for free. This year will be the biggest yet, featuring 300,000 square feet of exhibit space, 600+ exhibitors, 25,000 attendees, and valuable learning and networking opportunities. Attendees will see the latest in cutting-edge robotics, vision, artificial intelligence, motion control and more.
The stock of operational robots around the globe hit a new record of about 3.5 million units – the value of installations reached an estimated 15.7 billion USD. The International Federation of Robotics analyzes the top 5 trends shaping robotics and automation in 2023.
“Robots play a fundamental role in securing the changing demands of manufacturers around the world,” says Marina Bill, President of the International Federation of Robotics. “New trends in robotics attract users from small enterprise to global OEMs.”
1 – Energy Efficiency
Energy efficiency is key to improve companies’ competitiveness amid rising energy costs. The adoption of robotics helps in many ways to lower energy consumption in manufacturing. Compared to traditional assembly lines, considerable energy savings can be achieved through reduced heating. At the same time, robots work at high speed thus increasing production rates so that manufacturing becomes more time- and energy-efficient.
Today’s robots are designed to consume less energy, which leads to lower operating costs. To meet sustainability targets for their production, companies use industrial robots equipped with energy saving technology: robot controls are able to convert kinetic energy into electricity, for example, and feed it back into the power grid. This technology significantly reduces the energy required to run a robot. Another feature is the smart power saving mode that controls the robot´s energy supply on-demand throughout the workday. Since industrial facilities need to monitor their energy consumption even today, such connected power sensors are likely to become an industry standard for robotic solutions.
2 – Reshoring
Resilience has become an important driver for reshoring in various industries: Car manufacturers e.g. invest heavily in short supply lines to bring processes closer to their customers. These manufacturers use robot automation to manufacture powerful batteries cost-effectively and in large quantities to support their electric vehicle projects. These investments make the shipment of heavy batteries redundant. This is important as more and more logistics companies refuse to ship batteries for safety reasons.
Relocating microchip production back to the US and Europe is another reshoring trend. Since most industrial products nowadays require a semiconductor chip to function, their supply close to the customer is crucial. Robots play a vital role in chip manufacturing, as they live up to the extreme requirements of precision. Specifically designed robots automate the silicon wafer fabrication, take over cleaning and cleansing tasks or test integrated circuits. Recent examples of reshoring are Intel´s new chip factories in Ohio or the recently announced chip plant in the Saarland region of Germany run by chipmaker Wolfspeed and automotive supplier ZF.
3 – Robots easier to use
Robot programming has become easier and more accessible to non-experts. Providers of software-driven automation platforms support companies, letting users manage industrial robots with no prior programming experience. Original equipment manufacturers work hand-in-hand with low code or even no-code technology partners that allow users of all skill levels to program a robot.
The easy-to-use software paired with an intuitive user experience replaces extensive robotics programming and opens up new robotics automation opportunities: Software start-ups are entering this market with specialized solutions for the needs of small and medium-sized companies. For example: a traditional heavy-weight industrial robot can be equipped with sensors and a new software that allows collaborative setup operation. This makes it easy for workers to adjust heavy machinery to different tasks. Companies will thus get the best of both worlds: robust and precise industrial robot hardware and state-of-the-art cobot software.
Easy-to-use programming interfaces, that allow customers to set up the robots themselves, also drive the emerging new segment of low-cost robotics. Many new customers reacted to the pandemic in 2020 by trying out robotic solutions. Robot suppliers acknowledged this demand: Easy setup and installation, for instance, with pre-configured software to handle grippers, sensors or controllers support lower-cost robot deployment. Such robots are often sold through web shops and program routines for various applications are downloadable from an app store.
4 – Artificial Intelligence (AI) and digital automation
Propelled by advances in digital technologies, robot suppliers and system integrators offer new applications and improve existing ones regarding speed and quality. Connected robots are transforming manufacturing. Robots will increasingly operate as part of a connected digital ecosystem: Cloud Computing, Big Data Analytics or 5G mobile networks provide the technological base for optimized performance. The 5G standard will enable fully digitalized production, making cables on the shopfloor obsolete.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) holds great potential for robotics, enabling a range of benefits in manufacturing. The main aim of using AI in robotics is to better manage variability and unpredictability in the external environment, either in real-time, or off-line. This makes AI supporting machine learning play an increasing role in software offerings where running systems benefit, for example with optimized processes, predictive maintenance or vision-based gripping.
This technology helps manufacturers, logistics providers and retailers dealing with frequently changing products, orders and stock. The greater the variability and unpredictability of the environment, the more likely it is that AI algorithms will provide a cost-effective and fast solution – for example, for manufacturers or wholesalers dealing with millions of different products that change on a regular basis. AI is also useful in environments in which mobile robots need to distinguish between the objects or people they encounter and respond differently.
5 – Second life for industrial robots
Since an industrial robot has a service lifetime of up to thirty years, new tech equipment is a great opportunity to give old robots a “second life”. Industrial robot manufacturers like ABB, Fanuc, KUKA, Stäubli or Yaskawa run specialized repair centers close to their customers to refurbish or upgrade used units in a resource-efficient way. This prepare-to-repair strategy for robot manufacturers and their customers also saves costs and resources. To offer long-term repair to customers is an important contribution to the circular economy.
A flexible, efficient and meticulous employee is what every boss wants, and that’s precisely what Bastian Fest from FMO Surface found in the LBR iisy. Hand in hand with its team, the cobot now checks Data Matrix codes for quality and completeness. The new colleague has been accepted unreservedly and it’s no problem to train either, even for employees with no experi-ence of programming. Quite ‘iisy’, in fact!
Flexible and simple: everything is iisy
At a trade fair in the German town of Kassel, Bastian Fest, Managing Director of FMO Surface GmbH & Co. KG, met KUKA Sales Engineer Robert Korte, who introduced him to the LBR iisy collaborative robot. The entrepreneur was immediately convinced of the advantages of the cobot. Fest then took a closer look at the LBR iisy at KUKA’s branch office in Siegen and decided to purchase it – easily and conveniently via the online KUKA Marketplace. “The LBR iisy combines several factors that we require: flexibility, ease of programming and suitability for collaborative operation. That is why we purchased it, without knowing exactly where we wanted to use it,” says Fest of this rather unusual approach. As far as the programming of robots is concerned, Fest describes himself as a beginner. Although he did complete a training course at the KUKA College when purchasing his first KUKA robot, a KR CYBERTECH, four years ago. All the more reason for him to be delighted with the new cobot, whose ease of use means that even novice pro-grammers can get to grips with robotics.
Automation in small and medium-sized enterprises
FMO Surface, a family-owned company specializing in the finishing of plastic surfaces, was founded in 1999 in Lemgo, in the region of East Westphalia-Lippe, and currently employs 75 people. Around seven million bus connectors are laser-marked with Data Matrix codes (DMC) here every year. A few years ago, the company began to automate various processes. The cooperation with KUKA began with a KR CYBERTECH nano (KR 10 R1420), which is used for palletizing and for tending a laser system. Two years later, another KUKA robot from the KR CYBERTECH series was added, which can turn over, measure and laser the plastic parts to be finished. “Particularly in view of the shortage of skilled workers, automation plays an important role for a medium-sized company like ours,” explains Bastian Fest. The LBR iisy then joined the robot portfolio in March 2022.
A challenge for the LBR iisy
The job that suited this new colleague was quickly found, namely in the quality control of bus connectors. Bus connectors are laser-marked with Data Matrix codes, each with a numerical sequence of eight digits, before being installed in controllers. Since multiple components are marked with a DMC and are dependent on one another, reliability is of paramount importance with regard to the traceability of an entire module. For this reason, special attention must be paid to checking the quality and completeness of the Data Matrix codes. This was previously carried out by human employees at FMO Surface, manually, using a scanner. Just in time for the start of spring 2022, the LBR iisy took over this task. The cobot now works hand in hand with laser department foremen like Tim Hertz. Hertz reports: “We save an enormous amount of time using the LBR iisy because we no longer have to scan each part individually. And if the cobot reports a fault, we don’t have to open a cage or stop an entire system, we can simply remove the defective part and replace it.”
“Easy integration desired”
Attracting human employees for monotonous yet demanding tasks such as checking Data Matrix codes is becoming increasingly difficult for companies like FMO Surface. Training the LBR iisy, on the other hand, posed no problems. “It took us just 30 minutes to unpack and install the robot and perform initial programming,” says Bastian Fest. With the aid of the KUKA smartPAD pro and the KR C5 micro robot controller, even employees with virtually no experience of robot programming can operate and train the cobot. “The LBR iisy runs on the basis of the new iiQKA.OS operating system, making it easy to install, configure and program,” explains Robert Korte from KUKA. The cobot is not only up and running in just a few minutes, but it can also be adapted to new challenges equally quickly. An enormous advantage for Fest: “We don’t have engineers here, so ease of integration is all the more important.”
How the cobot checks Data Matrix codes
Equipped with two cameras, the cobot now checks Data Matrix codes. There are 200 plastic parts on a tray, which are slid under the LBR iisy with its two Keyence cameras. “In the first step, the quality of the codes is spot-checked on the basis of 20 parts,” explains foreman Tim Hertz. “If everything is OK, the cobot moves over the tray again and checks whether all 200 parts are present and all codes are readable.” One camera checks the quality with the associated software, while the second is responsible for completeness. If anything is wrong, in other words if a code is of insufficient quality or incomplete, the robot stops and indicates which bus connector is affected. A human colleague can then replace the faulty part; the tray is checked again and ideally released.
Speeding up processes, relieving employees and protecting customers
In the past, reports Tim Hertz, this type of quality control for DMCs was much more time-consuming. “When checking for completeness, we had to scan each part individually,” says Hertz. For this, an employee had to take the components out of the tray and subsequently put them back again. Today, with the LBR iisy, this task is performed much faster and more precisely. According to Bastian Fest, the customer – an automation company – specifically wanted an automated solution. This is because installing an imperfect bus connector in the controllers could prove to be costly. Bastian Fest reports: “The bus connector is used as the very first part of the controller. It is soldered, screwed onto a circuit board and the whole controller is built around it. So, if the Data Matrix code is poor, when will that be noticed? In the goods dispatch department!” At that point, the damage is considerable.
Cobot with all-rounder qualities
The LBR iisy can be integrated into existing processes just as easily as it can be repro-grammed for new tasks. From loading machines to packing or various handling tasks, the LBR iisy has everything under control. “The LBR iisy’s integrated cable routing and energy supply system also enable quick and easy tool changing,” adds Robert Korte. For new applications, the cobot can be equipped at any time with additional accessories from the KUKA Marketplace. For Bastian Fest, this is a real bonus: “With this product, I naturally have something that is highly flexible. It makes no difference to the robot whether I mount a suction cup, a gripper or a camera on the front, but it enables me to cover my entire spectrum.”
Safe human-robot collaboration
The employees at FMO Surface were enthusiastic about the new colleague right away, emphasizes Managing Director Fest. There was no reticence. Robert Korte explains: “Thanks to the safety features, collaboration with people in a single workspace is possible.” Equipped with sensitive joint torque sensors in all six axes, the LBR iisy reacts im-mediately to the slightest contact and offers certified collision protection. This makes it the ideal assistant in any production facility. Bastian Fest is already planning to automate further processes. He notes that the cobot could also provide valuable services in pad printing in the near future. Furthermore, he is also hoping to make use of the larger versions of the LBR iisy with their payload capacities of 11 and 15 kilograms.
Countries around the world invest in robotics to support developments in industry and society. What are the exact targets of robotics research funding programs (R&D) officially driven by governments in Asia, Europe and America today? This has been researched by the International Federation of Robotics and published in the 2023 update paper of “World Robotics R&D Programs”.
“The 3rd version of World Robotics R&D Programs covers the latest funding developments including updates in 2022,” says Prof. Dr. Jong-Oh Park, Vice-Chairman IFR Research Committee and member of the Executive Board.
The overview shows that the most advanced robotics countries in terms of annual installations of industrial robots – China, Japan, USA, South Korea, Germany - and the EU drive very different R&D strategies:
Robotics R&D programs - officially driven by governments
In China, the “14th Five-Year Plan” for Robot Industry Development, released by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) in Beijing on 21st December 2021, focuses on promoting innovation. The goal is to make China a global leader for robot technology and industrial advancement. Robotics is included in 8 key industries for the next 5 years. In order to implement national science and technology innovation arrangements, the key special program “Intelligent Robots” was launched under the National Key R&D Plan on 23rd April 2022 with a funding of 43.5 million USD. The recent statistical yearbook "World Robotics" by IFR shows that China reached a robot density of 322 units per 10,000 workers in the manufacturing industry: The country ranks 5th worldwide in 2021 compared to 20th (140 units) in 2018.
In Japan, the “New Robot Strategy” aims to make the country the world´s number one robot innovation hub. More than 930.5 million USD in support has been provided by the Japanese government in 2022. Key sectors are manufacturing (77.8 million USD), nursing and medical (55 million USD), infrastructure (643.2 million USD) and agriculture (66.2 million USD). The action plan for manufacturing and service includes projects such as autonomous driving, advanced air mobility or the development of integrated technologies that will be the core of next-generation artificial intelligence and robots. A budget of 440 million USD was allocated to robotics-related projects in the “Moonshot Research and Development Program” over a period of 5 years from 2020 to 2025. According to the statistical yearbook "World Robotics" by IFR, Japan is the world´s number one industrial robot manufacturer and delivered 45% of the global supply in 2021.
The 3rd Basic Plan on Intelligent Robots of South Korea is pushing to develop robotics as a core industry in the fourth industrial revolution. The Korean government allocated 172.2 million USD in funding for the “2022 Implementation Plan for the Intelligent Robot”. From 2022 to 2024 a total of 7.41 million USD is planned in funding for the “Full-Scale Test Platform Project for Special-Purpose Manned or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles”. The statistical yearbook "World Robotics" showed an all-time high of 1,000 industrial robots per 10,000 employees in 2021. This makes Korea the country with the highest robot density worldwide.
Horizon Europe is the European Union’s key research and innovation framework program with a budget of 94.30 billion USD for seven years (2021-2027). Top targets are: strengthening the EU’s scientific and technological bases, boosting Europe’s innovation capacity, competitiveness and jobs as well as delivering on citizens’ priorities and sustaining socio-economic models and values. The European Commission provides total funding of 198.5 million USD for the robotics-related work program 2021-2022.
Germany´s High-Tech Strategy 2025 (HTS) is the fourth edition of the German R&D and innovation program. The German government will provide around 69 million USD annually until 2026 - a total budget of 345 million USD for five years. As part of the HTS 2025 mission, the program “Shaping technology for the people” was launched. This program aims to use technological change in society as a whole and in the world of work for the benefit of people. Research topics are: digital assistance systems such as data glasses, human-robot-collaboration, exoskeletons to support employees in their physical work, but also solutions for the more flexible organization of work processes or the support of mobile work. According to the report "World Robotics" by IFR, Germany is the largest robot market in Europe – the robot density ranks in 4th place worldwide with 397 units per 10,000 employees.
The National Robotics Initiative (NRI) in the USA was launched for fundamental robotics R&D supported by the US government. The NRI-3.0 program, announced in February 2021, seeks research on integrated robot systems and builds upon the previous NRI programs. The US government supported the NRI-3.0 fund to the sum of 14 million USD in 2021. Collaboration among academics, industry, government, non-profit, and other organizations is encouraged. The “Moon to Mars” project by NASA for example highlights objectives to establish a long-term presence in the vicinity of and on the moon. The projects target research and technology development that will significantly increase the performance of robots to collaboratively support deep space human exploration and science missions. For the Artemis lunar program, the US government is planning to allocate a budget of 35 billion USD from 2020 to 2024. The statistical yearbook "World Robotics" by IFR shows that robot density in the United States rose from 255 units in 2020 to 274 units in 2021. The country ranks 9th in the world. Regarding annual installations of industrial robots, the USA takes 3rd position.
2022 certainly was a year of ups and downs. The fear about COVID-19 finally dwindled, and most parts of the world came back to normal. We also started the year with a positive outlook on the global economy. Then, the global community was shocked by humanitarian disaster: the Russian war against the Ukraine. Our thoughts are with all that are suffering from this conflict.
With the year slowly coming to an end, I would like to take a moment to look back and recap.
2022 certainly was a year of ups and downs. The fear about COVID-19 finally dwindled, and most parts of the world came back to normal. We also started the year with a positive outlook on the global economy. Then, the global community was shocked by humanitarian disaster: the Russian war against the Ukraine. Our thoughts are with all that are suffering from this conflict.
2022 brought back global trade shows and the opportunities for most of us to travel more freely around the globe - and to meet back in-person meetings. It was so good to meet many of you personally, as networking and exchange of thoughts still works much better in the physical than in the digital world.
While rising prices for intermediate products and energy and the scarcity of electronic components are challenging all branches of the global economy, 2022 also brought us a particular spirit of optimism. In particular in the Americas and Asia, general industries are heavily investing into robotics and automation, driven by the pandemic. This was first indicated by IFR's quarterly quick survey, but finally is also manifested in the long-awaited World Robotics 2022, that was published by IFR on October 13.
IFR's annual statistics reported an all-time high with more than half a million industrial robots installed in factories around the globe in one year - a plus of 31% (the third highest annual growth rate ever). The top five markets China, Japan, the United States, the Republic of Korea, and Germany now account for 78% of global installations. This comes as no big surprise, as China alone covers 52% of the market.
China has also taken a big leap in robot density, hitting 322 robots per 10,000 manufacturing employees in 2021 and thus ranks in fifth place. Only five years ago, China still ranked 23th with a robot density of only 68.
Global service robotics sales grew by 37% globally in 2021. Top five applications in professional service robots are transportation of goods or cargo, hospitality, medical robots, professional cleaning as well as agriculture.
The outlook for both the industrial and the service robots’ markets is a positive: Order books are full and demand for industrial robots has never been higher. We forecast average annual growth rates in the medium to upper single-digit range for the next few years. In service robotics, the market is mainly driven by the demographic change, which is burdening labor markets in many economies around the world.
We are looking optimistically into the year 2023. For the robotics industry, it will be the first year with all three major robotics trade shows - Automate, automatica and iREX - happening within eight months. This will be a great opportunity for all stakeholders to meet and (potential) robot users to learn about the latest developments and about the opportunities robotics is offering to them. I’m looking forward to meeting all of you at least at one of these occasions.
I wish you a peaceful holiday season and a happy and successful New Year.
An automotive parts supplier harnesses the flexibility of ABB’s robotic welding cells to respond faster to end customer demands while maintaining cost efficiency.
From being a single product manufacturer to becoming a global supplier of automotive exhaust products, the rise of Katcon has been remarkable. In just 27 years, the Mexico-based manufacturer of catalytic converters has broadened its portfolio, expanded into new geographies and is now a leading supplier to some of the world’s biggest automotive companies.
As business has boomed across the globe, Katcon has been faced with the need to rapidly increase its production capacity. After some research, the company decided it needed an automated welding solution that could be easily programmed to enhance the flexibility of manufacturing at its factory in Warsaw, Poland by enabling it to quickly ramp up or scale down its production to maximize the efficiency of its operations. In 2016, Katcon commissioned its first batch of six FlexArc cells from ABB. Available in a range of standardised packages, FlexArc robotic welding cells incorporate everything needed for a welding application, including welding robots with superior motion control software, positioner and associated welding equipment, all built on a common platform.
ABB’s Robotics Application Centre in Czech Republic designed a welding cell for Katcon that could be easily replicated to increase capacity. Unlike other welding solutions that need to be created from scratch, Katcon operators can seamlessly upload programs from a previous work cell on to a new ABB FlexArc, using the same jig design. Able to be replicated in any Katcon factory across the globe, the cells help reduce the time and cost involved in modifying production lines to meet changes in customer demand.
Flexibility is at the core of the FlexArc’s design. A significant variable in Katcon’s operations is that the company does not have guaranteed quantity demands from its end customers and needed a solution to mitigate some of this uncertainty.
ABB’s FlexArc is ideal for such a situation as one welding cell can be easily adapted for other products. Depending on the forecast by the end customer, Katcon can set up the welding process and use as many or as few FlexArcs as it needs. The flexibility of the welding cell allows the company to use the same jig to make products for different customers with minimum changes to the design.
“Designing a jig is very expensive, but as the ABB FlexArcs are exchangeable between cells, they offer Katcon a better way to utilize them. If a customer wants more products, Katcon only has to make a few changes to the basic frame of the jig and can start production instead of having to change the entire design which can take up to a couple of months. This expense can often exceed the expense of the entire robotic cell,” says Tomas Kostovcik, Sales Manager/ ABB.
Today Katcon operates 27 FlexArcs at the factory and plans to order more for its upcoming factories. At the Warsaw facility, the company uses three types of welding cells, most of which are equipped with variants of the ABB IRB 2600 welding robot that has a unique combination of high payload capacity, and large working range. Other cells use the ABB IRB 2600ID robots with Integrated Dressing, which are designed to offer higher agility and work in smaller spaces. Three types of ABB high-accuracy positioners and other welding equipment are also used in the FlexArc cells.
Improving worker productivity and safety
The FlexArc cells are helping to enhance both worker productivity and safety. On one side of the positioner, an operator loads the parts that need to be welded on a fixture. The IRB2600 robot located on the other side then welds the parts together. Once the welding is complete, the machine delivers the finished parts to the operator who unloads them and replaces them with new parts. The accuracy and speed of the robot’s welding is enhanced by ABB’s TrueMove and QuickMove motion platforms that optimize the welding path, reducing re-works and lowering the production cycle time.
The integrated design of the FlexArc offers an increased level of safety during the welding process. Metal sheets cover the electrical installations and wires are enclosed in special steel frames. This also protects the cell from sparks created during the welding process. All ABB FlexArcs are delivered with fume hoods that can be connected to fume extraction systems that are necessary to protect human workers and keep the working cell free of debris.
Every FlexArc cell built by ABB can be simulated on RobotStudio, ABB’s offline robot programming software. Using ABB’s dedicated PowerPac welding software add-in, Katcon can create complex robot paths for its FlexArcs in a short amount of time. Using RobotStudio, the company can inspect every aspect of the welding process virtually before the actual setup is made without impacting on the real production process. Possible issues such as collisions between the welding torches and jigs will be highlighted in the working simulation, enabling them to be rectified if needed.
“RobotStudio gives Katcon another avenue to maximize their investment in the FlexArc welding cell. By simulating a new project, Katcon can estimate production costs, cycle times and understand how many operators or how many welding cells are needed for the project. By connecting RobotStudio to engineering programs such as AutoCAD, ABB can also import the design of jigs and check the entire welding set up before the start of production,” says Robert Mrozik – Sales Specialist/ ABB.
“Each new design of jigs and any new produced parts can be uploaded to Robot Studio for the customer to check for any outstanding issues. We can check reachability for welding process, torch positioner and jig construction. We can easily check for collisions between the welding torch and any parts of jigs. Overall, this solution reduces production costs for welding jigs, which ultimately means savings for Katcon’s customers too.”
A key advantage for Katcon with the standardized FlexArc welding cell design was that its employees did not have to undergo extensive training before they began operating the machines. Moreover, the intuitive FlexPendant graphical user interface makes it easy for operators to get an overview of the entire status of the cell and enables them to communicate effectively with all the functions within the cell and access information regarding its performance.
ABB is able to design cells specifically to the needs of the customer. With the ABB training center and Warsaw headquarters situated close to the Katcon factory, ABB can provide rapid after sales support and services to the company.
As a leading manufacturer of press tools for building sanitary technology, Emerson Professional Tools AG must manufacture reliably and with process stability. For this reason - and due to tight space conditions - the Cobot CRX-10iA/L from FANUC has been used on a lathe since the beginning of 2021. It is compactly built and increases machine availability to up to 96 percent.
With around 80 employees, Emerson Professional Tools has been developing, manufacturing and assembling pressing tools and pressing jaws for pressing fittings with various diameters - from 12 mm to 108 mm (4 inches) - at its Swiss site in Sissach for over 35 years. These are primarily used for connecting sanitary, water and gas pipes in buildings.
The company's high-quality products are based on highly qualified employees and modern machines and systems. These include a 5-axis CNC lathe Nakamura WTS-150, whose existing portal automation solution failed at the beginning of October 2020 due to a defect. Plant Director Stefan Rüdisühli therefore had to quickly find a solution together with the machine operators.
He explains: "A repair would have been very time-consuming and expensive, so we preferred a new automation system." The challenges were manifold. The solution had to be reliable, easy to install, reasonably priced and available as quickly as possible. "In addition, we had to be economical in terms of space," adds Stefan Rüdisühli, who is responsible for the management and further development of the site and thus also for production.
Automation with CRX runs smoothly and reliably
In his search for a suitable supplier, Stefan Rüdisühli contacted the Swiss FANUC subsidiary, among others. The reason for this was, on the one hand, decades of good experience with FANUC controllers and, on the other hand, two FANUC robots that have been reliably in use since 2019 and 2020. Although Emerson is entering new territory with the Cobot CRX-10iA/L, "the solution has convinced us in every respect, and we can't imagine a better automation for this CNC lathe, even from today's perspective. It runs perfectly and reliably. We are also very satisfied with regard to all other challenges."
As a collaborative robot, the FANUC CRX-10iA/L does not need any elaborate safety devices, which ultimately has a positive effect on its footprint. The decisive factor here is that it fully complies with the safety standards according to ISO 10218-1. Another important feature for safe handling are its sensitive sensors, which trigger an immediate safety stop when a human body is touched. The anti-trap protection and the soft rubber skin with which the CRX is partially covered also ensure that the machine operators always feel safe and work without fear in close contact with their robot colleagues.
Machine availability per day increased to 96 percent
The tasks of the FANUC cobot are clearly defined at Emerson. It unloads finished parts from the Nakamura WTS-150 and removes remnants from the bar feeder. That is exactly what it does around the clock. Even an unmanned ghost shift is now possible with it. Thanks to the high process stability, Stefan Rüdisühli has been able to increase the daily availability of the lathe by to up to 96 percent. A value that delights the plant manager and his employees: "We are currently producing cylinder heads for our new generation of press tools on this machine. Our requirements are enormously high. Accordingly, the high availability of the entire system is currently helping us a lot."
The installation of the CRX-10iA/L as well as the initial programming for the tasks to be performed were carried out by experienced technicians from Wick AG - supported by Emerson machine operators. The system house from Küssnacht in Switzerland has been developing automation solutions for small and medium-sized companies for around 20 years. Robotics in general and the cooperation with FANUC Switzerland GmbH in particular play an important role for Wick. Guido Lüönd, CTO of Wick AG and member of the management board, emphasises: "We have already been able to gain some experience in dealing with collaborative robots in recent years. Not least because of this, the commissioning of the FANUC Cobot CRX-10iA/L at Emerson worked smoothly throughout.“
Lüönd is particularly enthusiastic about the ease of installation of the new CRX series: "Thanks to its lightweight, compact design, the FANUC CRX-10iA/L can be easily integrated into any work area or existing systems. We don't need a crane or any other lifting device for this." This is matched by the new, particularly compact R-30iB Mini Plus control system. The automation expert is also impressed by the convenient programming options: "The FANUC CRX-10iA/L allows Manual Guided Teaching. This means that the robot can be easily guided by hand to the desired positions, which can be saved on the tablet using the drag & drop function. This way, a new application is programmed in just a few minutes.“
Emerson is already planning further automation in which robots from FANUC are to play a leading role, because of the great progress that’s been made already.
In HERMA's halls, huge rolls of paper are transported and transferred without interruption, fully automatically and with maximum precision. As a leading European specialist in packaging and product labeling, the German company relies on driverless transport vehicles (AGVs) from Stäubli WFT.
Before construction on its new coating plant started, the entire project was already planned with the automation expert and subsequently implemented.
THE CHALLENGE - When paper meets precision
In its Labels division, HERMA manufactures self-adhesive paper and film laminates using state-of-the-art coating technology and a high level of innovation. A high degree of automation is crucial for optimum material flow. Among other things, a driverless transport system for the newly built coating hall had to meet this criterion.
Weighing up to 4.5 tons, 24 kilometers long and 2 meters wide, the paper and film rolls are real heavyweights. This makes it all the more important to transport them to their destination automatically and precisely without additional sensors. From goods receipt via a high-bay warehouse to processing and subsequent shipping, the AGVs are loaded and unloaded several times. In addition to the smooth cooperation of the different machines, this requires a high positioning accuracy of 2 millimeters.
The system also had to be easily adaptable to new routes, machine locations and structural changes in the future. Stäubli WFT has realized this with a fleet of several AGVs, spread over two floors. The system can be flexibly expanded.
THE SOLUTION - Stäubli WFT facilitates driverless heavy transport
The intensive project was as challenging as it was successful. The modular AGVs with their patented drive technology consistently meet HERMA's specific requirements. For example, the dynamic control of the AGVs is carried out via a master computer, which allows the operator to react to changes quickly and easily. The omnidirectional vehicles fit seamlessly into the local conditions as well as the infrastructure and communicate with a variety of relevant interfaces – from the conveyor system to the warehouse management system.
Each delivery and pick-up station is approached fully automatically and precisely. For HERMA, all this means continuous material flow in three-shift operation.
THE BENEFIT - More material flow, less disruption
As a result of implementing the AGVs from Stäubli WFT, downtimes have been significantly reduced and productivity increased. However, this is not the only reason the project was successful, according to Frank Baude, Logistics Manager at HERMA:
"In addition to the continuous flow of goods and the noticeable increase in productivity we have experienced thanks to the AGVs, I would like to highlight the great collaboration. The pragmatism, the technical know-how, and the drive of Stäubli WFT to always achieve the best for us, that will remain in my memory for a long time."
Due to the inspiring and successful experience of the project, HERMA is currently considering using fully automatic vehicles from Stäubli WFT in the outdoor area between the individual parts of the building as well. The first concepts for this are already on the table.
In 2023 two ISRs are scheduled on different continents. The ISR Americas takes place during the Automate show in May in Detroit and the ISR Europe end of September in Stuttgart.
Sponsored by the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), the ISR is
an event that is hosted all over the world, bringing new global insights
on the latest in robotics applications and research.
The 55th International Symposium on Robotics - ISR 2023 Americas - takes place at Huntington Place, Detroit, MI, USA from 22 to 25 May 2023. The conference is organized in conjunction with the Automate show.
The ISR is fully integrated into the Automate 2023 conference sessions, allowing all participants to learn about the newest developments in robotics, machine vision, imaging, motion control and other automation technologies covered at Automate. The ISR also celebrates a gala dinner for the Robotic Industries Association Joseph F. Engelberger Robotics Awards, the industry’s highest honor.
You will find the conference agenda and details on the registration online.
The 56th International Symposium on Robotics – ISR Europe 2023 – will be held in Stuttgart, Germany on 26 and 27 September 2023. This international conference is jointly organized by the Institute for Control Engineering of Machine Tools and Manufacturing Units (ISW) at the University of Stuttgart and the Information Technology Society (ITG) within the Association for Electrical, Electronic & Information Technologies (VDE) in collaboration with the Mechanical Engineering Society Industry Association (VDMA). The ISR Europe 2023 will be complemented by an exhibition area including exhibits by the Scientific Society for Assembly, Handling and Industrial Robotics (MHI). The program is completed by the evening event at the traditional Cannstatt Folk Festival.
In two conference tracks over two days, the ISR Europe 2023 will offer an insight into state-of-the-art robot technologies to participants from both industry and research. Selected Special Sessions for ROS Industrial and Service Robot Meeting include Modeling, Planning and Control, as well as Components and Technologies or Future Industrial and Service Robotics Applications. The Business Track will offer invited speakers from the industry the opportunity to present current product developments.
Call for Papers
We would be honored to personally greet researchers and experts from the field of robotics in Stuttgart. Please submit your full paper for ISR Europe 2023 and we will do our best to provide an attractive program for the upcoming conference. You will find the details on the ISR Europe webpage. Submission deadline is 13 April 2023
China’s massive investment in industrial robotics has put the country in the top ranking of robot density, surpassing the United States for the first time. The number of operational industrial robots relative to the number of workers hit 322 units per 10,000 employees in the manufacturing industry. Today, China ranks in fifth place. The world´s top 5 most automated countries in manufacturing 2021 are: South Korea, Singapore, Japan, Germany and China.
“Robot density is a key indicator of automation adoption in the manufacturing industry around the world,” says Marina Bill, President of the International Federation of Robotics. “The new average of global robot density in the manufacturing industry surged to 141 robots per 10,000 employees – more than double the number six years ago. China’s rapid growth shows the power of its investment so far, but it still has much opportunity to automate.”
Robot density by region
Driven by the high volume of robot installations in recent years, Asia’s average robot density surged by 18% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) since 2016 to 156 units per 10,000 employees in 2021. The European robot density had been growing by 8% (CAGR) in the same period of time reaching 129 units. In the Americas it was 117 robots – plus 8% (CAGR).
The Republic of Korea hit an all-time high of 1,000 industrial robots per 10,000 employees in 2021. This is more than three times the number reached in China and makes the country number one worldwide. With its globally recognized electronics industry and a distinct automotive sector, the Korean economy profits from two large customer industries for industrial robots.
Singapore takes second place with a rate of 670 robots per 10,000 employees in 2021. Singapore’s robot density had been growing by 24% on average each year since 2016.
There is a remarkable gap to Japan (399 robots per 10,000 employees) which ranks third. Japan’s robot density had grown by 6% on average each year since 2016. Germany in fourth place (397 units) is the largest robot market in Europe.
China is by far the fastest growing robot market in the world. The country has the highest number of annual installations, and since 2016 it has each year had the largest operational stock of robots.
Robot density in the United States rose from 255 units in 2020 to 274 units in 2021. The country ranks ninth in the world, down from seventh – now head-to-head with Chinese Taipei (276 units) and behind Hong Kong (304 units) and Sweden (321 units).
Orders for World Robotics 2022 Service Robots and Industrial Robots reports can be placed online. Further downloads on the content are available here.
Sales of professional service robots rose by an impressive 37% in 2021. By region, the strongest growth came from Europe with a market share of 38% followed by North America with 32% and Asia with 30%. At the same time, sales of new consumer service robots grew by 9%, according to the “World Robotics 2022 – Service Robots” report, issued by the International Federation of Robotics (IFR).
Service robots for professional use
“Service robots for professional use are extremely diverse,” says IFR´s President Marina Bill. “They are usually designed to perform a specific task and can be found in warehouses, in hospitals and airports or even helping on dairy farms automatically milking cows.”
Five top applications for professional service robots by units sold:
About 121,000 professional service robots were sold in 2021 - more than one out of every three built were targeted for the transportation of goods or cargo. The majority thereof are used in indoor environments e.g factories, where the general public has no access to, so that these robots are not designed to deal with public traffic. A total of 286 companies are producing service robots in this category.
Hospitality robots enjoy growing popularity but compared to market potential, sales figures are still low: More than 20,000 units (+85%) were sold in 2021. Robots in this category are either used for food and drink preparation or for mobile guidance, information, and telepresence.
Sales of medical robots were up 23% to 14,823 units. The majority are surgical robots, followed by robots for rehabilitation and non-invasive therapy, while the share of robots for diagnostics is still comparably low.
Demand for professional cleaning robots grew by 31%. Sales of more than 12,600 units were reported. The main application in this group is floor cleaning. Disinfection robots that spray disinfectant fluids or use ultraviolet light to destroy viruses have also seen a strongly growing demand since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Other professional cleaning helpers are, for instance, professional window, pool- and solar panel-cleaning robots.
Robotics plays an important part in the digitalization of agriculture with more than 8,000 units (+6%) sold in 2021. Robots are well established in cow milking, assisted by robotic barn cleaners and feeding robots. Robots for the cultivation of crops are still in their early days.
Service robots for consumer use
“Service robots for consumers are mainly used in domestic environments: They help with vacuuming, floor-cleaning, or gardening, and are also used for social interaction and education,” says IFR´s President Marina Bill. “These service robots are produced for a mass market with completely different pricing and marketing compared to service robots for professional use.”
Robots for domestic tasks constituted the largest group of consumer robots. Almost 19 million units (+12%) were sold in 2021. Vacuuming robots and other robots for indoor domestic floor cleaning are currently the most used application. This kind of service robot is available in almost every convenience store, making it easily accessible to consumers. Today, gardening robots usually comprise lawn-mowing robots. This market is expected to grow by low double-digit growth rates on average each year over the next few years.
Care-at-homerobots that support an aging population to remain independent in their own homes are a growing niche market.
Service robotics industry structure
Although the service robotics industry is a young and growing industry, 87% of service robot producers worldwide are considered incumbents that were established before 2017. The share of start-ups has been decreasing in recent years because the industry’s focus has shifted towards software and application development. Many service robot suppliers use third-party hardware to create a solution and are therefore not counted as a service robot producer in IFR industry structure statistics.
The IFR’s market observation suggests two reasons for the decreasing share of start-ups: Some market segments have already achieved a level of maturity that sees companies growing, for instance AMRs for warehouse logistics. Further, founding activities shifted away from the development of hardware towards software development and application development. Many service applications are based on collaborative industrial robots, purchased from an industrial producer. The service robot supplier is therefore not considered a robot producer - the robot is purchased from a third party. These companies act like system integrators, combining different components and developing software to create a solution.
Orders for World Robotics 2022 Service Robots and Industrial Robots reports can be placed online. Further downloads on the content are available here.
World Robotics - Service Robots
This unique report provides global statistics on service robots, market analyses, and forecasts on the worldwide distribution of professional and personal service robots. The study is jointly prepared with our partner Fraunhofer IPA, Stuttgart.
The new World Robotics report shows an all-time high of 517,385 new industrial robots installed in 2021 in factories around the world. This represents a growth rate of 31% year-on-year and exceeds the pre-pandemic record of robot installation in 2018 by 22%. Today, the stock of operational robots around the globe hits a new record of about 3.5 million units.
“The use of robotics and automation is growing at a breathtaking speed,” says Marina Bill, President of the International Federation of Robotics. “Within six years, annual robot installations more than doubled. According to our latest statistics, installations grew strongly in 2021 in all major customer industries, although supply chain disruptions as well as different local or regional headwinds hampered production.”
Asia, Europe and the Americas - overview
Asia remains the world’s largest market for industrial robots. 74% of all newly deployed robots in 2021 were installed in Asia (2020: 70%).
Installations for the region´s largest adopter China grew strongly by 51% with 268,195 units shipped. Every other robot installed globally in 2021 was deployed here. The operational stock broke the 1-million-unit mark (+27%). This high growth rate indicates the rapid speed of robotization in China.
Japan remained second to China as the largest market for industrial robots. Installations were up 22% in 2021 with 47,182 units. Japan’s operational stock was 393,326 units (+5%) in 2021. After two years of declining robot installations in all major industries, numbers began growing again in 2021. Japan is the world´s predominant robot manufacturing country: Exports of Japanese industrial robots achieved a new peak level at 186,102 units in 2021.
The Republic of Korea was the fourth largest robot market in terms of annual installations, following the US, Japan and China. Robot installations increased by 2% to 31,083 units in 2021. This followed four years of declining installation figures. The operational stock of robots was computed at 366,227 units (+7%).
Robot installations in Europe were up 24% to 84,302 units in 2021. This represents a new peak. Demand from the automotive industry was steady, while demand from the general industry was up by 51%. Germany, which belongs to the five major robot markets in the world, had a share of 28% of total installations in Europe. Italy followed with 17% and France with 7%.
The number of installed robots in Germany grew by 6% to 23,777 units in 2021. This is the second highest installation count ever recorded, following the peak caused by massive investments from the automotive industry in 2018 (26,723 units). The operational stock of robots was calculated at 245,908 units (+7%) in 2021. Exports of industrial robots from Germany were up 41% to 22,870 units, exceeding the pre-pandemic level.
Italy is the second largest robot market in Europe after Germany. The main growth driver between 2016 and 2021 was the general industry with an annual average growth rate of 8%. The operational stock of robots was computed at 89,330 units (+14%) in 2021. The 2021 results were driven by catch-up effects and earlier purchases due to a reduction of tax credits in 2022. This created a 65% increase of robot installations to a new record level of 14,083 units in 2021.
The robot market in France ranked third in Europe in 2021 regarding annual installations and operational stock, following Italy and Germany. In 2021, robot installations increased by 11% to 5,945 units. The operational stock of robots in France was calculated at 49,312 units, a 10% increase over the previous year.
In the United Kingdom, industrial robot installations were down by 7% to 2,054 units. The operational stock of robots was calculated at 24,445 units (+6%) in 2021. This is less than a tenth of Germany´s stock. The automotive industry reduced installations by 42% to 507 units in 2021.
In 2021, 50,712 industrial robots were installed in the Americas, 31% more than in 2020. This is a remarkable recovery from the pandemic dip in 2020 and the second time that robot installations in the Americas exceeded the 50,000-unit mark, with 55,212 units in 2018 setting the benchmark.
New installations in the United States were up by 14% to 34,987 units in 2021. This exceeded the pre-pandemic level of 33,378 units in 2019 but was still considerably lower than the peak level of 40,373 units in 2018. The automotive industry is still by far the number one adopter with 9,782 units installed in 2021. However, demand had been continuously declining for five years (2016-2021). In 2021 installations were down 7% compared to 2020. Installations in the metal and machinery industry surged by 66% to 3,814 units in 2021, putting this industry into second place in terms of robot demand. The plastic and chemical products industry had 3,466 robots (+30%) newly installed in 2021. The food and beverage industry installed 25% more robots, reaching a new peak level of 3,402 units in 2021. The robotics industry offers hygienic solutions that experienced growing demand during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Rising energy prices, intermediate product prices and scarcity of electronic components are challenging all branches of the global economy. But order books are full and demand for industrial robots has never been higher. In total, global robot installations are expected to grow by 10% to almost 570,000 units in 2022. The post-pandemic boom experienced in 2021 is expected to fade out in 2022. From 2022 to 2025, average annual growth rates in the medium to upper single-digit range are forecast.
Orders for World Robotics 2022 Industrial Robots and Service Robots reports can be placed online. Further downloads on the content are available here.
In the depths of the quarries, we met Filippo Tincolini and Giacomo Massari, the two co-founders of TorArt and Robotor, who have breathed life into a new era for sculpture, transforming their creative ideas into design objects and large-scale works with the help of HSD electrospindles.
"Right from the start, we believed that it was possible to combine tradition and innovation, turning TorArt into an artistic workshop that utilises the most innovative digital techniques, combining a deep respect for traditional hand workmanship with a passion for innovation, through the use of the most cutting-edge technologies out there." These are the words of the company founders Filippo Tincolini and Giacomo Massari, who go on to say "Our job is to make the work of artists a reality, and to meet the requirements of world-famous masters such as Barry x Ball, Jeff Koons, Francesco Vezzoli, Vanessa Beecroft, Giuseppe Penone, Maurizio Cattelan, Zaha Hadid and Jimmie Durham, to name just a few, as well as to succeed in implementing digital archaeology projects and recovering artistic heritage, such as the New Monumental Arch of Palmyra, and works by Canova, Michelangelo and Thorvaldsen - these projects have led to improvements in the performance of the robots used, and this in turn has led to the birth of ROBOTOR".
Today, the mission of ROBOTOR is to deliver an automated technological solution to people which serves to simplify the production process, delegating stone machining operations to the robot. We are witnessing the start of a new era - not just of chisels and dust, but also of scanning and point clouds, where ROBOTOR technology adds value to the process, preventing the artist from having to carry out the most arduous, risky and dangerous work.
"Our strengths lie in our ability to transform the vision of artists with extreme precision and accuracy, whilst drastically reducing production times" explains Giacomo, continuing "Over the years, there are two particular moments in which our work has gained widespread visibility - the first of these was back in 2016, when we created a replica of the Monumental Arch of Palmyra, which was destroyed by ISIS. Our technology enabled us to reconstruct this precious ornamental archway in just 5 weeks, and from a three-dimensional scan, we were able to recreate the arch in a scale of 1:3 using 20 tons of machined marble. This work came to represent a symbol of the strength of technology at the service of mankind, standing against the barbarity and injustice of war. The arch has travelled around the world - from Trafalgar Square in London to New York and Geneva; it has proved to be of great importance for us.
The other key moment occurred this year, when the New York Times wrote about us, dedicating the front page of the print version of the paper and an online article to the company, in which it raised the question of the real authorship of works of art - in other words, whether robots can sculpt better than artists, such as Michelangelo, or whether contemporary artists actually put their own stamp on these creations. This discussion addresses a fundamental theme, and reinforces rather than undermines the importance of technology in our vocation at this point in time." "ROBOTOR is the end result of an extraordinary idea: delegating the task of managing the various phases of machining carried out by the robot to artificial intelligence!" comments Filippo, as he watches the robot equipped with the HSD ES748 electrospindle masterfully working on a statue of a little girl "What you see here is without doubt the highest-performance system we have ever made, Both One, which combines power and precision. It is designed to support heavy weights - the work table can sustain up to 35 tonnes - and can be used to work on sculptures of up to 3.5 metres high.
The system consists of a mechanical arm which uses a range of HSD electrospindles of various sizes and capacities, and features an automatic tool change function, suitable for the CNC milling of various materials. The arm takes full advantage of the areas of movement whilst occupying the smallest possible space, and is equipped with a number of special devices designed to work in extreme conditions. The arm is mounted on a multifunctional base inspired by lunar modules; here, the spaces and the various electrical and hydraulic components are organised and optimised in a safe and highly protected manner. The software remains the beating heart of our systems; in this case, it is fully dedicated to sculpting and to extremely complex projects that even a very experienced programmer would struggle to create. This type of artificial intelligence is based in the cloud - that is, it is not local, but online - and it fully manages the instructions that the system needs in order to create the sculpture. With regard to these instructions, we give it the block, the model and the tools, and this application generates the safest pathways, simulates these and then sends them to the control panel, in order to be executed by the robot in complete autonomy; experience in the configuration of anthropomorphic robots is not required."
“For this project”, confirms Filippo, “we are working with two strategic partners, Kuka and HSD - we consider them to be leaders in their sector, Kuka in anthropomorphic robots and HSD in electrospindles. Bringing these two families together gives us peace of mind with regard to the product, the support and the service, as well as in terms of the development of the new robots we plan to bring to market.”
“Our goal – Giacomo Massari reiterates – is to push the boundaries! To push the boundaries in order to ensure that there are no limitations for the artist and to use technology to enable seemingly impossible feats to be achieved - to go above and beyond to make our solutions accessible to everyone” concludes Giacomo "The robot-sculptor is already a reality, but the robot-artist will never exist!".
It is a great honor for me to address you for the first time in this quarterly newsletter as the new - and first female - President of the IFR.
It is a great honor for me to address you for the first time in this quarterly newsletter as the new - and first female - President of the IFR.
In June, shortly before the summer break, two of the world's most important trade shows for robotics and automation, the Automate show in Detroit and the automatica fair in Munich took place. I would like to highlight key trends presented to the robotics community and its customers after more than two years of online-only events and in-house fairs.
The range of robots designed for human-robot collaboration is continuously expanding: this year, in particular, new cobots with higher payloads and longer reach opened up a new range of applications. In addition to working modules involving a more-or-less shared workspace, cobots are increasingly used in place of traditional industrial robot tasks, especially welding applications, where they excel through their ease of use.
Ease of integration and plug and play are also in high demand. We are seeing more complete solutions for standard applications designed to lower the barrier to entry to robotics automation and desperately sought after by users.
In line with this, we’re also witnessing the evolution of new business ecosystems. Customers are seeking “one-stop-shops” delivering not only the robot itself, but also compatible plug & play accessories like grippers and even online application builders.
Interest in ease of programming and usability is growing particularly for customers with high-mix, low volume production who do not have in-house robotics specialists trained in different proprietary robot programming languages. Increasingly, established industrial robot manufacturers provide a simplified programming tool, often GUI based, providing pre-customized building blocks and also typically using tablets as interfaces.
AMRs (autonomous mobile robots) are seamlessly integrated into the manufacturing process together with industrial robots, enabling new production layouts. It appears to be the logical next step to integrate the robot arm directly into the AMR to achieve “mobile manipulators,” showcased by a growing number of manufacturers.
Advanced vision systems and artificial intelligence are also opening new possibilities, especially in the field of picking & gripping as well as in quality inspection.
Digitalization and connectivity of robotic systems are making significant progress. Digital twins allow for remote monitoring and fleet management, for predictive maintenance and process optimization, enabling new business models.
Finally, in times of rising energy prices and focus on corporate social responsibility, the sustainability of production tools is a growing trend. Total cost of ownership considerations provide opportunities for less energy consuming robots, and repairability as well as the overhaul of machines to extend the overall lifetime.
While we previewed the IFRs preliminary statistics on 2021 robotics market development during both trade shows, the final figures will officially be published on October 13, 2022 in Frankfurt during the annual IFR press conference.
Hope to meet you all soon at one of the upcoming in-person events, conferences or trade shows.
With YuMi, Sintech has automated the cleanroom process to assemble and test the "stem", a component of blood separation centrifuges manufactured by LivaNova. It was possible to improve safety for operators while increasing productivity.
To assemble a specific component of blood separation centrifuges, called "stem", LivaNova relied on the experience of system integrator Sintech and the skills of ABB YuMi cobot. "After automating a part of the process with articulated robots two years ago," said Claudio Sinico, Sales Manager, Sintech, "automation has now been extended to the stem, involving assembling, testing and solvent dispensing stations that operate in automatic and synchronized steps."
LivaNova has factories in all continents, including a plant in the biomedical district of Mirandola, an Italian tow in Emilia-Romagna. The Mirandola site is a global excellence for cardiac surgery devices, mainly oxygenators, filters, heat exchangers and blood separation centrifuges. Each day, LivaNova ship their products to hospitals across Europe and the world. Approximately 2,600 centrifuges are delivered every day for immediate use to operating theaters for critical heart surgery operations, mostly open heart surgery with extracorporeal circulation: no compromise on device quality is acceptable!
The dual-arm version of YuMi has increased process efficiency, helping automate a semi-manual process and improving safety for operator who no longer have to dispense solvents. According to LivaNova engineers (the project involved Giulia Sarti, Davide Di Mari, Franko Masllavika and Daniele Roveri of the industrial engineering team), the robot, certified for cleanroom operation, is very easy to program compared to conventional articulated robots, thanks to an easier interface and straightforward point picking with no specialized skills. The customer mostly appreciates the easy process to access and correct picking, placing and positioning points, as well as the light weight and the easy handling that other robots cannot offer. Finally, with RobotStudio, Sintech's engineers can program the entire working cycle of robot-assisted islands virtually, simulating all movements and checking the feasibility and cycle time of each application.
LivaNova is a global medical technology company created in 2015 from a merger between Sorin Group, listed on the Milan Stock Exchange, and US-based Cyberonics. Today the group generates approximately one billion dollar revenues with factories in all continents. Among these, the plant in the biomedical district of Mirandola, an Italian tow in Emilia-Romagna, is a global excellence for cardiac surgery devices, mainly oxygenators, filters, heat exchangers and blood separation centrifuges, used in operating theaters for cardiac surgery.
Even back then, Otto Schott was considered a pioneer in the science of glass, and SCHOTT AG, the company he founded, continues to break new technological ground today.
Even back then, Otto Schott was considered a pioneer in the science of glass, and SCHOTT AG, the company he founded, continues to break new technological ground today. In the glass laboratory of its Mainz research center, the international technology group uses a collaborative application for quality testing - and in doing so relieves the laboratory staff of more demanding tasks. This gives SCHOTT more capacity for development projects and enables it to efficiently handle the growing volume of samples. This is made possible by a gripper from OnRobot. Thanks to integrated sensors in its fingertips, the RG2-FT can handle individually shaped glass samples and operate highly sensitive measuring instruments.
Whether in aerospace, medical technology or the automotive industry: The diverse products of SCHOTT AG are used in almost all areas of life. The technology group with its focus on glass and glass ceramics has been producing new innovations for 130 years. At that time, company founder Otto Schott initiated the special glass industry as a separate branch of industry by using novel manufacturing processes to develop glasses with precisely defined properties for the first time. Since then, Schott has considerably expanded the range of applications for the material over the years.
Technology pioneer SCHOTT: always one step ahead
In keeping with its founding idea, today's SCHOTT AG is also always operating at the limits of what is possible and is continuously expanding this through technological progress. The SCHOTT Research Center in Mainz plays a key role in this process. In the glass laboratory there, employees test glass samples for their physical properties. Through their measurements, they generate data that are incorporated into the company's numerous research projects. On the other hand, they regularly test samples from production.
"The material that is processed has to meet very specific specifications to ensure that a flawless product is ultimately created," explains Dr. Axel Engel, Senior Manager Physical Analytics at SCHOTT. "This ensures high product quality and helps to reduce waste." For example, when it comes to ceramic glass for hotplates or glass for fireplace doors, it must not be allowed to deform under any circumstances when exposed to heat. "Quality control is therefore very important for the entire manufacturing process." Today, SCHOTT automates part of this step with the help of a collaborative application using a gripper from OnRobot.
Challenge: Increasing number of samples
The impetus for this was a sharp increase in the number of samples that have to be tested for research purposes. "In the last three years, the volume of samples here in the laboratory has increased by about 30 percent," reports Dr. Engel. This posed several challenges for the manager and his team: SCHOTT needed more capacity to test so many samples in the time available. However, additional measuring equipment and personnel would only have limited space in the limited laboratory space. In addition, it took the employees a lot of time to load the measuring device. A measurement takes between three and 15 minutes, after which the employees have to interrupt other activities in order to insert a new sample. This is where the idea of automating the measuring process first came up.
Gripper with a sure instinct needed
"We put a lot of time and effort into selecting a suitable automation solution," recalls Dr. Engel. "The solution had to be space-saving and be able to work right next to the laboratory technicians. A conventional industrial robot was out of the question: it would have needed an additional protective enclosure, and there is no room for that". There was also another difficulty: the measuring device, a so-called transmission spectrometer that records the optical properties of the glass, is extremely sensitive. Inserting the samples in such a way that the expensive device is not damaged requires great sensitivity. "After looking at solutions from various manufacturers, we finally found what we were looking for in OnRobot," reports Dr. Engel.
SCHOTT decided on an application in which an RG2-FT gripper from OnRobot is mounted on a collaborating robot arm. The special thing about the electric two-finger gripper is that both force/torque sensors and optical sensors are located in its fingertips. These enable him to "think along": The sensors feed their process data back to the robot arm, which adjusts its course accordingly. This enables the gripper to precisely meter the force applied to the arm. This gives the application as a whole the necessary sensitivity to load the spectrometer with millimeter precision.
Application relieves employees
"With the help of its sensor technology, the gripper is able to identify the position of objects and grip them in the center without knowing the exact parameters in advance," explains Florian Grabowski, Project Engineer at SCHOTT. "In this way, it can also efficiently support the measurement process." For this purpose, the glass samples are lined up next to the application in a holding fixture, the so-called tray. On their sides are barcodes that the RG2-FT uses to identify which sample it should pick up next. The RG2-FT is coupled with the software of the measuring instrument for this purpose. Thus, it knows which sample is to be measured next. He picks up the corresponding sample and places it in the spectrometer, where it is clamped in a pneumatic cylinder. Then the measurement begins. The robot then automatically removes the sample and places it back in the tray.
Physics laboratory technician Nicole Mück used to operate the spectrometer manually. Now she benefits directly from the new application. "I have more time for documentation tasks, for example elaborate test reports," says Mück. "I can use the spectrometer more for more complex measurements involving test objects of different shapes and sizes - this is more complicated and requires me to process the samples myself. The application can continuously load the measuring device. This means it can work overnight and on weekends without a break. As a result, the robot has already handled a large part of the sample volume when Ms. Mück and her colleagues start their working day.
SCHOTT worked closely with OnRobot and the local system integrator Fichtner to integrate the gripper and robot arm, as project engineer Grabowski reports: "We were in active communication with both OnRobot and Fictner during implementation. We also developed special fingertips to optimally adapt the application to our requirements. These consist of aluminum and are coated with foam rubber. The background: The glass samples are handmade at SCHOTT so that each sample is individual. "With the help of its sensor technology and the adapted fingertips, the RG2-FT can still grip the sample glasses perfectly," Grabowski explains.
The robot arm and gripper can be controlled via an intuitive user interface that the team accesses via a tablet. "The interface is clearly structured so that it is easy to find your way around," explains Grabowski. "Even users without special programming skills can easily assign tasks to the robot".
Dr. Engel is satisfied with the pilot project: "With the application we can work much more efficiently and relieve our employees," he sums up. Thanks to the rapid integration and smooth processes, the application also promises a rapid ROI: "We expect the purchase to pay for itself within five to six months".
Soon, SCHOTT also wants to use collaborative applications in other areas of its internal value chain. One conceivable area would be glass processing, for example, where many process steps, such as drilling, milling or grinding, are currently still done by hand. With collaborative applications, such tasks can already be automated cost-effectively today. In this way, SCHOTT is making itself fit for the future and focusing on always be one step ahead of the status quo.
The industrial robotics market in China achieved strong growth with a new record of 243,300 installations in 2021 – a rise of 44% compared to the previous year. These preliminary data have been published by the International Federation of Robotics.
“China was leading the global recovery after the Covid-19 pandemic and accounted for half of worldwide robot installations in 2021,” said Marina Bill, President of the International Federation of Robotics. “Growth is strong across all industries with electrical and electronics being the dominant sector – up 30% to 81,600 installations. The automotive industry also showed a strong recovery. This was mainly driven by electric vehicle manufacturing in China. It rose by 89% in 2021 with 50,700 installations.”
Chinese government supports robotic automation
In China aging population's demographics causes shortage of labor and drives the growth of robotic automation. The continued robotization of industries has been announced earlier this year by the government. The Five-Year plan for the robotics industry, released by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) in Beijing, focuses on promoting innovation - making China a global leader of robot technology and industrial advancement.
New profession: “robotics engineering technician”
At the same time, state authorities aim to boost employment and entrepreneurial opportunities among college graduates. In June, 18 new professions including “robotics engineering technician” were announced by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security. The profession focuses on the research and development of control algorithms and operating systems for robots, as well as the use of digital simulation technology.
“China still has high potential for further growth,” said Marina Bill. “The country´s robot density in the manufacturing industry amounts to 246 industrial robots per 10,000 employees thus ranking ninth worldwide in 2020. Ten years ago, China´s robot density was 15 units only.”
The International Federation of Robotics IFR will present the sales figures of industrial and service robots of 2021 on 13 October 2022 in Frankfurt during their annual press conference. These figures will cover the global market.
The detailed figures will be published in separate studies World Robotics - Industrial Robots and World Robotics - Service Robots. Customers with pre-orders will get access to the data on the publication date, others may place their order now. A press release and presentation of selected markets will be available on this webpage as well.
Preliminary figures are promising
IFR published already preliminary figures in June predicting a strong recovery of industrial robots: A new record of 486,800 units were installed globally – an increase of 27% compared to the previous year. Asia/Australia saw the largest growth in demand: installations were up 33% reaching 354,500 units. The Americas increased by 27% with 49,400 units sold. Europe saw double digit growth of 15% with 78,000 units installed.
The World Robotics reports
World Robotics - Industrial Robots: This unique report provides global statistics on industrial robots in standardized tables and enables national comparisons to be made. It presents statistical data for around 40 countries broken down into areas of application, customer industries, types of robots and other technical and economic aspects. Production, export and import data is listed for selected countries. It also offers robot density, i.e. the number of robots per 10,000 employees, as a measure for the degree of automation.
World Robotics - Service Robots: This unique report provides global statistics on service robots, market analyses, and forecasts on the worldwide distribution of professional and personal service robots. The study is jointly prepared with our partner Fraunhofer IPA, Stuttgart.
With an innovative adaption an ABB robot is making designer furniture from what would otherwise be waste material.
A staggering 640,000 tons of fishing nets are dumped into the sea every year. An additional 150 million tonnes of garbage floats in the world’s oceans.
In a pioneering project, Swedish sustainable design house Sculptur is turning the discarded nets and plastic waste into furniture using a specially adapted robot from ABB. The industrial robot functions as an advanced 3D-printer.
Because the robot can apply the injection molding of the plastics from any angle, it is far superior to conventional 3D-printers and helps save around 50 percent of the required base materials. ABB's simulation and offline programming software RobotStudio, offering a complete digital twin of physical assets, and a newly developed add-on for 3D-printing, ensure that the printing robot can be programed in just a few minutes. A complete designer piece can be manufactured in less than two hours.
Sculptur and ABB share the same philosophy that by using recycled products and cutting-edge technology they can together make the world a better, more sustainable place.
Milton Guerry started the roundtable discussion with an introduction on the North American robotics market showing preliminary figures of industrial robots shipped in 2021.
Companies across North America are deploying robotics and automation at record rates as they continue to face labor shortages, decreased productivity and a disrupted supply chain.
Executives from FANUC AMERICA, TERADYNE, UPS, ZEBRA TECHNOLOGIES and NVIDIA discussed on June 7th 2022 at IFR´s EXECUTIVE ROUNDTABLE in Detroit, sponsored by the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) and the Association for Advancing Automation (A3).
This year’s “Award for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Robotics & Automation” (IERA) goes to Drishti, a video analytics company based in Mountain View, California. Drishti technology supports workers on assembly lines to avoid errors and be more productive. To achieve this, the company has developed the pioneering technology “action recognition”.
Drishti streams video at every station of the production line, then uses their AI networks to translate the video streams into data. The action recognition technology delivers feedback to operators in mere seconds, thus avoiding errors. The information is also used retrospectively to help manufacturers improve productivity, quality and training as well as safety.
"Drishti has developed a pathway towards successful robotics and automation suitable for any size of company," said jury chair Andra Keay. "This opens up significant benefits, both for manufacturers and their employees. We are pleased to honor this achievement with the IERA Award 2022."
“Action recognition technology provides unparalleled business insights to all parties in the factory, from the line associate to the CEO,” said Gary Jackson, CEO, Drishti. “The IERA Award is a phantastic recognition of how Drishti helps to optimize production.”
Worldwide, 72% of manufacturing tasks are performed by humans. With Drishti video analysis manufacturers have succeeded to reduce defect rates by up to 50% in just three months, improved throughput by 15% on already optimized lines and reduced time to train new line associates by up to 50%.
“The pioneering technology invented by Drishti uncovers new improvement opportunities on assembly lines while at the same time empowering humans on the factory floor,” said Milton Guerry, President of the IFR at the IERA award ceremony in Munich, Germany. “This is an outstanding example of humans and machines working together. I congratulate Drishti on winning the IERA award 2022. All four finalists have presented their story of a successful innovative product in robotics and automation.”
The other three finalists
Bosch Rexroth presented its Smart Flex Effector – a module which allows large industrial robots to “feel” their environment and produce smarter. Berlin-based Micropsi Industries took part with its MIRAI software – an AI-driven control system that enables industrial robots to deal with variance in production. Neura Robotics presented MAiRA® – a cognitive robot that is able to see, hear, and speak as well as safely interact with human workers and learn from experience.
A video explaining AI power for smart factories is available on the vimeo platform.
The Executive Board of the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) has elected Marina Bill of ABB as its new President. Kenji Yamaguchi of FANUC appointed as IFR´s new Vice President.
“I am honored to head the IFR as President and serve our industry and I thank the members of the IFR for their trust and support,” said Marina Bill. “The unprecedented pace of change we’re experiencing in global business provides a historic opportunity to shape industry for the next generation. Robotics and automation create flexible, sustainable and efficient solutions for businesses of all sizes that minimize cost, promote resilience and benefit society.”
Bill thanked her predecessor for his work: “Milton Guerry took office at the starting point of the COVID-19 pandemic and served the industry dealing with a great number of challenges. He worked relentlessly as our ambassador and I am proud to continue this mission together with our new Vice President, Kenji Yamaguchi.”
Marina Bill heads Global Marketing & Sales for ABB’s Robotics business which has approximately 11,000 employees, operating in over 100 locations in 53 countries. She has over 25 years of experience in a number of management and sales and marketing roles across automation at ABB. The Swedish and Swiss national holds a Master of Science degree in Industrial Engineering and Management from The Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm.
Kenji Yamaguchi has been serving as Representative Director, President and CEO of FANUC CORPORATION since April 2019. After joining the company in April 1993, he started his career with research and development of industrial robots and has contributed to the development of several successful models. His main past responsibilities include heading the Production Engineering Department and Production Division, along with the CNC Business Division. He completed the master's course at the Department of Precision Mechanical Engineering, Graduate School of Engineering, the University of Tokyo in March 1993.
Sales of industrial robots have reached a strong recovery: A new record of 486,800 units were shipped globally – an increase of 27% compared to the previous year. Asia/Australia saw the largest growth in demand: installations were up 33% reaching 354,500 units. The Americas increased by 27% with 49,400 units sold. Europe saw double digit growth of 15% with 78,000 units installed. These preliminary results for 2021 have been published by the International Federation of Robotics.
“Robot installations around the world recovered strongly and make 2021 the most successful year ever for the robotics industry,” says Milton Guerry, President of the International Federation of Robotics (IFR). “Due to the ongoing trend towards automation and continued technological innovation, demand reached high levels across industries. In 2021, even the pre-pandemic record of 422,000 installations per year in 2018 was exceeded.”
Strong demand across industries
In 2021, the main growth driver was the electronics industry (132,000 installations, +21%), which surpassed the automotive industry (109,000 installations, +37%) as the largest customer of industrial robots already in 2020. Metal and machinery (57,000 installations, +38%) followed, ahead of plastics and chemical products (22,500 installations, +21%) and food and beverages (15,300 installations, +24%).
In 2021, industrial robot installations in Europe recovered after two years of decline - exceeding the peak of 75,600 units in 2018. Demand from the most important adopter, the automotive industry, moved at a high level sideways (19,300 installations, +/-0%). Demand from metal and machinery rose strongly (15,500 installations, +50%), followed by plastics and chemical products (7,700 installations, +30%).
The Americas recovered
In the Americas, the number of industrial robot installations reached the second-best result ever, only surpassed by the record year 2018 (55,200 installations). The largest American market, the United States, shipped 33,800 units – this represents a market share of 68%.
Asia remains world’s largest market
Asia remains the world’s largest industrial robot market: 73% of all newly deployed robots in 2021 were installed in Asia. A total of 354,500 units were shipped in 2021, up 33% compared to 2020. The electronics industry adopted by far the most units (123,800 installations, +22%), followed by a strong demand from the automotive industry (72,600 installations, +57%) and the metal and machinery industry (36,400 installations, +29%).
Video: “Sustainable! How robots enable a green future”
At automatica 2022 trade fair in Munich, robotics industry leaders discussed, how robotics and automation enable to develop sustainable strategies and a green future. A videocast by IFR will feature the event with key statements of executives from ABB, MERCEDES BENZ, STÄUBLI, VDMA and the EUROPEAN COMMISSION. Please find a summary soon on our YouTube Channel.
I am excited to start this letter with excellent news: during the Automate Show in Detroit last week, the IFR published preliminary figures on the global robotics market in 2021. The main finding in this report: Robot installations not only exceeded pre-crisis levels, but hit a new record high. In 2021, 487,000 units were installed. This is up 27% compared to 2020 and 15% compared to the previous record year 2018.
I am excited to start this letter with excellent news: during the Automate Show in Detroit last week, the IFR published preliminary figures on the global robotics market in 2021. The main finding in this report: Robot installations not only exceeded pre-crisis levels, but hit a new record high. In 2021, 487,000 units were installed. This is up 27% compared to 2020 and 15% compared to the previous record year 2018.
The North American market grew by 18%. While Canada and Mexico saw a strong rebound driven by the automotive industry, installations in the United States are substantially growing in the general industries.
The outlook for 2022 looks bright. First quarter 2022 figures from A3 show strong growth in orders and turnover. In the United States, the Great Resignation and staffing shortages are driving automation. Another very positive sign: the diversification of customers continues, driving robotics beyond automotive. Nevertheless, global headwinds make any prediction hard. China‘s COVID policy interferes with global supply chains, and the Russian invasion in Ukraine burdens economies not only in Europe, but also in North America.
Preliminary data for Asia and Europe will be published during the IFR Executive Roundtable in Munich on June 21. The final data for 2021 will be published in World Robotics on October 13, 2022.
In two Executive Roundtables, we will take a closer look at the two most important questions for the robotics industry at the moment:
How are robotics and automation transforming the North American market and what are the drivers behind market development? During the Automate IFR Executive Roundtable in Detroit, Michael Cicco of FANUC America Corporation, Greg Smith of Teradyne, Greg Brown of UPS, Melonee Wise of Fetch Robotics/Zebra, and Deepu Talla of NVIDIA discussed this question and examined the impact of the pandemic, reshoring, supply chain issues and the labor shortage on market development. A summary video of the roundtable will be published shortly.
How will robots enable a green, sustainable future? During our second IFR Executive Roundtable in Munich on June 21, Marc Segura of ABB, Dr. Stephen Travers of Mercedes-Benz, Christophe Coulongeat of Stäubli, Dr. Joachim Döhner of VDMA Battery Production & KUKA Systems and Gwenole Cozigou from the European Commission will discuss. Please let us know if you would like to participate.
On June 20-21, the 54th International Symposium on Robotics – ISR Europe 2022 - will gather participants from both industry and research in Munich and offer an insight into state-of-the-art robot technologies. The new Business Track will offer invited speakers from the industry the opportunity to present their latest developments. Last but not least, a jury from IFR and IEEE RAS will select the winner of this year's IERA Award for innovation and entrepreneurship in robotics and automation.
As this President's Report will also be my last one, I would like to take the opportunity to thank you all for contributing to the IFR work during my Presidency and for your active support and participation in numerous virtual meetings. Despite the difficult times, IFR substantially increased its membership base, we were able to futher develop the IFR strategy over the two years, and we drafted a vision and mission for the federation. This should smooth the way for my successor, who I am happy to introduce in Munich next week.
The North American robotics market experienced its best quarter ever to begin the year: Companies from the US, Canada and Mexico ordered 11,595 industrial robots – up 28% compared to the first quarter of 2021. Revenue rose by 43% and reached a value of USD 664 million. These results are in line with a positive trend worldwide: Preliminary data for 2021 show, that 486,700 industrial robots have been installed globally (+27% year-on-year).
“A strong recovery of the international robotics markets is currently in progress: Worldwide installations of industrial robots in 2021 even exceed the record year 2018,” says Milton Guerry, President of the International Federation of Robotics (IFR). “In North America, first quarter order volumes for both units and revenue were at all-time highs. Across industries, the post-COVID crisis boom creates double-digit growth over the same quarter of last year.”
Automotive orders up
In North America, car makers and manufacturers of components accounted for 47% of robot orders in Q1 2022, their orders grew by 15% year-on-year. Several car manufacturers have announced investments to further equip their factories for new electric drive car models or to increase capacity for battery production. These major projects will continue to create demand for industrial robots in the next few years. The United States has the second largest production volume of cars and light vehicles in the world, following China. Worldwide installations of industrial robots in the automotive sector reached 109,400 units in 2021 (+37% year-on-year).
Non-automotive sectors surpassed automotive
Continuing a trend, non-automotive customers have ordered more robots than automotive customers. Worldwide, the electrical & electronics industry is the strongest adopter with a record of 132,200 units installed in 2021. In North America, automotive customers orders in Q1 2022 were 5,476 units, while non-automotive customers ordered 6,122 units the same period. In seven out of the last nine quarters, orders from non-automotive customers surpassed orders from automotive customers.
How Robotics and Automation Are Transforming the North American Economy
At Automate 2022 trade fair in Detroit, robotics industry leaders discussed how robotics and automation are transforming the North American economy in an executive roundtable co-sponsored by the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) and the Association for Advancing Automation (A3).
A videocast by IFR will feature the event with key statements of executives from FANUC America, Teradyne, UPS, Zebra and NVIDIA: IFR YouTube Channel.
The final IERA Award session, the International Symposium on Robotics and the IFR Executive Roundtable will get the stage such events deserve. The automatica trade show in Munich will host these highlights - and many more - from 21 to 24 June.
We are glad that our established events once again take place on-site, after a covid-19 pause of two years.
IERA Award final session
Since 2005, IFR and IEEE Robotics and Automation Society have jointly sponsored this award honoring outstanding achievements in commercializing innovative robotics and automation technology.
This year, four finalists have been nominated:
Smart Flex Effector by Bosch Rexroth AG, Michael Danzberger
AI-powered production that empowers humans on the production lines by Drishti, Prasad Akella
MIRAI: Flexible automation for complex manual workstations by Micropsi Industries GmbH, Dominik Boesl
MAiRA® - The world’s first cognitive robot by NEURA ROBOTICS, David Reger
The session will be part of the International Symposium on Robotics (ISR) on 20 June. The winner will be officially announced and honored during the ISR gala dinner the same day, together with the awardees of the Joseph E. Engelberger Award.
54th International Symposium on Robotics (ISR)
The Symposium will be held on June 20 and 21 at the Conference Center North Messe München. In threeconference tracks and a poster session over two days, the ISR Europe 2022 will offer an insight into state-of-the-art robot technologies to participants from both industry and research. Selected conference topics include Modeling, Planning and Control, as well as Components and Technologies or Future Industrial and Service Robotics Applications. The Business Track will offer invited speakers from the industry the opportunity to present current product developments. The traditional Conference Gala Dinner will be complemented by the Scientific Society for Assembly, Handling and Industrial Robotics' (MHI) festivities - celebrating its 10th anniversary - in the presence of esteemed guests from politics, business and robotics research. Presentations of the final nominees for the Joseph F. Engelberger Award and the IERA Award are further highlights of the ISR 2022 Gala Dinner.
IFR Executive Roundtable
On June 21, “Sustainable! How robots enable a green future” will be the theme of the first European IFR Executive Roundtable to be held as an in-person event after four years of enforced break due to the pandemic.
IFR President Milton Guerry will present preliminary figures on the global robotics market in 2021. Then, experts from ABB, MERCEDES BENZ, STÄUBLI, VDMA and the EUROPEAN COMMISSION will discuss the transformation and how robotics helps to reach sustainable development goals across industries. Please find the details on our extra page.
Meet the IFR staff
Please visit us at our booth in hall B5, 121B. You will have a chance to take a look at World Robotics 2021 and meet and greet the IFR staff in person. We are looking forward to welcoming you in Munich. And don't forget to register for the numerous IFR meetings taking place in a hybrid format.
The use of robots plays an important role in reaching the sustainable development goals set out by the United Nations (17 SDGs). The International Federation of Robotics identified 13 SDGs, where robots help to create a better planet.
“The use of robots responds to the UN´s call for action,” says Milton Guerry, President of the International Federation of Robotics (IFR). “The IFR supports the United Nations´ sustainable development goals. There are fantastic new ways in which robots save resources and produce green technologies of the future.”
“The transformation on the way to a sustainable use of resources is proving robotics and automation to be key technologies,” says Dr Susanne Bieller, General Secretary of the International Federation of Robotics. “Intelligent automation reduces production costs: This helps battery technology achieve a breakthrough in e-mobility for example or fuel cells production for hydrogen-power as an alternative to fossil energy. At the same time, highly efficient production technology reduces CO2-emissions.”
Clean energy, industrial innovation and sustainable agriculture are just three examples which show how the use of robots contribute to achieve these UN sustainable development goals:
Energies of the future - electricity and solar heat – Clean Energy (UN´s SDG 7)
Pivoting away from fossil fuel makes solar heat and electricity energies of the future: Solar panels are predicted to provide roughly a third of the world's total electricity demand by 2050 – says the International Energy Agency. Heat usage makes up for half of the world’s energy usage. Keeping pace with this booming customer demand for solar panels and reflectors mean being able to produce units in greater quantities.
Industrial robots are now used as part of an automated factory production line in Sweden. Solar energy company Absolicon has developed what it sees as a gamechanger for the widespread adoption of solar heat as an energy source: A parabolic reflector focuses the solar irradiation on a receiver and turns it into steam with a temperature of up to 160 degrees for the use in industrial production. Almost all industries require heat for production processes. The solar collector´s emission-saving potential: every square meter of a solar thermal collector can produce the equivalent energy of 100 liters of oil.
The automation at Absolicon´s factory in Härnösand using two ABB robots has increased production drastically. Where the company previously produced three solar collectors per day with manual production methods, the newly installed robotic production line now has the capacity to produce a finished collector every six minutes.
Prepare-to-repair is a successful strategy for robot manufacturers and their customers to save costs and resources. This takes into account that a robot has an average service life of up to thirty years. Using less parts translating into lower risk of future failure is the first step of this approach. To offer long-term repair to customers, storage of parts is a challenge. In order to keep the large number of spare parts in stock, Japanese robot manufacturer Fanuc e.g. runs a central warehouse for Europe. It is located in Luxembourg and has the size of a football pitch with 600,000 spare parts on stock.
Since every hour of machine downtime costs the customer money, it is oftentimes more resource-efficient to transport the spare parts to the customer and repair the machine on site – rather than to manufacture and ship new machines. Manufacturers like ABB, Fanuc, KUKA or Yaskawa all run dedicated repair centers where thousands of industrial robots are refurbished and upgraded for a second life.
“Robots eliminate chemical agents” - Smart Agriculture (UN´s SDG 2)
In agriculture, new field robots eliminate the use of chemical agents. These agricultural robots travel slowly up and down the rows of crops. Equipped with cameras and artificial intelligence software, they are able to locate weeds and burn them selectively with a laser shot. The new technology does not only completely eliminate the use of herbicides. Organic farmers now have an alternative to a related process called “flaming” using propane torches to kill weeds. Flaming could only operate before crops were planted - otherwise it would also have killed the crops.
The Fraunhofer EZRT research centre and partners equipped a farming robot with navigation technology for mechanical weed control in sugar beets. The BlueBob 2.0 also does the job autonomously, so that farmers can devote their time to tasks with higher added value than manual or chemical weeding. Since manual weeding is a very tedious task for humans, the new technology also helps to improve conditions of farm work. Taking over dirty, dull and dangerous tasks is something robots excel at.
On February 20, the global community was rocked by Russia's invasion of Ukraine. We are saddened to see the impact of this violence, particularly that which is directed toward civilians. IFR strongly opposes any use of weaponized automation. Our mission is to support robotics for peaceful use, human efficiency and economic progress.
On February 20, the global community was rocked by Russia's invasion of Ukraine. We are saddened to see the impact of this violence, particularly that which is directed toward civilians. IFR strongly opposes any use of weaponized automation. Our mission is to support robotics for peaceful use, human efficiency and economic progress.
This sad and disturbing news hit our community after two years defined by the pandemic, just as the world was about to roll back restrictions and trade fairs were opening their doors again. It is too early to predict how quickly this conflict will be resolved or what kinds of implications it will have on our sector. Nonetheless, I would like to look forward, to focus on the opportunities available within the robotics community today.
From March 9-12, iREX 2022 fair in Tokyo once again opened its doors to present the latest developments in industrial as well as service robots. Although the event was based in Japan, there was an online extension to allow the rest of the world participate in the show. This year's theme, "The Way towards Friendlier Society, bridged by Robots", is timely and certainly should set an example to other parts of the world.
At the end of March, Advanced Factories 2022 in Barcelona is showcasing robotics and industry 4.0 technologies, mainly to the southern Europeans.
The busiest time of the year for roboticists certainly will be June. Automate (June 6-9 in Detroit) and then automatica (June 21-24 in Munich) will both physically open their doors for the public for the first time in three and four years, respectively.
We are looking forward not only to face-to-face business meetings and networking, but also in-person meetings of the various IFR bodies. For those who cannot join in-person, we will hold IFR meetings in hybrid format, so that the latter can join us at least virtually.
In two Executive Roundtables, we will take a closer look at two of the most important questions for the robotics industry at the moment:
How is robotics and automation transforming the economy? What impact will the pandemic, reshoring, supply chain issues, and the labor shortage have on the market development?
How do robots enable a green, sustainable future? Are circular economy, sustainable mobility, and the shift to renewable energy sources enabling sustainable production?
The Roundtables will gather executives from leading robot suppliers, end users, and politics. For those who cannot attend on-site, we will provide a summary afterwards.
On June 20-21, the 54th International Symposium on Robotics – ISR Europe 2022 - will gather participants from both industry and research in Munich and offer an insight into state-of-the-art robot technologies. The new Business Track will offer invited speakers from the industry the opportunity to present their latest developments. Last but certainly not least, a jury from IFR and IEEE RAS will select the winner of this year's IERA Award for innovation and entrepreneurship in robotics and automation.
Printing concrete rather than pouring it: the Belgian BESIX Group is working to revolutionize traditional construction methods. A KR QUANTEC from KUKA is assisting in this. It prints columns, sculptures and facade elements in 3D using concrete. Fast and environmentally friendly.
290 concrete panels form the facade of the BESIX 3D studio in Dubai, part of the Belgian BESIX Group. 290 panels, each of which was printed in around ten minutes with the aid of a KUKA robot and then simply mounted on the building on site. It was the construction group’s first groundbreaking project and is currently considered the largest 3D-printed concrete facade in the world.
Fast, environmentally friendly and safe: 3D printing with concrete is set to revolutionize traditional construction methods. The additive manufacturing process avoids waste and delivers customized solutions or even entire series in just a few hours. Construction companies around the world are currently working to find the best method for 3D printing. One of them is the BESIX Group, headquartered in Brussels. Founded in 1909, the company set up a 3D studio in Dubai for this purpose in December 2018 and installed a robot from the KR QUANTEC family for carrying out the printing.
Strong partners for new methods in additive manufacturing
“For us, it was particularly important to find a reliable partner at the start of the project who was prepared to think in new dimensions with regard to printing. We found this partner in KUKA and can now implement our project automatically,” says Benoît Meulewaeter, Senior Project Manager for Design and head of the BESIX 3D team. Together with automation specialist KUKA from Augsburg, the company developed its robot application for 3D printing with concrete as the material. All the shaped elements required by the customer are modeled in advance using 3D software.
3D software passes specifications on to KR QUANTEC
“There are no limits in additive manufacturing – even for complex requirements. 3D printing enables us to individually produce any customized shape,” explains Meulewaeter. Once the model is ready, the software transfers the data to the KR QUANTEC, which has a nozzle on its articulated arm for 3D printing. The robot then prints sculptures, facade elements and other components for buildings layer by layer according to the specifications. Fast and effective. In this way, a two-meter high column is produced in less than an hour.
No waste and low CO2 emissions through use of a robot
The customer also has flexibility when it comes to color: colorfast pigments can be mixed into the concrete material before printing to achieve the customer’s desired color. The robot not only carries out its work quickly, but also does so in near silence and in an environmentally friendly manner. The liquid concrete material is converted 1:1 into the end product, so that no waste is produced in the process. Use of the KR QUANTEC also reduces CO2 emissions since the robot can print the desired prefabricated concrete element directly at the construction site and it does not have to be specially transported.
3D printing with environmentally friendly material
Benoît Meulewaeter notes: “Through 3D printing using concrete, we are resolutely pursuing our corporate goal of offering efficient and environmentally friendly solutions.” KUKA provides support here as well. Alois Buchstab, head of the KUKA team overseeing the 3D project, says: “We are delighted that the BESIX Group has chosen KUKA as a cooperation partner. Thanks to our energy-efficient robotic solutions and expertise, we are living up to our responsibility to create a sustainable future.”
The BESIX 3D team is currently working with other partners to develop environmentally friendly concrete mixtures for additive manufacturing. These can be used in areas such as the construction of breakwaters. The company is also considering having the KUKA robot print directly on site in order to avoid transport costs. “We are highly satisfied with our collaboration and certainly will be able to move forward with many more projects with KUKA in the near future,” says Benoît Meulewaeter. The company is considering expanding its production facility in Dubai or even opening similar studios in Belgium or the Netherlands.
The quality of cheese ultimately depends on proper storage and aging. This is why the Leupolz Emmental cheese dairy in Germany’s Allgäu Alps opted for an innovative, fully automated storage and maintenance system in which round cheese loaves, each weighing approximately 80 kilos, are handled by a large Stäubli six-axis machine.
The Leupolz farm cheese dairy is located near Wangen, just north of Lake Constance, in a truly idyllic setting surrounded by forests, pastures and meadows. Founded in 1960, the cooperative employs 25 people and obtains its milk from around 170 suppliers. It processes around 45 million liters per year, equivalent to about 125,000 liters per day. Among the dairy’s specialties are cheese “wheels” weighing approximately 80 kilos, some 6,000 of which leave the farm every year, with around 10% qualifying for the Demeter organic label.
The correct maintenance and care of these huge cheeses is a laborious business. Achim Baumgärtner, Executive Assistant at Leupolz, explains: “Each cheese wheel has to be attended to about three times a week to ensure optimal quality. With an average maturation period of four months, the cheeses have to be washed, brushed and salted between 40 and 50 times, which is potentially costly in terms of labor and expenditure.”
The management team at Leupolz was looking for a solution that would be as efficient as it was economical, so that they could offer this natural product at a competitive price despite the intensive effort that goes into its storage and care. The vision of a fully automated system began to take shape…
Hygienic robots in preference to problematic linear axes
To realize this vision, they brought in Lemmermeyer, a plant manufacturer based in the Bavarian town of Deiningen. The company has extensive experience in the field of stainless steel plant construction and has built an especially strong reputation for itself in the food sector.
The stainless steel cheese maintenance system, which entered operation in 2019, is a prime example of Lemmermeyer’s design expertise. Attention was paid to compliance with stringent hygiene standards, avoidance of dead spaces, and the right choice of robot for handling the cheese wheels – in this case, the large six-axis Stäubli TX200L HE.
“If we had used classic linear axes for the handling processes within the plant, we would have come up against a major hygiene obstacle,” says Manfred Görthofer, Head of Project Management at Lemmermeyer. “Condensation buildup and lubricant contamination via the joints of the axes could not have been avoided, and this is of course problematic when processing unwrapped foodstuffs. That’s why we are increasingly moving towards the use of encapsulated Stäubli robots with their superior hygiene design for such processes.”
80 cheese wheels per hour
The Leupolz setup clearly demonstrates that the robot-assisted cheese maintenance system not only complies with strict hygiene standards, but is also impressive in terms of performance, with around 80 cheese wheels passing through the system in the space of an hour. The task of the TX200L HE (HE = Humid Environment) is to load and unload racks with either four or eight shelves on which the cheese wheels are stored. A forklift collects the racks from the maturation chamber, delivers them to the processing area, and returns them afterwards.
The six-axis robot is equipped with a special gripper that resembles the prongs of a forklift. It uses this to pick up the wooden board on which the cheese rests and places it on the system’s conveyor belt. The next step is to separate the board from its cheese wheel. The board is then cleaned, while the cheese is washed, brushed, sprayed with salt and dried with a blower. The final step is to place the cheese wheel back on its board and move it to a defined transfer position on the conveyor belt. Here, the TX200L HE picks it up and places the board together with the cheese wheel back in the correct compartment of the rack.
To ensure that the six-axis machine can approach all stations without hindrance, it is mounted on a base unit. The TX200L has a reach of just under 2.6 meters, and with a total weight of 100 kilograms to be handled (80-kg cheese wheel, 5-kg wooden board and 15-kg gripper), axis 6 operates at its full payload limit.
Trouble-free operation from day one
Even when the robot is lifting and carrying its maximum payload, it can still easily cope in continuous operation. As Achim Baumgärtner says, “Our TX200L HE has been running absolutely trouble-free since commissioning. The same applies to the entire system. We have not experienced any failures here, and even our daily cleaning procedures are incapable of harming the system or the robot.”
Stäubli’s HE robots have indeed been designed to endure even the toughest cleaning procedures with aqueous media in the 2pH - 12pH range. These robots even withstand spraying by a high-pressure water jet without any problems. This means they can be operated without an additional protective coating and cleaned quickly and thoroughly. Plus, the HE versions are just as capable as the standard robots, which puts them among the fastest on the global market, even when operating with food-grade oil.
Higher quality – happier employees
The use of robots has also resulted in impressive savings. “In the past, we needed three people to attend to the cheese. Today, it’s done by ‘half’ an employee,” says Achim Baumgärtner. “Of course, this saves on labor costs and, much more importantly, we can relieve our staff of weekend working, deploy them where they are needed more urgently, and do not have to constantly ask them to work overtime. The shop floor atmosphere and the workload have improved significantly due to the higher degree of automation.”
Another important aspect concerns the care and maintenance of the cheese wheels themselves. The enormous capacity of the robotic system makes it possible to significantly shorten the washing intervals and thereby enhance overall quality. Achim Baumgärtner: “Thanks to the robot, we can now attend to the wheels up to three times a week. In the past, we had to get by on just once or twice. The more intensive care has a positive effect on the quality of the cheese, and we have a higher product yield. This works to the benefit of the end consumer, too. Our Allgäuer Emmentaler has never tasted better!”
In the first half of 2021, China's photovoltaic (PV) industry has maintained rapid growth and continuous expansion while pursuing the goal of Carbon Peak and Carbon Neutral. Without a doubt, there are bright prospects for the industry whilst China achieves its 3060 goal.
As a manufacturer of autonomous mobile robots, Standard Robots is trying to make its mark on the PV industry, attempting to accelerate the automation of the industry. In this case, Standard Robots helped a well-known domestic PV company transport loads automatically by providing 63 AMRs for its entire factory. The company's director said, " After operating stably, Standard Robots’ 63 AMRs are able to successfully replace the manual handling and free the employees for other duties. Not only has it reduced production cost, but it has also greatly improved the productivity and safety of the company.”
Overall demands The company needed to use AMR and the upper system to achieve fully automatic transportation of raw materials across the entire factory. This process includes: dispensers to surface texturization, surface texturization to diffusion, diffusion to lasers, lasers to etching, etching to annealing, annealing to PERC（Passivated Emitter and Rear Cell), PERC to rear paste, rear paste to top paste, and top paste to laser slotting.
Detailed demands Double-decker driving shelf: length-1450mm, width-880mm , height-1300mm, weight-400kg. ·Automatic transportation of raw materials: AMR transports the double-decker driving shelf to connect with the powerless drive belt which has to convey flower baskets from AMR’s machine station to the next process.
Stringent positioning requirements Since the drive belt is powerless, it requires more precision to dock the back gear.
High handling capacity of AMR The company has tight production schedule and challenging time constraint of some processes (materials must be delivered within 5 minutes).
Strict safety requirements Conditions of on-site operation is complicated in the PV company.
Strict cleanliness Workshops in the PV industry are kept very clean but some dust will be generated while AMR operates.
Hardware 63 Standard Oasis 600C units, several automatic charging piles, 1 manual charger.
Software Matrix deployment software, FMS scheduling system, Standard central control system
Operation First, Standard Robots provides the latest FMS scheduling system with a navigation accuracy of ±5mm, combined with partial beacons attached to the machine station to achieve the docking accuracy.
Second, Standard Robots optimizes the scheduling system and rationalizes the allocation of cyclic tasks during the pre-design process.
Third, Standard Robots uses double diagonal laser radar for 360° bar code scanning, and cooperates with the vision module to ensure the safety.
Fourth, Standard Robots reduces components that easily produce dust and employs wear-resistant soft wheels to reduce dust produced by friction with the ground.
Promote the automation of the company Raw materials handling, loading and unloading are successfully automated to reduce the workload of workers.
Add benefits for the company Direct machine-to-machine docking effectively reduces the possibility of material damages caused by falling silicon wafers.
Promote the IT management of the company A full information equipment management solution has been employed to monitor AMR status in real time.
Promote the digitization of the company The line side cache is effectively controlled to further optimize the site management and accelerate material turnaround.
Help the company overcome recruitment issues Recruitment challenges and low reliability of workers are effectively resolved.
To accelerate the PV industry’s development in the new sector, Standard Robots has offered flexible industrial logistics solutions based on its laser SLAM navigation AMR and RIOT management system. In the future, Standard Robots will make every endeavor to boost the automation of companies in kinds of industries.
Every working day, a 350-ton nacelle for an 8MW offshore wind turbine leaves the Siemens Gamesa factory in Cuxhaven. In the ultra-modern flow production environment, four heavy-duty AGVs supplied by Stäubli WFT assist in transportation from station to station within the factory.
The manufacture of wind turbines for offshore installations is on a completely different scale from standard mass production. The rotor blades of the 8MW SG 8.0-167 DD turbines that Siemens Gamesa builds for offshore wind farms are 81.4 meters in length. The turbine’s total height is 167 meters (10 meters higher than Cologne Cathedral) and the nacelles weigh around 350 tons. These machines for sustainable energy production are in demand all over the world. The nacelles are built at the Cuxhaven plant, which was newly constructed in 2018 for this very task. The rotor blades come from other sister plants of the Siemens Gamesa Group.
Just as impressive as the dimensions of the turbines are the workflow and capacity of the plant in Cuxhaven. More than 250 nacelles are produced each year and loaded directly onto specially built transporter ships. In other words, the 600-strong workforce builds a complete wind turbine nacelle every day. This is flow production on a mega scale.
Clearly structured, highly flexible flow production
The three main components – the hub, the two-story “backend” machine house, and the generator itself – are assembled on three parallel production lines. The magnets that go into the generator are also manufactured at the Cuxhaven plant, with a similarly high degree of vertical integration. These three massive components are brought together to form the complete nacelle, which is then comprehensively tested at an inspection station.
Assembly takes place in cycles at individual stations, and the components, which weigh many tons, are placed on frames that allow them to be transported from station to station. This is mainly done by crane, but in order to ensure maximum flexibility, driverless heavy-duty transport systems (AGVs) from Stäubli WFT are also used for transport around the factory. The AGVs maneuver themselves into position underneath the frames, lift them up, and move them to the next assembly station.
Three high-precision AGVs with 200-ton load capacity
Three heavy-duty platform AGVs from the Stäubli WFT range with a load capacity of 200 tons are in service. They get around with the help of eight omnidirectional drive units – a patented in-house development by Stäubli WFT. Eight fixed rollers provide support when transporting the load.
A human operator moves the 8.00 x 2.62-meter platform under the frame by remote control and raises the platform by 200 mm at the push of a button. At a maximum speed of 1.2 km/h (2.1 km/h when unloaded), the operator transfers the component to the next assembly station. This ensures smooth travel and is gentle on tires as well as floors – thanks to the patented Stäubli WFT drive technology, rotary movements cause minimal abrasion.
RFID tags installed in the floor create the right conditions for semi-automatic operation. The AGVs then move between pre-programmed positions. And this is only the first stage in the integration of heavy-duty AGVs into automated material flow concepts. The control system also allows integration into Industry 4.0 environments and warehouse management systems. In addition, Stäubli WFT can provide AGV data for process optimization.
A highly efficient material flow concept
The combination of transport by crane and/or AGV has been adding value since the start of production in Cuxhaven. Ample proof of its unique advantages was provided during the first model changeover. “Production started with our 7MW offshore turbines,” says Nils Schattenmann, who is in charge of rolling equipment at the plant. “Later, and without any interruption to production, we switched to the current, much larger 8MW turbines. The time and effort involved was minimal, with the AGVs only having to be reprogrammed.”
Senior management is also completely satisfied with the vehicles supplied by Stäubli WFT in more conventional operations. “The AGVs work reliably and with high precision. Because these vehicles are an integral part of the internal material flow, we cannot afford any downtime here,” Schattenmann adds.
Transport to the test stand with 450-ton AGVs
The reliability factor applies all the more to the fourth heavy-duty AGV supplied by Stäubli WFT. Its load-bearing capacity of 450 tons is more than twice that of its predecessor, and with a platform dimension of 10.5 x 3.02 meters, it is also significantly larger. Here, 16 drive units, supported by 19 fixed castors, ensure mobility.
This AGV is essentially reserved for the final process step – the transport of the finished nacelles to the test stand. It therefore also has a fixed role in the mega-scale flow production.
The vehicle can lift and transport more than eleven times its own tare weight of around 40 tons, bringing a total weight of more than 400 tons to the weigh station. There are very few AGV manufacturers in the world that can compete in this payload class, but Stäubli WFT goes one better: For loads of 500 tons and over, multiple vehicles can be hitched together. AGV control systems are basically set up for this.
Future prospects: Two 450-ton AGVs in synchronous operation
Siemens Gamesa plans to purchase a fifth heavy-duty AGV from Stäubli WFT for the Cuxhaven plant in the near future. “We are currently setting up production for the next generation of offshore wind turbines, which will be significantly larger and also deliver an enhanced 11 MW of power,” says Schattenmann. In concrete terms, this means that the SG 11.0-200 DD will have a rotor diameter of an incredible 200 meters, and the nacelles will weigh a third more. They will also be equipped with a helicopter landing pad.
Flexibility again played a central role in planning the in-plant heavy-load material flow. For this reason, the system designers at Siemens Gamesa opted for a second model of the existing 450-ton platform rather than a single, even larger AGV. As Schattenmann explains, “We will then transport the finished nacelles of the new turbines from final assembly to the test stand on the two 450-ton vehicles operating in tandem. The fact that Stäubli WFT has the technical expertise to enable synchronous operation of vehicles of this size is a great advantage for us. It allows us to use the vehicles individually or paired up for maximum flexibility.”
Robot manufacturer FANUC and intelligent waste management start-up Recycleye are together supporting UN Sustainability Goal No 11 (Sustainable Cities) by deploying modular robotic picking systems to material recovery facilities.
The robotic picking system helps improve the efficiency of sorting at the facilities and ensures meeting higher purity standards. To date, the limited availability of scalable recognition technologies has pushed the waste management industry towards a reliance on manual waste pickers to identify and extract high value materials. Together, FANUC and Recycleye have addressed this issue by delivering intelligent automation to the industry, combining Recycleye’s validated AI computer vision technology with FANUC’s 60+ years of experience in automation.
Recycleye Robotics performs the physical tasks of identifying, picking and placing material, at a rate of 55 successful picks per minute. The novel solution automates current manual operations and enables facilities to double their total throughput. FANUC’s team of expert automation engineers designed Recycleye Robotics to weigh 75 percent less than any existing robotic waste picker currently in the market. The plug-and-play installation eliminates traditional expensive retrofit costs.
Recycleye Robotics is powered by Recycleye Vision, an AI vision system, which has been deployed across the UK and French markets, exceeding human vision in identifying and classifying all items on waste streams – by material, object and even brand. Recycleye Vision works to constantly train and learn new object detection, enabling for the robotic waste picking system to adapt to changing waste composition without any need for manual upgrades.
Japan is the world´s number one industrial robot manufacturer – delivering 45% of the global supply. In recent years, the country’s robot suppliers have increased their production capacity considerably: Their export ratio rose to 78% in 2020, when 136,069 industrial robots were shipped. These are results published by the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) ahead of the International Robot Exhibition (iREX) in Tokyo, March 09 to 12, 2022.
“Exports of Japanese industrial robots on average had a compound annual growth rate of 6% in the last five years”, says Milton Guerry, President of the International Federation of Robotics (IFR). “At the same time, imports of robots have always been extremely low. In 2020, only 2% of Japanese installations were imported. The domestic Japanese robot market is the second largest in the world after China.”
Japan´s success in China
36% of the Japanese exports of robotics and automation technology were destined for China. Like other international robot suppliers, Japanese manufacturers also serve the Chinese market directly from their factories in China. These factories on the world´s largest market for industrial robots proved to be a major advantage in 2020, when international supply chains were disrupted due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Japanese suppliers were able to benefit comprehensively from the Chinese post-crisis boom that started in the second quarter of 2020 and gained momentum in the second half of the year.
Rebound from the Covid-19 pandemic
With a market share of 22%, the United States is the other top market for Japanese exports of robotics and automation technology. Both countries – the US and China - are expected to further rebound from the Covid-19 pandemic. Together with the domestic market, the major export destinations will secure demand for Japanese robotics.
“Robots in Daily Life” - iREX Tokyo
“Japan is a highly robotized country and a global frontrunner in the use of robots for everyday life”, says Dr Susanne Bieller, General Secretary of the International Federation of Robotics. “This year´s iREX exhibition in Tokyo will focus on ways towards a friendlier society, bridged by robots. iREX will display how robots are increasingly shaping our daily lives, e.g. by improving the quality and availability of the products we receive, the reduction of carbon emissions, health outcomes or care for elderly people.”
For more background information about “Robots in Daily Life” – please download the Information Paper here.
iREX International Robot Exhibition Tokyo Big Sight, East Halls – March 9 – 12, 2022
The International Robot Exhibition was first held in 1974, and it has since been held once every two years, marking its 24th exhibition this year. The previous exhibition, held in 2019, saw participating exhibitors from 637 companies and organizations, with a total of 3060 booths which is the largest number ever. Exhibitors from outside Japan grew to 95 companies and organizations from 16 countries. Total visitor numbers exceeded 140,000 people, and the exhibition continued to capture attention from around the world as one of the largest robot trade shows in the world, with approximately 7,000 overseas visitors from 64 countries. This year, the fair will be held in a hybrid format for the first time: iREX
The International Federation of Robotics updated its paper on Artificial Intelligence in Robotics. The paper analyzes current applications of AI in robotic applications, future directions, and safety and certification considerations.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) holds great potential for robotics, enabling a range of benefits in sectors as diverse as manufacturing and healthcare. Though AI is already making its mark on robotics, it is at a much slower pace and in a far narrower field of application than is commonly assumed. This paper summarizes the most common applications of AI in robotics currently in commercial use and provides an overview of market potential over the next 5 to 10 years.
This paper looks at the most common uses of AI in commercial robotic applications and discusses market trends. It also discusses safety standards and regulation for AI in robotics. The impact of AI in robotics on work and jobs is also a topic.
Marina Bill has been appointed as new Vice President of the International Federation of Robotics with immediate effect. She represents IFR along with IFR President Milton Guerry.
The IFR Executive Board has elected Marina Bill as IFR Vice President, following Klaus Koenig’s resignation from his positions at IFR.
Marina Bill is Global Head of Marketing and Sales Robotics at ABB, member of the IFR Executive Board and current Chair of the Robot Suppliers Committee.
"There hasn’t been a more exciting time to be in our industry than right now," states Marina after her election. "We are in a period of unprecedented transformation, for robotic automation itself, and in the rapid acceleration and adaptation of its use across a wide range of industry sectors. I’m looking forward to help steer that transformation, through the IFR.”
The operational stock of industrial robots hit a new record of about 3 million units worldwide – increasing by 13% on average each year (2015-2020). The International Federation of Robotics analyzes the top 5 trends shaping robotics and automation around the globe.
“Transformation for robotic automation is picking up speed across traditional and new industries,” says Milton Guerry, President of the International Federation of Robotics. “More and more companies are realizing the numerous advantages robotics provides for their businesses.”
1 - Robots adopted by new industries
Segments that are relatively new to automation are rapidly adopting robots. Consumer behavior is driving companies to address demand for personalization of both products and delivery.
The e-commerce revolution was driven by the pandemic and will continue to accelerate in 2022. There are thousands of robots installed worldwide today that did not exist in this segment just five years ago.
In an effort to address labor shortages, companies that have not previously considered automation will reconsider. Businesses that rely on service workers, such as retail and restaurants, are unable to fill job openings, and as a result, we can expect to see them invest in automation to meet patrons’ needs. Relatively new robotics customer industries like delivery and logistics, construction, agriculture and many more benefit from technologies advancing by the day.
2 - Robots easier to use
Implementing robots can be a complex task, but new generations of robots are easier to use. There is a clear trend towards user interfaces that allow simple icon-driven programming and the manual guidance of robots. Robot companies and some 3rd party suppliers are bundling hardware packages together with software to ease implementation. This trend may seem simple, but offerings that focus on complete ecosystems are adding tremendous value by reducing the effort and the time to operation.
The trend for low-cost robotics also comes with easy setup and installation, with specific applications pre-configured in some instances. Suppliers offer standard programs combined with grippers, sensors, and controllers. App stores provide program routines for various applications and support lower-cost robot deployment.
3 - Robots and Humans up-skilling
More and more governments, industry associations, and companies are seeing the need for basic robot and automation education at an early stage for the next generation. The journey of data-driven production lines will focus on education and training. In addition to the training of workers in-house, external education routes can enhance staff learning programs. Robot manufacturers like ABB, FANUC, KUKA, and YASKAWA all register between 10,000 and 30,000 participants in their robot classes across more than 30 countries every year.
Robotics is changing job profiles of factory workers for the better. As the recent “Great Resignation” shows, people want to work in a modern environment where they can build a career. New training opportunities with robotics are a win-win strategy for companies and employees alike: Dull, dirty, and dangerous tasks get automated while people learn key skills for the industrial workplace of the future and increase their earning potential throughout their careers.
4 - Robots secure production
Trade tensions and COVID-19 are driving manufacturing back closer to the customer. Supply-chain issues lead companies to consider nearshoring with automation as a solution.
One particularly revealing statistic from the US shows how automation is helping businesses get back to business: According to the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), robot orders in the United States in the third quarter of 2021 were up 35% over the same period in 2020. More than half of the orders are from non-automotive sectors.
And this record growth isn’t just robotics either—machine vision, motion control, and motors are also seeing big increases. “The pandemic and the resulting disruptions to supply chains and labor availability appear to have been the push that many needed to justify the investment,” says Dr. Susanne Bieller, General Secretary of the IFR. “The companies most likely to invest in automation are those that have been considering it for a while but just hadn’t taken the final step.”
5 - Robots support digital automation
In 2022 and beyond, we see an emphasis on data as key enablers of future manufacturing. Data collected from intelligently automated processes will be analyzed by producers to make more informed decisions. With a robot’s ability to share tasks and learn through AI, companies can also adopt intelligent automation more easily in new environments, from construction to food and beverage packaging facilities to healthcare labs.
AI for robotics is maturing and learning robots are becoming mainstream. The industry is past the pilot phase, and we can expect to see a larger deployment of these technologies in 2022.
The new 5-year plan for the robotics industry in China, released by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) in Beijing, focuses on promoting innovation - making China a global leader for robot technology and industrial advancement. The statistical department of the International Federation of Robotics reports about the domestic and foreign engagement on the world's largest market.
“China is by far the biggest robot market in the world regarding annual sales and the operational stock,” says Milton Guerry, President of the International Federation of Robotics (IFR). “IFR´s robot density statistics is a useful indicator of China´s dynamic developments, counting the number of industrial robots per 10,000 employees: China´s robot density in the manufacturing industry currently ranks 9th globally (246 units) - compared to 25th (49 units) just five years ago.”
Automation Race in China
The automation race in China today is mainly catered by foreign robot manufacturers with a combined market share of 73%. With some volatility in the past 8 years, this share has been constant. In 2020, installations of robots from abroad - mainly imported from Japan, Korea and Europe - grew strongly by 24% to 123,030 units. This number also includes units produced in China by non-Chinese suppliers. Chinese robot manufacturers mainly deliver to their domestic market, where they held a market share of 27% in 2020 with 45,347 units shipped.
Second robotics development plan
“China released the second five-year development plan for the robotics industry – following 2016-2020,” says Song Xiaogang, Executive Director and Secretary-General of the China Robot Industry Alliance (CRIA). “The plan has great guiding significance for promoting the high-quality development of China's robotics industry during the 14th period. Robots are the key equipment of modern industry. The new 5-year plan leads the digital development and intelligent upgrading in China and also helps to promote the global robot technology progress.”
IFR China data overview - new peak in 2020
168,377 new robots installed (thereof, 45,347 units from Chinese suppliers), 20% higher than in 2019
CAGR 2015-2020: +20%
Global ranking 2020: No.1
Shares of total supply: Handling operations 42%, welding 21% electrical/electronics industry 37%, automotive industry 16%
The coronavirus crisis has caused untold damage to the personal health and finances of people throughout the world, as well as damaging national economies. However, industry has been able to play a key role in developing solutions that can mitigate the crisis.
For instance, the retail, manufacturing and public sectors are increasingly turning to innovative robotics, sensors and AI (artificial intelligence) technologies to ease the pressure on employees, accelerate processes and improve compliance with hygiene requirements. The Technical University of Darmstadt reports that the acceptance of robots has increased significantly in recent months.
Companies wanting to benefit from this trend need to act quickly and to form partnerships with organisations that have expertise in these areas. The power of such co-operation has been illustrated recently by the work carried out by German medical technology company, Senova, in conjunction with robotics experts from OMRON and mechanical engineering specialists from Kraus Maschinenbau GmbH. Senova is a leading developer and manufacturer of rapid test systems for marking biomarkers, viruses and microorganisms.
Working closely together over the past six months, the three companies have developed and built production machines that include smart robotics. These have automated, accelerated and improved the very time-consuming manual production of coronavirus antibody rapid tests. This met a vital need, as the increased testing of more and more people for the virus meant that the production of kits had to be hugely ramped up. At the same time, there needed to be more interlinked production and packaging.
The new, rapid antibody test
Senova specialises in lateral flow assay (LFA) technology. Some 30 employees are involved in the research, development, production, sales, logistics, quality management and assurance. Senova’s most recent - and most popular - product is a rapid COVID-19 antibody test. This shows within ten minutes whether someone has already been infected with the virus.
An international research team, including the Jena Leibniz Institute for Photonic Technologies (Leibniz-IPHT), developed the test. It has been available since spring 2020. A blood sample shows whether someone is currently infected with the virus or is already immune. There are two types of antibodies. The IgM antibodies are found in the blood a few days after infection, whilst IgG antibodies are only formed during the course of the infection. They often remain detectable for months and indicate an existing immunity.
This enables people including caregivers, nurses or doctors to find out whether they are immune to the virus. The research team completed the tests together with Chinese partners and a medical device distributor, Servoprax, and confirmed their effectiveness. As a result, Senova brought the first coronavirus antibody rapid test to the market in record time.
The need to boost production
Due to the worldwide demand for the new tests, Senova needs to produce them in ever-increasing quantities. The previous manual production and packaging of the test kits was unable to keep up with the thousands of order requests. The company therefore needed a more flexible, faster and more reliable way of manufacturing and packaging the test kits – all within a very tight timescale. A machine would ease the pressure on employees by streamlining and combining the various work steps (such as cutting the test strips and packaging) much more efficiently. The concept and implementation needed to be carried out particularly quickly to meet the demand - and to help contain the spread of the virus.
Joachim Kraus, Managing Director of Kraus Maschinenbau GmbH, comments on the start of the project: “Senova asked how the feeding of the packaging pouches could be automated in the best possible way. In the following discussions, we worked with the customer to develop an overall concept for feeding and packaging the test cassettes for the rapid antibody test.”
This new concept was rapidly approved. But that’s not all: following the design review, the co-operation between the two companies was expanded further. The precise cutting of the test strips and the subsequent transfer of the section and the insertion of the cut into the test cassette are now performed by machines from Kraus Maschinenbau. These are complemented by robotics and technology from OMRON, a partner of Kraus for 11 years.
Handling the blanks with a size of 3.5 to 5.0mm proved to be a particular challenge, but this was solved after a few adjustments. With the help of the new machine, 30 to 45 rapid coronavirus tests can now be cut and packaged per minute. As the demand is so great, the capacity must be continuously increased, so more machines are now planned. Production currently runs for six days a week, from 7am to 10pm.
OMRON’s robots provide precise material handling
The tests (which look similar to a pregnancy test) are produced using machines from Kraus, along with OMRON’s eCobra600 robots, Quattro 650 H four-axis parallel robots, OMRON TM5-700 cobots, PLC controls, drives and sensors. Due to the increased production volume, OMRON has already delivered additional eCobra600 Pros and integrated them into the production line. These robots are particularly reliable, flexible and powerful.
The SCARA robots are ideal for the precise processing, assembly and material handling used in medical technology. The four-axis robot has a range of up to 800mm and can be easily adapted for different applications, such as test production. The eCobra technology also offers high repeatability and a payload of up to 5.5kg. The amplifiers and controllers built into the robot reduce the number of cables needed. The overhead mounting configuration enables the efficient use of space, even in clean rooms, which are so essential in the medical technology environment.
The control and drive of the cutting and packaging machines also comes from OMRON, and is built into the production lines of Kraus Maschinenbau. Further components of the flexible COVID-19 test kit production include the Quattro 650 H four-axis parallel robots. These can be controlled by Ethernet, using the familiar programming language (IEC 61131-3) of the NX / NJ machine controllers. The four-axis arm distributes the load evenly to the robot, which supports fast and high-precision transport and assembly. The Quattro robots are designed for high payloads and multi-hand applications: several parts can be picked up at the same time. This also accelerates the production of the coronavirus test.
Cobot eases pressure on employees
But that‘s not all: another technology used in Senova‘s production line is the OMRON TM5-700 cobot. This is specially designed to work with people and machines. It can be easily transported and has an integrated image processing system, which enables quick start-ups and product changes. Due to the intuitive software, the cobot can be taught different tasks. For example, it relieves employees of recurring tasks involving test cutting and packaging and helps to increase productivity. The integrated vision camera and lighting technology enables objects to be detected precisely in a wide field of view. This system helps Senova to increase reliability, consistency and precision (e.g. in pick-and-place processes). Other functions available include pattern and colour recognition and barcode reading.
But how are the test strips cut and packaged? First, the preliminary products are fed to the line. They are then separated, positioned and placed in a servo linear unit. The product can then be positioned under the cutting knife and cut precisely. The robot inserts the blank into the plastic test cassette and assembles the front and back. The machine for packaging the rapid antibody tests then takes over the test cassettes.
The pre-assembled packaging pouches are separated by a JoKer friction feeder and dispensed onto the packaging machine. A labeler applies the labels with the relevant product data to the pouch. Another robot takes the test cassette from the upstream machine, transfers it in a special form and inserts it into the pouch. Finally, the bag is closed by thermal sealing and transferred to the delivery belt.
Christoph Waldenmeier, Sales Project Consultant at OMRON Industrial Automation Europe, comments: “During the past six months of the coronavirus crisis, the co-operation with Senova and Kraus has continued to develop. The latest generation of COVID-19 tests are now produced in a new production hall. The production lines are fully equipped with OMRON technology.“
He adds: “We are pleased that we can use our technology to support the global efforts in the fight against the coronavirus to a small extent. In times like these and in a flexible production of the future, co-operation is the be-all and end-all.“ Joachim Kraus adds: “The fast and uncomplicated implementation of this challenging project was only possible thanks to the perfect interaction and good chemistry between the customer, machine builder and system and control supplier.“
Another year is coming to an end - a year of many ups and downs. In January, there were hopes around the globe for a return to normal. In the recent weeks, Europe is speeding towards new lockdowns and restrictive measures to fight the pandemic. Last-minute cancellations of trade fairs felt more like the prior year. At the same time, China seems to have the situation under control by compromising freedom of travel and other restrictive measures intended to keep infections low.
Another year is coming to an end - a year of many ups and downs. In January, there were hopes around the globe for a return to normal. In the recent weeks, Europe is speeding towards new lockdowns and restrictive measures to fight the pandemic. Last-minute cancellations of trade fairs felt more like the prior year. At the same time, China seems to have the situation under control by compromising freedom of travel and other restrictive measures intended to keep infections low.
2021 brought about the phrase "new normal", but we long for the "old normal", being able to travel freely and meet each other in person.
Looking to our market there are encouraging signs. Robotic sales are on the rise. A record 3 million industrial robots are operating in factories around the world. Despite the global pandemic, robot sales grew slightly in 2020 at a rate of +0.5%. China led the rebound ahead of the Americas and Europe. Overall, 2020 was the third most successful year on record for the robotics industry. The outlook for 2021 is even more optimistic with a double-digit growth projected.
Several market trends are propelling the growth outlook. Localization and regionalization of supply chains will make them more resilient by bringing production closer to the customer. New business models such as Robots-as-a-service (RaaS) or Pay-as-you-use lower entry barriers. The growing supply of low-cost robots will further reduce the total cost of ownership (TCO) opening robot usage in new markets. Lastly, “Batch size 1” production allows customized product variations at the unit costs of serial production. These trends will be a driver for advanced robotics systems and provide a platform for fully digitalized production from order to delivery. The case for robots has never been stronger.
Looking to COP 26, sustainability in manufacturing is no longer a "nice-to have". This initiative will increasingly impact investment decisions where robotics have a multitude of impact:
First, robots are crucial for cost-efficient production of green technology, for example solar panels and batteries for electric vehicles.
Second, robotic production reduces the share of rejects, lowering the carbon footprint by improving input-output ratios.
Third, robot manufacturers play a crucial role in further reducing the overall energy consumption of production systems, by designing energy-efficient units and end-of-arm tools.
With a bit of luck, 2022 will be the year where we are back meeting face to face, with all three major international robotics events taking place within the first six months. We are looking forward to our industry coming together again for lively discussions, Executive Roundtables and physical IFR meetings.
I wish you a peaceful holiday season and a happy and successful start to the New Year.
Sun Chemical, a member of the DIC group, is a leading producer of printing inks, coatings and supplies, pigments, polymers, liquid compounds, solid compounds, and application materials. Together with DIC, Sun Chemical has annual sales of more than $7.5 billion and over 20,000 employees supporting customers around the world. At its production site in Frankfurt am Main Sun Chemical manufactures printing inks for direct delivery of products to customers in Europe and the rest of the world. In the summer of 2019, Sun Chemical implemented a new robotic application in Frankfurt to support its continued growth.
Recently, the demands on the production capacities at Sun Chemical in Frankfurt am Main increased considerably, so that the need for appropriate automation quickly became clear and was also confirmed by the US group management. The goal of the new solution: to achieve a sustainable improvement in the efficiency and productivity of existing processes.
The premises in an industrial area in the eastern part of Frankfurt posed several challenges for the planning: The limited space in the older building had already been used to a considerable extent, the floor was partly uneven, the ceiling was low and there was a wide window front directly behind the future robot cell. Nevertheless, the new robot system had to be integrated into the existing production and a smooth pallet transfer had to be possible.
Becker Sonder-Maschinenbau and Kawasaki Robotics were Chosen
Initial contact with the system house and robot manufacturer was established at Fachpack 2018 in Nuremberg. While offers were also obtained from Denmark, Spain and Italy, the choice quickly fell on Becker Sonder- Sun Chemical in Frankfurt am Main Maschinenbau and Kawasaki Robotics after the initial meeting at the trade fair.
The presence in Germany was definitely a decisive factor: high quality and flexibility, reliability as well as the local proximity of the Becker Group were important.
In particular, maintenance and fast support are enormously important for smooth operation of the plant and long-term investment security. Becker Sonder-Maschinenbau has been working with Kawasaki Robotics products for a long time, and the customer was also quickly convinced of the quality and reliability of the robots.
Shortly after the FachPack, Sebastian de Man, Division Manager Robotics of Becker Sonder-Maschinenbau, visited Sun Chemical for the first time and got an idea of the requirements, production and infrastructure on site. After examining several options, the order was placed in April 2019 and the new system was already commissioned in October of the same year.
It has not been the first experience with robots for Sun Chemical in Frankfurt: For several years now, a cartesian robot with three linear axes from a Danish manufacturer has been used elsewhere in the production facility. However, the 5-axis jointed-arm palletizing robot from Kawasaki Robotics clearly surpasses it in terms of precision, flexibility and working range.
Production at Sun Chemical Frankfurt is usually run in two shifts and can be run through the new robot cell without interruption. However, three shifts are also possible at any time if required and are used regularly depending on the required production volume. The robot-supported system allows maximum throughput without breaks.
Manuel Krause, Engineering & Maintenance Manager Germany at Sun Chemical, explains: "With two shifts, automation by robots definitely pays off. For three shifts it is absolutely essential".
8 to 10 buckets per minute and up to 12,000 kg of paint per day
The finished ink is filled into 3 kilogram buckets, sealed and automatically labelled.
A Kawasaki RD080N robot is equipped with a specially designed vacuum gripper and transports the closed, labelled buckets to a waiting pallet. With a maximum payload of 80 kg and a reach of 2,100 mm, the RD080N is designed specifically for palletizing applications. With industry leading work range and reliability, the high-speed palletizing robot helps companies improve production line efficiency.
As soon as the pallet is completely loaded, it is removed by an employee via a roller conveyor for film wrapping as well as further loading and replaced by an empty pallet. The robot can resume operation immediately after the change.
Particularly good for long-term planning: the system and the robot are currently running at only 50 to 80 percent of the available maximum capacity - there is still plenty of room to adapt to increasing requirements.
The system forms the end of the production process and can quickly become the bottleneck of production. But since it has been commissioned, the production capacity has been consistently higher.
Relief for the employees
In addition to increasing production capacity and long-term cost savings, the focus was also on relieving the ergonomic strain on employees. The handling of the paint buckets, the pallets as well as the regular readjustment were challenging for the employees in the long run - especially for older colleagues or those with physical complaints.
Despite initial scepticism, the system and the robot were quickly accepted and appreciated by all employees, reports Manuel Krause: "The solution must be robust and reliable - then it will be accepted. And if it is not too complex and makes the daily work of our colleagues easier, even more so".
The next robot cell is already in development
The next step in the automation of Sun Chemical's Frankfurt production is already planned: A similarly designed robotic cell for palletizing the paint buckets - but with two parallel feeders. At present, a manual feeder is used at the point of production, but this will be automated together with a second one in the future.
The new double-deck palletizer - an innovation at Sun Chemical - will reduce downtime to a minimum. If the employee removing the finished pallet is on a break or otherwise not present, the system will stop until the pallet is removed. "This can take up to 30-40 minutes in individual cases - valuable time in production and filling. With the new system, the robot can continue packing even when the pallet is full and the system can continue to run around the clock," says Krause.
A centrally positioned Kawasaki robot takes over the palletising. The new system will also have directly integrated labelling and will also handle larger containers and other coloured products. This would also significantly reduce the workload of employees. Becker Sonder-Maschinenbau is currently implementing the design and first tests - the commissioning of the new system is planned for late 2020.
The use of industrial robots in factories around the world is accelerating at a high rate: 126 robots per 10,000 employees is the new average of global robot density in the manufacturing industries – nearly double the number five years ago (2015: 66 units). This is according to the 2021 World Robot Report.
By regions, the average robot density in Asia/Australia is 134 units, in Europe 123 units and in the Americas 111 units. The top 5 most automated countries in the world are: South Korea, Singapore, Japan, Germany, and Sweden.
“Robot density is the barometer to track the degree of automation adoption in the manufacturing industry around the world,” says Milton Guerry, President of the International Federation of Robotics.
The development of robot density in China is the most dynamic worldwide: Due to the significant growth of robot installations, the density rate rose from 49 units in 2015 to 246 units in 2020. Today, China’s robot density ranks 9th globally compared to 25th just five years ago.
Asia is also the home of the country with the world´s highest robot density in the manufacturing industry: the Republic of Korea has held this position since 2010. The country’s robot density exceeds the global average seven-fold (932 units per 10,000 workers). Robot density had been increasing by 10% on average each year since 2015. With its globally recognized electronics industry and a distinct automotive industry, the Korean economy is based on the two largest areas for industrial robots.
Singapore takes second place with a rate of 605 robots per 10,000 employees in 2020. Singapore’s robot density had been growing by 27% on average each year since 2015.
Japan ranked third in the world: In 2020, 390 robots were installed per 10,000 employees in the manufacturing industry. Japan is the world´s predominant industrial robot manufacturer: The production capacity of Japanese suppliers reached 174,000 units in 2020. Today, Japan´s manufacturers deliver 45% of the global robot supply.
Robot density in the United States rose from 176 units in 2015 to 255 units in 2020. The country ranks seventh in the world – ahead of Chinese Taipei (248 units) and China (246 units). The modernization of domestic production facilities has boosted robot sales in the United States. The use of industrial robots also aids to achieve decarbonization targets e.g. in the cost-efficient production of solar panels and in the continued transition towards electric vehicles. Several car manufacturers have announced investments to further equip their factories for new electric drive car models or to increase capacity for battery production. These major projects will create demand for industrial robots in the next few years.
Europe´s most automated country is Germany - ranking 4th worldwide with 371 units. The annual supply had a share of 33% of total robot sales in Europe 2020 - 38% of Europe’s operational stock is in Germany. The German robotics industry is recovering, mainly driven by strong overseas business rather than by the domestic or European market. Robot demand in Germany is expected to grow slowly, mainly supported by demand for low-cost robots in the general industries and outside traditional manufacturing.
France has a robot density of 194 units (ranking 16th in the world), which is well above the global average of 126 robots and relatively similar compared to other EU countries like Spain (203 units), Austria (205 units) or The Netherlands (209 units). EU members like Sweden (289 units), Denmark (246 units) or Italy (224 units), have a significantly higher degree of automation in the manufacturing segment.
As the only G7 country – the UK has a robot density below the world average of 126 units with 101 units, ranking 24th. Five years ago, the UK´s robot density was 71 units. The exodus of foreign labor after Brexit increased the demand for robots in 2020. This situation is expected to prevail in near future, the modernization of the UK manufacturing industry will also be boosted by massive tax incentives, the “super-deduction”: From April 2021 until March 2023, companies can claim 130% of capital allowances as a tax relief for plant and machinery investments.
VOLA, a Danish manufacturer of luxury sanitary and kitchen fittings, has opened a new factory that incorporates a fleet of nine mobile robots from OMRON. This represents one of the most ambitious industrial mobile robot projects in the Nordics. The new robot fleet works side-by-side with people, and is controlled by an advanced fleet management system.
With over 50 years of experience, VOLA is one of Denmark’s leading manufacturers of high-quality sanitary fittings, with product lines such as bathroom mixers and kitchen taps. Due to increasing market demand for a wide range of product variants, VOLA decided to expand its plant by 5,500 square meters. This area includes a new high-bay warehouse, an assembly hall and facilities for the delivery of goods.
In one of the most ambitious projects involving industrial mobile robots in Northern Europe, VOLA commissioned a fleet of nine OMRON LD robots. These have replaced roller conveyors, leading to a more flexible production and logistics set-up that matches the company’s single-piece production process, in which everything is produced to order.
Peder Nygaard, factory director at VOLA, explains: “Roller conveyors are really efficient, but I don't know what our production set-up will look like in ten years. If we installed more conveyors in the production line, we could quickly compromise the flexibility on which we pride ourselves. That’s why we’ve chosen the autonomous robots from OMRON, as these are much more flexible.”
Seamless control of the robots
The robots have been tasked with transporting components and finished items back and forth between the high-bay warehouse and assembly hall. The robots are controlled by the OMRON Enterprise Manager - a unique fleet management system which, like a control tower at an airport, ensures a smooth flow of traffic. The system tells each individual robot where and when to move, including when it’s time to take a break to charge its batteries.
“There are only a few robot manufacturers that are able to handle the advanced fleet management of so many robots. The solution by OMRON is by far the best that we’ve seen in the market, and this is why we opted for the LD mobile robots,” says Peder Nygaard.
Seamless collaboration between people and robots
To take full advantage of its investment, VOLA designed the new factory so that it is ideal for collaboration between people and robots. For example, the locations of the mounting tables and walkways are designed for safety, convenience and the free movement of both people and robots.
The workflow has also been designed to ensure the perfect alignment of the tasks of the workers and the robots. Previously, the assembly staff would call up a job list on their screen but this is now managed by the central team. The job list will appear on the employee's screen onc they have scanned the item that the robot is transporting.
A novel implementation
“We are implementing something that hasn’t been seen before. That is why we also recognize that there will be an adjustment period when we have to ensure that our employees become used to collaborating with the robots,” says Peder Nygaard.
According to OMRON’s Area Sales Manager, Thomas Jansen, the project has taught him a lot. “Implementing mobile robots may be seen simply as a question of plug-and-play. However, we need to make sure that aspects such as the production layout, logistics and organization are taken into account in the planning phase."
The nine mobile robots at VOLA are scheduled to be supplemented by eight more robots in the next phase of the project.
The spread of COVID-19 is restricting people's activities, having a devastating effect on all industries. Under these circumstances, the resumption of travel by people for economic recovery has become an urgent social issue of concern not only for Japan but also for governments and industries around the world.
Kawasaki Heavy Industries, together with Medicaroid Co., Ltd. and Sysmex Corporation, has been working since the early stages of the spread of COVID-19 to develop an automated PCR testing system using robots to protect healthcare workers from infection risks.
This system automates and automates processes that involve infection risks using robots to protect the safety of medical personnel and to implement the procedures from the acceptance of specimens to the notification of test results in a short time (within 80 minutes) in cooperation with hospitals.
The system also packages the inspection system into 40 foot containers (processing capacity per container: 2,000 samples/16 hours), making it easy to move to a place where many people gather, and by increasing or decreasing the number of units, it is possible to flexibly respond to the number of inspections required.
The use of general-purpose robots makes it easy to change the process, making it applicable to various infectious diseases such as influenza.
First, Kawasaki started introducing pre-flight inspections at international airports in order to recover demand in the airline industry, which has been greatly affected by the decrease in international traffic. On September 22, 2021, the PCR Test Service for International Departure Passengers started at the PCR Test Center opened in Kansai International Airport (KIX) with Kansai International Airport Clinic of Kinki University School of Medicine.
With this service, the inspection time at the airport can be significantly shortened, and a negative certificate can be issued in as little as three hours from the reception of the PCR test.
In addition, by installing them at stations and at venues for sports and large-scale events, Kawasaki will contribute to the recovery of people's traffic and the elimination of restrictions on activities, and to the resumption and restoration of economic activities.
Features of the Mobile Automated PCR Testing System
Reduced time with the default PCR test, a method already recognized in the world (testing in 80 minutes or less)
Robotic automation and automation reduce the burden on physicians and healthcare professionals
Simplifies operation and saves personnel while ensuring safety by remote control
Mass production at the request of the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare Medical Association
Space-saving (Inspection system fits in 40 foot container and can be moved)
In this case, due to the introduction of the door/hood/lid assembly and adjustment line, the full automatic assembly has been realized for the four doors, engine hood, trunk lid, bumpers, and bolts in the vehicle, thus achieving the goal of changing about 80 production workers from heavy manual laborers to skilled operators, and reduced the labor cost of the production enterprise by about RMB 15.6 million every year.
This case promotes the intelligent development of the automotive industry, ensures a sustainable consumption and production mode, and promotes inclusive and sustainable industrial development by innovating manufacturing technology.
The body-in-white door/hood/lid production line is the production line with the most challenging automatic integration in the automotive field. This time, Risong Technology launched the leading automatic, intelligent and flexible door/hood/lid production line and took the lead in mass production. Adopting all-round high-tech automation schemes—"Intelligent Visual Guidance Technology", "Intelligent Tightening Technology" and "Intelligent Quality Control Technology", with many core technologies reaching the international advanced level, the assembly line belongs to the model line case of intelligent manufacturing industry.
The production line includes processes such as automatic grabbing from the EMS line in the air, automatic calibration, gap measurement, visual guidance, automatic tightening assembly, quality monitoring, and torque monitoring, and deeply integrates intelligent elements such as laser and binocular vision, automatic tightening system, information monitoring system, flexible NC, high-speed conveying, and intelligent IoT. The entire line is fully automated by NC fixtures, and the shuttle system is used for body conveying, thus realizing the automatic assembly for the four doors, engine hood, trunk lid, and rear bumper in the takt time of 54 second/unit, automatic tightening of 64 screws, 4-second station conveying, and mixed line production for 8 models, with an annual production capacity of 200,000 units. It is of innovative and advanced significance to have achieved a high automation rate, high production efficiency, high production quality and high flexibility of automatic assembly.
Ultra-high-speed conveying technology assists high-efficiency assembly in 54 seconds/unit
It is difficult for people to travel at high speed under extreme load, but robots can do so with the help of technology.
Risong Technology applied the self-developed ultra-high-speed conveying technology to the assembly and adjustment line of the door/hood lid of the vehicle body, and adopted the reciprocating circular conveying device; through the developed two forms of lifting in the middle of the body and lifting the doorsills on both sides, and through the auxiliary motion control unit cooperating with the multiservo drive system, the assembly and adjustment line has achieved high-speed and accurate conveying, and created a record of conveying among 18 work items of the body in white in 4 seconds! The assembly line not only ensures the stable conveying, but also has the advantages of adapting to multi-model production and occupying a small space, which greatly improves the production efficiency! The entire line is able to complete the intelligent assembly of the four doors, engine hood, and trunk lid for one unit of vehicle in 54 seconds.
Mixed line production for 8 models satisfied the challenging customization requirements
In the era of high-speed operation and constant change, people's pursuit of vehicle models is also changing with each passing day, and the demand for high elasticity, flexibility and customization of automotive manufacturing becomes inevitable. The NC flexible positioning system developed by Risong Technology enables the assembly line to realize the collinear production of any vehicle model, random mixing and seamless switching in the production process. The assembly and adjustment line is provided with more than 230 sets of flexible NC positioning systems, which are capable of seamlessly positioning and grabbing the body chassis and door/hood/lid of each vehicle model, thus realizing fully automatic and random switching, satisfying the requirement of random mixed collinear production for 8 vehicles, and realizing the maximum production efficiency in the minimum space.
The flexible mixed production for 8 models is a big challenge for the assembly and adjustment line. The mass production in the door/hood/lid area needs to be matched with the mixed production in the assembly line exactly item by item. In the project, through nearly 100 logic programs in each location, with the help of vehicle type identification and vehicle type information conveyed by MES, each door is intelligently and automatically matched and then conveyed to the assembly line, thus realizing the intelligent system. The flexible technology can be controlled independently, so that automotive manufacturers can easily adjust the takt time, production models, etc., achieve high flexibility and high customization, and reduce production costs such as the costs in updating automotive manufacturing devices and upgrading personnel skills.
3D vision technology realizes efficient machine intelligence
While human visual recognition is limited, machine vision can be accurate and precise. In unmanned intelligent manufacturing, machine vision plays a major part in ensuring that the production quality reaches the standard. The assembly and adjustment line consists of 4 sets of vision systems, and the 3D laser vision accuracy is as high as 0.1 mm. The vision guidance technology sends the deviation value to the robot controller after the accurate comparison of the measured images with calculation, automatically corrects and compensates the robot's motion trajectory, and guides the robot to the accurate actual working position, thus realizing the accurate grabbing and positioning of the mounting holes of the vehicle body, the door and the door hinge, and the accurate measurement and assembly of the door frame of the vehicle body. The machine vision intelligent assembly technology developed by Risong Technology has the characteristics of a large measuring range, good flexibility, and high precision; it can realize automatic assembly with a high automation rate, high production efficiency, high production quality, and high flexibility.
The "quality door system" becomes a model of intelligent IoT to achieve the optimal production quality
In terms of quality control, the "quality door system" introduced along with the assembly and adjustment line is a model of intelligent IoT. The system collects all quality information of the entire production line and sends it to the cloud platform to form a complete data feedback and monitoring database. By comparing and analyzing the fluctuation through big data, the assembly quality of each vehicle body can be traced at any time, and the information of each production cycle can be monitored, thus forming a complete closed-loop production line system from automatic production to quality monitoring and feedback. Furthermore, the defect removal and process optimization are completed, which ultimately improves the automotive manufacturing quality and increases the manufacturing efficiency, while effectively avoiding the possible loss due to device failure.
Contributions to UN's Sustainable Development Goals
In this case, through innovative and advanced manufacturing technologies, it promotes the intelligent development of the automotive industry, ensures sustainable consumption and production patterns, and promotes inclusive and sustainable industrial development. It also further strengthens the implementation methods of sustainable development and activates the global partnership for sustainable development through technological innovation and global promotion and popularization of new production technologies. It complies with Articles 9, 12 and 17 of Sustainable Development Goals.
To promote the digitalization, networking and intelligent transformation of enterprises and accelerate the integration of manufacturing and Internet, Risong Technology has established a remote operation and maintenance platform for robotic and intelligent devices based on remote operation and maintenance of robots and aiming at process data management.
The project case was developed by Guangzhou Risong Intelligent Technology Holding Co., Ltd., and was selected as the application direction of platform integration innovation for the 2020 Industrial Internet Pilot Demonstration Project of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. To promote the digitalization, networking and intelligent transformation of enterprises and accelerate the integration of manufacturing and Internet, Risong Technology has established a remote operation and maintenance platform for robotic and intelligent devices based on remote operation and maintenance of robots and aiming at process data management. The platform integrates technologies such as the device cloud platform and process expert database, and can provide customers with services such as device status monitoring, operation and maintenance order management, spare parts management, fault statistical analysis, spot check and tour inspection, remote operation and maintenance assistance, etc., thus enhancing customer service experience and increasing customer engagement, from selling devices alone to providing customers with digitalized factory overall solutions. Therefore, the corporate competitiveness and profitability are improved. The implementation of the industrial Internet platform project has helped us realize the transition from the traditional on-site service to the remote robotic operation and maintenance plus mobile app service, greatly reducing the number of business trips and reducing carbon emissions. The number of after-sales service personnel has been reduced by 30%, thus saving labor costs and enhancing the sustainable corporate competitiveness.
The project provides an efficient technology for remote cooperation and communication based on the industrial Internet platform, integrating the industrial Internet, cloud computation technology, mobile communication, etc., with the remote device operation and maintenance as the target application scenario, and has developed a remote device operation and maintenance system, providing reliable data bases for operation and maintenance service personnel through the cloud platform, and effectively solving some common difficulties and tricky points in the operation and maintenance processes of the industry.
In this project, artificial intelligence technology is applied to industrial application scenarios, and advanced AI technology is used to guide and assist actual production, thus reducing labor costs and improving production and management efficiency of enterprises. As the foundation of industrial artificial intelligence, huge amounts of high-quality operation, maintenance and process data is particularly important for intelligent manufacturing enterprises to become digitalized and smarter. According to its rich experience in the industry and advanced information technology, Risong Technology has developed a process management platform based on IT-based management methods, which can effectively manage all kinds of data generated in the production process, and with overall consideration of historical data, recommend the optimal parameters according to the target scenarios, effectively improving the accuracy of parameter selection, reducing the rejection rate and shortening the time for launching customers' new products, and fully activating and utilizing the company's invisible data assets.
II. Main Practices
1. Methods and measures
Firstly, by combining the experience of engineers with information management technology, the process management platform can help enterprises effectively manage the process data involved in various industries and processing methods, and fully solve the problem of lack of effective management methods due to the wide range of processes involved.
Secondly, besides process data, the process management platform also provides data sheets such as the device library, joint library, and knowledge base to help enterprises manage more process data. In addition, the process database utilizes the process data accumulation by Risong Technology for years and advanced artificial intelligence technology to further develop the automatic planning of path and process parameters on the traditional process management platform, and automatically complete the functions of process design, process flow optimization, and quality prediction, so that enterprises can obtain direct practical value from the data, and the accumulated data can guide the process links, reduce the production and management costs of enterprises, and promote the transformation of enterprises into digital and digital-driven enterprises.
The remote operation and maintenance module of Risong Technology Industrial Internet Platform integrates the knowledge base of Risong Technology robot corrective maintenance, which can effectively support Risong Technology's field engineers, partners and customers in detecting, checking and dealing with various problems in the operation of devices.
2. Main work
The process database expert system independently developed by Risong is based on artificial intelligence technology. It realizes automatic planning of path and process parameters through machine learning and deep learning, and automatically completes process design, process flow optimization and quality prediction. According to the process qualification data and production verification data, the database can carry out self-learning based on the Internet of Things, using controllers and sensors to acquire all kinds of parameters and quality data, constantly improving the database, and realizing self-adaptive and self-adjusting advanced process technology through artificial intelligence technology.
3. Issues to be solved
The service objects, service scenarios and issues of the project include but are not limited to: (1) For device manufacturers: improving after-sales efficiency and reduce after-sales costs, increasing after-sales revenue, improving sales of devices and accessories, and providing big data support for product improvement. (2) For device users and operators: improving production efficiency and reducing energy consumption, preventing device failure and reducing losses, improving operational efficiency and reducing maintenance costs, improve product quality and reducing production ramp-up time, and reducing production cost.
The platform can interact remotely to effectively reduce the contact frequency between people and the spread probability of the COVID-19 pandemic. Today, when the pandemic is still raging, it can play an important role in ensuring the normal operation of customers' site devices, showing strong resilience. Different from the traditional site-oriented face-to-face operation and maintenance assistance, the platform fundamentally eliminates the possible spread of the COVID-19, so it ensures the health of operation and maintenance personnel and service personnel, and at the same time effectively ensures the normal operation of customer site devices. In the face of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, thanks to innovative operation and maintenance methods, the platform is not affected by the pandemic at all, and it is full of resilience.
The platform can significantly improve the timeliness and economy of the platform's participation in corporate operation and maintenance businesses, reduce energy waste and effectively reduce carbon emissions. Traditional operation and maintenance methods require operation and maintenance service personnel to provide on-site services for customers. For both Party A and Party B, the timeliness and economy of operation and maintenance services are not high. For Party A, failure to locate and solve problems the first time when faults occur means device downtime, which means idling of other devices and letting personnel waiting. For Party B, whether arranging personnel for long-term on-site attendance or on-site service after problems occur, it means the additional transportation cost and the waste of effective working hours. For traditional service organizations or departments, the annual transportation cost is a high-expenditure item. All these can be effectively solved after the emergence of the remote operation and maintenance mode. In the remote operation and maintenance mode, after problems occur, the timeliness of operation and maintenance services is greatly improved, and Party B's transportation cost can be greatly reduced. The improvement in energy efficiency of Party A and Party B will eventually translate into the reduction of energy consumption, thus effectively reducing carbon emissions.
III. Effectiveness and Experience
1. Characteristic achievements
Compared with the existing traditional process database, Risong Technology's process management platform covers a wider range of industries, involving more comprehensive processing methods and processes, and incorporates the expert system based on process big data into the database, which not only realizes efficient data management, but also realizes information extraction from data to guide the processes for improving production efficiency.
With a wider range of industry standards and data and full coverage of all kinds of process specification parameters, the real omni-directional, multi-angle, and high-efficiency data management is realized.
With "data-driven" as the core idea, the functions of self-learning, self-adaptation and self-adjustment are realized to a great extent using artificial intelligence technology and advanced process technology.
The establishment of the process management platform is, so to speak, able to meet the needs of enterprises for data management, and at the same time, it can generate direct guidance for the process through the expert system to help reduce production costs and improve efficiency. With its knowledge and experience in manufacturing technology, management technology and information technology application, the project is obviously advantageous in competitiveness.
With this project, Risong Technology can share and exchange on-site experience with its partners and customers, and form a knowledge system of device operation failure among them, so that the three can fully communicate in the system, and make use of the advantages of the Internet, so that more customers can experience more efficient and considerate on-site support services.
2. Experience that can be replicated and popularized
Based on the industrial Internet, the project can form solutions such as remote device operation and maintenance and process management, solve key problems such as process optimization and intelligent tour inspection, and form application cases in automotive equipment and construction machinery industries, and has the feasibility of being promoted to other industries.
This project can accelerate the transformation of the manufacturing production mode, management mode and business paradigm, and help improve the quality of manufacturing products and services. After the first demonstration of the project technology, its technology and application mode can be extended to many fields such as aviation, aerospace, shipbuilding, machinery, automotive, electronics and electricity. The project is of important theoretical significance and practical engineering value.
On the basis of comprehensive consideration of advancement, operability, economy, industrialization and other factors, the research scheme and technical route are formulated based on the relevant research results of the relatively mature and advanced technology and the existing corporate technical solutions. Through pilots and demonstration, new models and formats that can be replicated and promoted will be formed, promoting the innovative development of the industrial Internet and artificial intelligence.
Contributions to UN's Sustainable Development Goals
The project establishes resilient infrastructure, promotes inclusive and sustainable industrial development, and ensures sustainable consumption and production patterns by accelerating innovation. In addition, it also further strengthens the implementation methods of sustainable development and activates the global partnership for sustainable development through technological innovation and global promotion and popularization of new production technologies. It complies with Articles 9, 12 and 17 of Sustainable Development Goals.
Handling tasks are one of the most typical task executed by robots. So far, programming and setup costs are still quite high and worthwhile for low mix high volume (LMHV) productions.
But what if, in times of increasingly personalized production, the variety of parts increases? Often, these efforts become uneconomical. The same applies to the use of robots in warehouses, logistics centers, or in the retail trade: The variety of articles is extremely high and teaching in each individual object that a robot should be able to grasp is too costly.
In this context, AI technologies can make robots more autonomous and more flexible and enable new applications. Automation solutions become economically feasible even under challenging conditions. Researchers from Fraunhofer IPA are showing what such an example might look like in the deep picking project. Among other things, they are working with the company »Premium Robotics« and develop AI-based image processing solutions that enable robots to recognize and grip unknown packaging units on pallets.
In the past, classical image processing approaches that require a high degree of domain and expert knowledge were used for the localization and gripping of objects by robots. However, these methods are often not sufficient for more demanding tasks, such as gripping closely stacked products that all have a very similar appearance. In addition, the time-consuming training of new products is another obstacle. An experimental setup developed by Fraunhofer IPA and Premium Robotics illustrates the use case and benefits offered by AI. The closely stacked objects on the load carrier cannot be gripped or approached arbitrarily without affecting other objects. The task was to investigate different approaches for object detection and to test their application in the field of goods picking by robots.
In addition, methods based on convolutional neural networks (CNN) for object recognition and pose estimation were investigated. Since training new products is correspondingly costly – training samples of image data have to be generated and manually annotated – the model training was performed in a simulation environment and the trained model was subsequently transferred to the real world. Successfully tested objects were all kinds of packages like open and closed boxes, trays with bottles, cans and cups, transparent objects, different types of packaging of any shape encountered in a warehouse and all of this under challenging illumination conditions and background reflections.
The market for professional service robots reached a turnover of 6.7 billion U.S. dollars worldwide (sample method) – up 12% in 2020. At the same time, turnover of new consumer service robots grew 16% to 4.4 billion U.S. dollars.
This is according to World Robotics 2021 – Service Robots report, presented by the International Federation of Robotics (IFR).
“Service robots continued on a successful path proving the tremendous market potential worldwide,” says IFR President Milton Guerry. “Sales of professional service robots rose an impressive 41% to 131,800 units in 2020.”
Five top application trends for professional service robots were driven by extra demand of the global pandemic:
One out of three units were built for the transportation of goods or cargo. Turnover for Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMR) and delivery robots grew by 11% to over 1 billion US dollars. Most units sold operate in indoor environments for production and warehouses. The trend goes towards flexible solutions, so that the AMR´s act in mixed environments together e.g. with forklifts, other mobile robots or humans. There is also a strong market potential for transportation robots in outdoor environments with public traffic, e.g. lastmile delivery. Marketing and monetarization options will depend on the availability of regulatory frameworks which currently still prevent the large-scale deployment of such robots in most countries.
Demand for professional cleaning robots grew by 92% to 34,400 units sold. In response to increasing hygiene requirements due to the Covid-19 pandemic, more than 50 service robot providers developed disinfection robots, spraying disinfectant fluids, or using ultraviolet light. Often, existing mobile robots were modified to serve as disinfection robots. There is a high ongoing potential for disinfection robots in hospitals and other public places. Unit sales of professional floor cleaning robots are expected to grow by double-digit rates on average each year from 2021 to 2024.
In terms of value, the sales of medical robotics accounts for 55% of the total professional service robot turnover in 2020. This was mainly driven by robotic surgery devices, which are the most expensive type in the segment. Turnover increased by 11% to 3.6 billion U.S. dollars.
A tremendously growing number of robots for rehabilitation and non-invasive therapy make this application the largest medical one in terms of units. About 75% of medical robot suppliers are from North America and Europe.
The global pandemic created additional demand for social robots. They help e.g. residents of nursing homes to keep contact with friends and family members in times of social distancing. Communication robots provide information in public environments to avoid personal human contact, connect people via video for a business conference or help with maintanance tasks on the shopfloor.
Hospitality robots enjoy growing popularity generating turnover of 249 million US dollars. Demand for robots for food and drink preparation grew tremendously - turnover almost tripled to 32 million US dollars (+196%). The Covid-19 pandemic created increased awareness to avoid contact with food products. There is still a huge potential for hospitality robots with medium double-digit annual growth predicted.
Service robots for consumer use
Robots for domestic tasks are the largest group of consumer robots. Almost 18.5 million units (+6%), worth 4.3 billion US dollars, were sold in 2020.
Robot vacuums and other robots for indoor domestic floor cleaning were up 5% to more than 17.2 million units with a value of 2.4 billion US dollar. This kind of service robot is available in almost every convenience store, making it easily accessible for everyone. Many American, Asian, and European suppliers cater to this market.
Gardening robots usually comprise lawn mowing robots. This market is expected to grow by low double-digit growth rates on average each year in the next few years.
Service robotics industry structure
“The service robot industry is developing at a high pace,“ says IFR President Milton Guerry.” “Lots of start-up companies appear every year, developing innovative service robot applications and improving existing concepts. Some of these young companies disappear as quickly as they emerged. The activity remained high in the service robotics space with acquisitions by incumbents and acquisitions by companies from industries with a desire to expand and work in this exciting area.”
Worldwide, 80% of the 1.050 service robot suppliers are considered incumbents that were established more than five years ago. 47% of the service robot suppliers are from Europe, 27% from North America and 25% from Asia.
World Robotics 2021 edition
Orders for World Robotics 2021 Industrial Robots and Service Robots reports can be placed online. Further downloads on the content are available here.
Graphs, presentations and German press release are available below.
The World Robotics 2021 Industrial Robots report shows a record of 3 million industrial robots operating in factories around the world – an increase of 10%. Sales of new robots grew slightly at 0.5% despite the global pandemic, with 384,000 units shipped globally in 2020. This trend was dominated by the positive market developments in China, compensating the contractions of other markets. This is the third most successful year in history for the robotics industry, following 2018 and 2017.
“The economies in North America, Asia and Europe did not experience their Covid-19 low point at the same time,” says Milton Guerry, President of the International Federation of Robotics. “Order intake and production in the Chinese manufacturing industry began surging in the second quarter of 2020. The North American economy started to recover in the second half of 2020, and Europe followed suit a little later.”
“Global robot installations are expected to rebound strongly and grow by 13% to 435,000 units in 2021, thus exceeding the record level achieved in 2018,” reports Milton Guerry. “Installations in North America are expected to increase by 17% to almost 43,000 units. Installations in Europe are expected to grow by 8% to almost 73,000 units. Robot installations in Asia are expected to exceed the 300,000-unit mark and add 15% to the previous year’s result. Almost all Southeast Asian markets are expected to grow by double-digit rates in 2021.”
Asia, Europe and the Americas - overview
Asia remains the world’s largest market for industrial robots. 71% of all newly deployed robots in 2020 were installed in Asia (2019: 67%). Installations for the region´s largest adopter China grew strongly by 20% with 168,400 units shipped. This is the highest value ever recorded for a single country. The operational stock reached 943,223 units (+21%). The 1-million-unit mark will be broken in 2021. This high growth rate indicates the rapid speed of robotization in China.
Japan remained second to China as the largest market for industrial robots, though the Japanese economy was hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic: Sales declined by 23% in 2020 with 38,653 units installed. This was the second year of decline following a peak value of 55,240 units in 2018. In contrast to China, demand from the electronics industry and the automotive industry in Japan was weak. Japan’s operational stock was 374,000 units (+5%) in 2020.
The outlook for the fiscal year 2021 is positive with an expected GDP growth rate of 3.7%. The Japanese robotics market is expected to grow by 7% in 2021 and continue to do so by 5% in 2022. Independent of the domestic market for robotics, the major export destinations will secure demand for Japanese robotics. Even though a major share of production today takes place directly in China, 36% of the Japanese exports of robotics and automation technology were destined for China. Another 22% of the exports were shipped to the United States.
The Republic of Korea was the fourth largest robot market in terms of annual installations, following Japan, China and the US. Robot installations decreased by 7% to 30,506 units in 2020. The operational stock of robots was computed at 342,983 units (+6%).
The export-oriented economy has coped with the pandemic remarkably well so far. In 2020, GDP was down by just 1%, and for 2021 and 2022 strong GDP growth of +4% and +3% is expected. The electronics industry and the semiconductor industry, in particular, are investing heavily. An investment support program launched in May 2021, will further boost investment in machinery and equipment. The demand for robots both from the electronics industry as well as from the automotive suppliers is expected to grow substantially by 11% in 2021 and by 8% annually on average in the next years following.
Industrial robot installations in Europe were down by 8% to 67,700 units in 2020. This was the second year of decline, following a peak of 75,560 units in 2018. Demand from the automotive industry dropped by another 20%, while demand from the general industry was up by 14%.
Germany, which belongs to the five major robot markets in the world (China, Japan, USA, Korea, Germany) had a share of 33% of the total installations in Europe. Italy followed with 13% and France with 8%.
The number of installed robots in Germany remained at about 22,300 units in 2020. This is the third highest installation count ever - a remarkable result given the pandemic situation that dominated 2020. The German robotics industry is recovering, driven by strong overseas business. Robot demand in Germany is expected to grow slowly, mainly supported by demand for low-cost robots in the general industry and outside of manufacturing.
In the United Kingdom, industrial robot installations were up by 8% to 2,205 units. The automotive industry rose by 16% to 875 units - representing 40% of the installations in the UK. The food and beverage industry almost doubled their installations from 155 units in 2019 to 304 units in 2020 (+96%). The food and beverage industry had a high share of foreign workers, often from Eastern Europe, is facing a massive labor shortage. With continued Covid-19-related travel restrictions as one reason and Brexit another, the demand for robots in the United Kingdom is expected to grow strongly at two-digit percentage rates in 2021 and 2022. [struggling to connect] The modernization of the UK manufacturing industry will be boosted by a massive tax incentive. The newly installed 2,205 units in the UK are about ten times less than the shipments in Germany (22,302 units), about four times less than in Italy (8,525 units) and less than half the number in France (5,368 units).
The USA is the largest industrial robot user in the Americas, with a share of 79% of the region´s total installations. It is followed by Mexico with 9% and Canada with 7%.
New installations in the United States slowed down by 8% in 2020. This was the second year of decline following eight years of growth. While the automotive industry demanded substantially fewer robots in 2020 (10,494 units, -19%), installations in the electrical/electronics industry grew by 7% to 3,710 units. The operational stock in the United States increased by 6% CAGR since 2015.
The overall expectations for the North American market are very positive. A strong recovery is currently in progress and the return to pre-crisis levels of industrial robot installations can be expected for 2021. Robot installations are expected to grow by +17% in 2021. A post-crisis boom will create additional growth at low double-digit rates 2022 and beyond.
The “boom after crisis” is expected to fade slightly in 2022 on a global scale. From 2021 to 2024, average annual growth rates in the medium single-digit range are expected. Minor contractions may occur as a statistical effect, ‘catch-up’ occurs in 2022 or 2023. If this anomaly takes place, it will not break the overall growth trend. The notable mark of 500,000 units installed per year worldwide is expected to be reached in 2024.
World Robotics 2021 edition
Orders for World Robotics 2021 Industrial Robots and Service Robots reports can be placed online. Further downloads on the content are available here.
Graphs, presentations and press releases on the German, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, US, UK, Swedish and Spanish/Brazilian/Latin American market are available below. All graphs are also part of the presentations.
A push to automate is changing the way humans and machines work together. The number of industrial robots installed in factories reached about 3 million units worldwide in 2020 – more than doubling in ten years. The IFR has researched how robotics training shapes current and future workforce education, enhancing skills development for employees.
“Automating dull, dirty and dangerous tasks is changing job profiles of factory workers for the better,” says Milton Guerry, President of the International Federation of Robotics. “Academies run by robot manufacturers play a key role in making this transition possible. Employers send thousands of workers to robotics training every year.”
Robot manufacturers drive education
Robot manufacturers like ABB, FANUC, KUKA, and YASKAWA all register between 10,000 and 30,000 participants in their robot classes across more than 30 countries every year. The training programs range from basic programming for the first-time user to complex workshops: “The automotive industry traditionally plays a leading role in upskilling workers for the use of robotics,” says Gerhard Müller, Vice President Global Customer Services at KUKA. “Volkswagen, for example, decided to host one of our KUKA colleges directly at their headquarter factory in Wolfsburg, Germany. We start with basic training for people who have never used a robot before. For professionals, we offer about 70 different modules ranging from basic operation and programming to complex commissioning of entire robot systems.”
“Training programs set up by international robot manufacturers provide key skills for the industrial workplace of the future,” says Alexander Bongart, Head of the FANUC Academy Germany. “What participants learn in our headquarter school near Mount Fuji in Japan is what they also get in our training schools established in the United States, Europe or China. Robotic certificates for workers are valid around the globe and qualify for fantastic new career opportunities. This is not limited to the classic adopters of robotic and automation like the car industry but also true for small and midsized companies from a wide range of branches.”
As more industries move towards automation than ever before, robotics training also becomes part of public education in the US, Europe and Asia: “In China for example, ABB Robotics’ cooperation with vocational schools dates back to 12 years ago,” says Arno Strotgen of ABB`s Robotics & Discrete Automation business area. “Today, 700 vocational schools are part of the project. We use industrial robots for our trainings and provide 1,000 new robots every year, only to China. At the same time, simulation software and augmented reality open up new ways of teaching. The days, when everyone needed to be an engineer to handle a robot, are definitely over.”
With more than 50 academy facilities around the globe, Yaskawa sets the stage to be in touch with their customers - not only with production but especially with services: “Trainings are part of the core of our strategy” says Armin Schlenk, Director Marketing and Business Development of Yaskawa Europe. The company headquartered in Japan, also partners with public schools. The Hans-Dietrich-Genscher-Schule near Bonn, Germany, for example runs a program for participants to gain a foundation in programming and operating industrial robots. Students can earn a certificate that recognizes their proficiency in operating a robotic arm from manufacturer Yaskawa — the same certificate as adults.
Education policies need updates
“Governments face the need to update their education policies. The qualification to program and use a robot is an essential skill required of workers before they even enter a job on the shop floor,” says IFR´s president Milton Guerry. “To enable the transition, robot manufacturers are the best possible partners, providing the right skills necessary to work with intelligent automation systems. The International Federation of Robotics invites public authorities to team up with the experts and to use their know-how to deliver education for the workplace of the future.”
The global robotics industry looks at the proposed European Artificial Intelligence Act. What impact will it have on our economy and the automation industry?
On October 28, IFR will publish the final figures of World Robotics 2021. In the meantime, we would like to share a first outlook:
The COVID-19 pandemic presented both a challenge and an opportunity to the robotics industry. The electronics industry strongly benefited from the transition to work from home and the push in digitization, thus heavily investing in robots and automation. Regionally, declining figures in Europe and in the Americas were compensated by growth in Asia.
Robotics have proven to be key for organizations requiring the flexibility to quickly adapt production and respond to changes in demand as well as smaller batch sizes. The benefits of increased productivity safeguards jobs by keeping companies competitive. The outlook for the robotics industry is optimistic. OECD projects global GDP growth to be 5.5% in 2021 and 4% in 2022.
Robotics and Automation increase economic competitiveness, enable technology development through advancing manufacturing capability and reduce our carbon footprint with localized production. Individuals, companies and countries recognize the roles robotics and automation are playing and welcome their future potential, which - at least to a certain extent - will hinge on developments like Artificial Intelligence (AI) for robotics. Not without certain concern does the global robotics industry looks at the proposed European Artificial Intelligence Act. What impact will it have on our economy and the automation industry?
While lawful, safe, and trustworthy AI applications are imperative, we are alarmed that this future piece of legislation may hamper innovation. Ensuring legal certainty for investments and creating acceptance for new technologies certainly will help our industry. On the other hand, we are concerned that the role of "unpredictable AI" in industrial applications is overemphasized and overestimated, leading to disproportionate barriers and huge administrative burdens. This could result in a lack of competitiveness and sustainability for the European manufacturing industry and society at large.
The opportunity for leadership is once again in front of our industry. Responsible and transparent development will promote reassurance of the intent for good. IFR is working on a joint position of the global robotics industry to support its members to start the dialogue with the legislators. Reach out to the IFR secretariat to learn more.
Robots can significantly improve health at work in industry sectors that involve heavy lifting, including manufacturing, logistics, healthcare and retail. Chronic and acute injuries due to heavy lifting and unergonomic work take a heavy toll, both on employee health, and on the economy.
Robots carry out dull, repetitive and frequently unergonomic work, fetching and carrying loads and completing tasks that often cause muscle strain. For example, Svedplan uses a fleet of 30 robots to pack 2.6 million wardrobes per year into self-assembly packs for IKEA, doing the heavy lifting of placing the parts in the packages. Using robots has improved productivity at the plant by 45%, enabling Svedplan to remain competitive and avoid job losses.
Mobile robots fetch and carry materials in manufacturing, logistics,healthcare and retail, bringing parts to assembly lines, products to workers in e-commerce who are assembling orders, and linens and other items to nurses and nursing aids.
Cobot assistants improve work for manufacturing employees
Robots support overall wellbeing by enabling workers – from production operators to nurses – to focus on more interesting and satisfying tasks. In manufacturing, for example, robots increasingly work directly alongside production operators as assistants. Many of these are ‘cobots’ – lightweight robots with specially rounded edges, able to slow or stop when a worker comes into their field of operation. They perform parts of the overall task that are the least ergonomic for the employee, while the employee completes the other tasks and ensures the process is carried out correctly. In this video, for example, the robot lifts and places heavy automotive transmission cases, and the production operator then completes assembly.
Exoskeletons take the strain
Exoskeletons – wearable robots – are increasingly adopted in manufacturing and logistics. They are used to provide support for lifting and for working in unergonomic positions, for example screwing parts overhead. They consist of a frame, made from hard or soft materials depending on the manufacturer, attached to the user’s body generally at the hip as well as the thighs and upper-arms. They can be mechanical, providing support once the wearer’s arm is in place, or motorized, providing extra force for lifting.
There are also wearable robotic stools which enable workers to sit when part of their work is carried out in a stationary position. These lightweight exoskeletons are attached to the feet and hips and adjusted to the wearer’s height and shoe size. They extend to allow walking and then compress into an ergonomic seating position when the wearer bends their knees.
At some point, nurses may wear exoskeletons for support in moving patients - however healthcare organizations typically have budget constraints which would require a lower price-point than is currently the case. However, other robotic support for lifting patients in hospital is being trialled. For example, the Patient Transfer Assist from Toyota Motor Corporation combines weight-supporting arms with a mobile platform to help caregivers transfer patients from beds to chairs or toilets and back.
For example, in a hospital in Garbagnate Milanese, Italy, shown in the YouTube video, mobile robots are used to transport material – including meals and medication, personal protective equipment, and waste material – to 147 reception stations throughout the 500-bed hospital. The robots navigate autonomously using an internal map and sensors to locate their position and avoid obstacles. They also navigate to charging stations when required. More information here.
Assistance robots provide services directly to patients and care home residents
Robots are increasingly interacting directly with patients and residents in care homes, with a number of assistance robots in trials.
For example, the Lio mobile personal robot from F&P Robotics is aimed at supporting healthcare professionals in nursing, geriatric institutions and rehabilitation centres by carrying out tasks such as greeting patients, grasping and carrying objects, offering and serving drinks, clearing dishes after meal, reminding patients of, and accompanying them to, upcoming appointments and providing entertainment. The robot navigates and re-charges autonomously, has a multifunctional arm and communicates by voice as well as through a touchscreen. (see video on YouTube)
Self-service robots that allow patients or care-home residents to selects drinks or snacks from a mobile vending machine are also being trialled. For example, the SeRoDi Service Assistant, developed by Fraunhofer IPA, allows care home residents to select from a choice of 28 drinks on the robot’s touch screen. The chosen drink is then served to them by the robot. The service assistant returns to the kitchen when empty, to be restocked by the staff before being directed back to the day room via smartphone. In addition to reducing workload for staff, the robot also improves residents’ hydration through regular verbal reminders to drink.
Robots support wheelchair-bound people who have limited mobility in their hands and arms. Robotic arms can be attached to a wheelchair, enabling people to open doors, pick up objects and perform a wide variety of other tasks, including feeding themselves.
There are different modes of operation. In some cases, such as Jaco from Kinova, the robot arm is operated through the joy-stick or other device used to operate the wheelchair itself.
In other cases - like the Dowing from Focal Meditech shown in this YouTube video – the robot arm is a splint into which the user lays their own arm. The robot arm senses the motion intended by the wearer and calculates the support needed.
There are a number of other robotic aids for people with restricted motion in hands and arms, for example robotic feeding devices such as the Obi and the Bestic that are remotely controlled by the user from another part of the body (foot or chin for example).
Most electric wheelchairs use joysticks or other manually-operated input devices, which makes them unusable for people unable to move their hands and arms. Autonomous wheelchairs that respond to eye movement and can map their environment to navigate autonomously and go up and down stairs are being developed. For example, researchers at MIT in the US are working on a voice-controlled autonomous wheelchair for people who have lost mobility due to brain injury or the loss of limbs, but who retain speech.
In the field of robotics, bin-picking is a challenging task. And critically speaking, the spread of bin-picking is still far behind expectations. AI offers promising technologies to push bin-picking applications forward.
Every year, more than 200,000 new robots are installed worldwide for handling. Of these, only a fraction in the per mille range performs bin-picking despite the task’s high potential. One reason for the little spread: Bin-picking cells are the first station of an interlinked production or assembly line. The balancing of such a line is based on the fact that each station provides a guaranteed output. Bin-picking brings along two uncertainties: It is often not guaranteed that the box can be emptied. Furthermore, the cycle time also increases significantly with increasing crate emptying. These uncertainties are often the result of suboptimal parameters which are difficult to set for non-experts.
For this reason, Fraunhofer IPA and Liebherr-Verzahntechnik GmbH, who have been working together on reliable, high-performance bin-picking solutions since 2012, are using artificial intelligence to automate the parametrization of new parts. AI based optimization methods are used to determine the best parameters for the localization of a given part. The parameters are rated based on several factors like the number of correctly detected parts or the accuracy. This automatic approach reduces the time needed for a manual setup by the operator and leads to a reliable detection of parts and therefore to a robust bin-picking process.
Robot mobility is booming worldwide: Unit sales of Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) in the logistics sector e.g. will increase by 31% between 2020 and 2023 annually. At the same time, the use of AMRs in public environments will also go up rapidly – IFR predicts unit sales will grow by 40% per year worldwide.
How mobility is reshaping robotics and why this is a game-changing revolution has been researched by the International Federations of Robotics and published in the new paper “A Mobile Revolution”.
“Mobile robots have traditionally operated in industrial settings to transport parts throughout the factory or feed machines,” says Milton Guerry, President of the International Federation of Robotics. “Today, AMRs also work in applications where contact with the general public is intended. They provide information to shoppers, deliver room service orders in hotels or support police officers by patrolling city areas. IFR´s mobile revolution paper gives an overview of the main use cases for mobile robots and their most significant impacts.”
A short history of autonomous mobility
While researchers have worked on technologies for autonomous mobility since the 1940s, autonomous mobile robots have only become commercially viable over the last decade. This is primarily due to the availability of far more powerful and cheaper computing power. This has led to rapid developments in sensor, vision and analytics technologies which enable robots to connect in real-time to their environment. Today, “Autonomous Mobile Robots” show double digit growth. AMRs navigate and perform functions autonomously in industrial and service sectors and pave the way for mobile robot adoption around the world.
“Mobile robotics is a dynamic field of development and we expect exciting advances over the next decade,” says Milton Guerry. These advances will take place in both hardware and software. Mobile robots will become lighter and more flexible. AMRs and service robots will be able to navigate in a range of indoor and outdoor environments more easily as advances in sensors and software algorithms mean that navigation and vision become more and more precise.
"IFR is a unique international association having members from groups, companies and research institutes from around the world who are involved in robotics. IFR widely offers useful data, opportunities and other benefits not only to its members, but also to the world at large. There are high expectations that IFR will enhance the synergy and mutual support among all its members to become drivers to energetically establish a sustainable society."
“Joining IFR is a source of pride, the sharing expertise of the worldwide members is key to progress rapidly in the deployment of robotics, build up a powerful innovation ecosystem and drive excellent research. IFR strengths are the possibility to create new opportunities of partnerships, to promote the transfer of knowledge in order to shrink the distances between robotics world and the society and the excellent research networks”.
ABB announced it will acquire ASTI Mobile Robotics Group (ASTI), a leading global autonomous mobile robot (AMR) manufacturer with a broad portfolio across all major applications enabled by the company’s software suite. This will expand ABB’s robotics and automation offering, making it the only company to offer a complete portfolio for the next generation of flexible automation.
The acquisition, a key part of ABB’s external growth strategy, was signed on July 19 and is expected to close in mid-summer 2021. Both parties agreed not to disclose any details regarding the purchase price.
Founded in 1982, ASTI is headquartered in Burgos, Spain and employs over 300 people in Spain, France and Germany. It is majority owned by Veronica Pascual Boé, who is also CEO. Other shareholders include European Growth Buyout investor Keensight Capital. Today it supports one of Europe’s largest installed fleets of AMRs and has a broad customer base in automotive, logistics, food & beverage and pharmaceuticals in 20 countries. Since 2015, the company has enjoyed close to 30 percent growth on an annual basis and is targeting approximately $50 million in revenue in 2021.
“With their industry-leading portfolio, comprehensive suite of software and deep domain expertise across growth segments, ASTI is the perfect choice for us as we support our customers with the next generation of flexible automation,” said Sami Atiya, President of ABB’s Robotics & Discrete Automation business. “With this acquisition, ABB will be the only company to offer a full automation portfolio of AMRs, robots and machine automation solutions, from production to logistics to point of consumption. This is a gamechanger for our customers as they adapt to the individualized consumer and seize opportunities presented by significant changes in consumer demand.”
AMRs will support an unprecedented degree of flexibility, from production, logistics, intralogistics and fulfillment through to retail and healthcare environments. This will enable ABB’s and ASTI’s common vision to help customers replace today’s linear production lines with fully flexible networks, where intelligent AMRs autonomously navigate materials, parts and finished products between smart connected workstations, in factories, logistics centers, laboratories, shops or hospitals.
Veronica Pascual Boé, ASTI CEO said: “ABB’s vision is a perfect match for us, as we both support our customers’ flexibility and competitiveness through accelerating automation in the workplace. This is the next exciting stage of our journey and together we will accelerate our innovation plans, expand our global customer service, partner network, production and execution capacity and leverage ABB’s market access globally and particularly in China. I am delighted to join the extended Robotics management team and lead the AMR business to deliver this ambitious growth plan.”
ASTI’s industry-leading AMR portfolio includes autonomous towing vehicles, goods-to-person solutions, unit carriers and box movers as well as a comprehensive software offering, ranging from vehicle navigation and control, fleet and order management and cloud-based traceability systems.
These will be integrated with ABB’s portfolio of robots, machine automation, modular solutions and software suite including RobotStudio®, ABB Robotics’ simulation and programming tool, creating a unique and comprehensive automation portfolio for ABB’s customers.
ABB and ASTI offer deep domain expertise in manufacturing industries including automotive, food & beverage and consumer packaged goods, as well as in new growth segments including logistics, e-commerce, retail and healthcare.
With global AMR sales expected to reach approximately $14 billion by 2025 with a CAGR of approximately 20 percent (Internal ABB analyses), ABB plans to expand AMR sales and service support globally to 53 countries.
ASTI’s headquarters in Burgos, Spain will become ABB’s AMR business headquarters, led by Pascual Boé, with core functions, including R&D, engineering, product and project value chain, continuing at ASTI’s facilities. ABB will significantly expand production capacity at the AMR business headquarters to support the planned sales expansion in Europe and the Americas. To facilitate the growth potential for AMRs in China and Asia, ABB will also establish an Asia AMR hub, including full value chain and manufacturing, at its new robotics factory, which will open in Shanghai in 2022. China, the world’s largest robotics market, is projected to account for $1.8 billion of AMR sales annually by 2025.
ABB Robotics’ acquisition comes shortly after the company’s announcements to expand robotics automation for new sectors and first-time users, including the launch of its new GoFa™ and SWIFTI™ collaborative robot families and its announcement that it will advance automation in the construction industry.
"IFR brings opportunity to network and engage with other professionals and entrepreneurs in the field of robotics to together ensure both that more companies and more people benefit from adopting technologies. I believe we are witnessing one of the greatest technological shifts in the history of mankind, during which Robotics, AI and related technologies have the potential to transform every industry and aspect of our lives within the next decade."
Manual end of line packaging operation in a warehouse involves challenges such as Labor shortage, Longer idle times, Slower pick speeds resulting in conveyor stoppage and Order packing errors.
Wipro devised a smart packing solution with the features such as End-to-end orchestration by software, UI based order creation and tracking, Integration of robot, conveyor and computer vision, AI based volume estimation and stacking pattern generation in real time and Zero robot teaching.
The order is placed through the order fulfilment system. Once the order is triggered, the robot erects a carton from the stacked cartons. The robot system determines the volume of the empty carton that has been erected using computer vision. Then, formulates the optimum stacking pattern in the carton based on the order using Artificial Intelligence.
Interfaced with Wipro’s robotics software platform, the robot detects the ordered items on the conveyer, picks them on the go and places them as per the AI generated stacking pattern in the carton. Any outliers such as damaged or unordered items are segregated into a separate area. In case the items that are to be packed last arrive early on the conveyor, the robot moves them to a temporary storage and continues packing in the AI generated pattern.
Once the carton is packed with the ordered items, the robot closes the flaps and seals the cartons. The packed cartons are then palletized.
A shoe manufacturer was looking for an automated solution for glueing shoe soles to increase quality.
Manual application of glue on shoe sole results in excess fills, under fills, glue being sprayed outside the sole. These result in glue wastage and inconsistent output. Automation with an industrial robot involves manual robot teaching for every variant so that the shoe sole can be precisely located. This is highly time consuming and requires skilled robot programmer to be available on floor.
Wipro developed a dynamic vision based solution that can detect any sole variant, generate the glue application trajectory and pass on the coordinates to the robot to apply the glue.
The shoe sole arrives at the robot for glue application on a conveyer. The sole is scanned on the move by a Photoneo vision camera. Wipro’s vision algorithm collects the point cloud data and generates the glue application trajectory.
Wipro’s robot camera interface software converts this trajectory into robot coordinates and communicates the same to the robot controller.
Once the coordinates are received, the robot moves along the trajectory and the Nordson glue dispensing system sprays the glue on the sole. This solution is agnostic of robot, camera, PLC and dispenser make and model. Any model can be integrated into the platform.
Quality improvement by over 40%
Improved consistency over 75%
50% reduction in labor cost during manufacturing
Reduced dependency on skilled robotic programmer (No need of training/ teaching for new sole type)
The preliminary World Robotics data for China released by the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) shows a sales increase of industrial robots by 19% in 2020.
“The outlook for the robotics industry is optimistic”, says Milton Guerry, President of the International Federation of Robotics. “In China, where the coronavirus lockdown came into force first, the robotics industry started to recover already in 2020. In total 167,000 industrial robots were shipped.”
Market growth in China also has a strong positive impact on foreign suppliers – up 24% or 123,000 industrial robots were shipped from abroad. Japanese suppliers have a dominant market share. Domestic suppliers delivered 44,000 units to their home market which is an increase of 8% compared to 2019.
Worldwide, North America and Europe
Global robot installations in 2020 were down 2%, particularly under the impact of the Corona pandemic. Still the decline in sales was more moderate than expected.
OECD projects global GDP growth to be 5.5% in 2021 and 4% in 2022. Nevertheless, the situation is mixed in different countries.
The order intakes of the robotics industry 2021 give reason to expect strong growth in North America and Europe. Order books in the US for example are filling up fast. In Germany, the forecast for the current year shows a strong recovery and signifies a positive turning point for the industry. Even better sales figures will be achievable if the current supply bottlenecks for key components can be quickly overcome.
Reduction of carbon footprint
The global path to climate neutrality is generating new business. In order to achieve the ambitious climate targets, economies have started to scale renewable energies and environmental technologies to unprecedented dimensions. Robotics and automation enable companies of all sizes to produce the components needed, e.g. fuel cells for hydrogen-powered cars or batteries in the transport sector and solar panels in the energy sector. The new generation of easy-to-use robotics helps to optimize performance in the production process and move manufacturing closer to regional markets at competitive cost.
“Robotics have proven flexibility to quickly adapt production and respond to changes in demand as well as smaller batch sizes,” says Milton Guerry. “The benefits of increased productivity safeguards jobs by keeping companies competitive.”
FANUC Corporation, one of the world's most prominent suppliers of automation technology, produced its 750,000th industrial robot, which is more than any other manufacturer in this segment.
At present, FANUC produces around 8,000 industrial robots every month at its factories in Japan, although monthly capacity is available up to 11,000 units. The company is renowned for its highly automated production facilities, where thousands of robots demonstrate reliability, dexterity and speed in the build of FANUC products that include robots, controllers and machine tools. The company will deliver its 750,000th robot to a European customer.
FANUC’s largest customer group are car producers and their suppliers, although manufacturers from other industries - such as electronics, food, pharmaceutical and medical - are also growing their base of industrial robots. While the coronavirus pandemic initially led to a decline in robot orders, FANUC has since witnessed a strong rebound in sales, especially from Asia and the USA.
“In Europe, the recovery has truly begun,” states Shinichi Tanzawa, President & CEO of FANUC Europe Corporation. "Although FANUC’s overall order intake for robots in Europe increased only slightly during the past fiscal year, sales in the past few months are at a historical high.”
FANUC is pursuing ambitious plans in Europe, where the company is steadily expanding its sales and service network. In the past four years alone, FANUC has invested more than €120 million in new facilities across Europe. Further underpinning its growth plans, the company will invest another €100 million in the coming three years.
Tanzawa says: “We are confident that the trend towards robotization will grow further and that FANUC robots will help customers to automate their manufacturing plants and save cost like FANUC does at its own factories. We will do everything necessary to support our customers in these endeavours.”
While many countries around the globe are still struggling to seize control of the global pandemic, we are already on the road of global recover. In the recent months, global economic prospects improved markedly, and, according to OECD, by mid-2021 the worldwide output is expected to rise above the pre-pandemic level. Global GDP growth is projected to be 5.5% in 2021 and 4% in 2022.
While many countries around the globe are still struggling to seize control of the global pandemic, we are already on the road of global recover. In the recent months, global economic prospects improved markedly, and, according to OECD, by mid-2021 the worldwide output is expected to rise above the pre-pandemic level. Global GDP growth is projected to be 5.5% in 2021 and 4% in 2022. Nevertheless, the situation is mixed in different countries, and some may remain below the level expected prior to the pandemic.
The outlook for the robotics industry is optimistic at the moment, although the recent IFR quarterly surveys confirmed a mixed picture. Asia has already started to recover in Q3/2020, while North America and Europe still were slightly below pre-crisis level in the first quarter of this year. The current order intake gives good hope for strong growth. Yet, we also have to concede that there is a large spreading between different reporting companies, so some companies were more successfull to overcome the crisis, while others were somewhat left behind. The chances for our sector overall are promising, but we now need to reap our industry’s potential to support the overall economic growth.
In the past months, robotics could already prove its flexibility to quickly adapt production and respond to changes in demand and smaller batch sizes. We see a need for improved resilience to deal with production peaks and withstand systemic shocks, such as the COVID-19 pandemic or the blockage of the Suez Canal. Moreover, the global endeavor to lower our carbon footprint and thrive towards carbon neutral production greatly are esupported by robotics - both by optimized performance in the production process and the possibility to move manufacturing closer to the customer - thus lowering the energy consumption by logistics. Last but not least, increased productivity safeguards jobs by keeping companies competitive and finally robotcs can significantly increase the workplace quality for manufacturing employees. So in a nutshell: long-run perspectives for robotics remain excellent.
IFR support the robotics industry in staying on top of the trends, by providing joint positions and information on topics highly relevant to the industry, e.g. cobots, robotics and AI, smart robots transforming manufacturing and -soon to be published - mobile robots. Not less important: monitoring the effects of robotics on the employment, the workplace of the future and future skills needs is covered by our positiong papers.
The IFR has a very unique structure, which significantly contributes to its strength: serving as a federation of assocations on one hand, but at the same time connecting companies and R&D institutes in direct membership. Not least important is to serve as a platform for global exchange - collect the insights from different parts of the world and openly communicate. This strong and growing association will keep pushing the industry forward - at your service.
Australia-based Designed Mouldings is an injection moulding specialist, producing plastic caps and seals for customers in the packaging industry. With COVID-19 disruptions to global supply chains, companies in Australia turned to local manufacturers like Designed Mouldings for their production.
Challenged with the sudden rise in demand, Designed Mouldings implemented a collaborative automation solution in its product assembly application, increasing productivity and decreasing cycle time significantly.
Designed Mouldings witnessed a spike in orders during Covid-19, as border closures meant more companies were sourcing their products locally. “From a production volume of 10,000 to 20,000 products a month, we were facing orders of 50,000 to 100,000 caps a month. Manual assembly was no longer a viable option for us,” said Paul Neumeyer, Managing Director of Designed Mouldings.
The company looked for an effective solution to automate their processes and increase their productivity. They reached out to systems integrator Australis Engineering – one of OnRobot’s distributor partners – who suggested a collaborative application and recommended that they start by selecting the end-effector; an integral part of the automation solution.
Simplicity and Ease of Implementation
The OnRobot VGC10 electric vacuum gripper was an obvious choice for Designed Mouldings. With unlimited customisation to fit various needs, the small, lightweight gripper is perfect for tight spaces. The gripper also does not require external air supply, speeding up deployment while reducing maintenance costs.
The VGC10 gripper – integrated with a Techman Robot cobot – works as a stand-alone system and does not require extra cabling, piping or air, resulting in a collaborative application with a small footprint. This allows it to be easily moved and plugged in anywhere. Importantly, the collaborative application is able to work safely alongside employees; no safety fence is needed.
Additionally, the VGC10 provides simplicity and ease of use. “Setting up the VGC10 gripper was fairly quick. While Australis Engineering provided us with some guidance, we were able to do the complete installation and programming ourselves within just three to four days,” said Daniel Neumeyer, Plant Supervisor of Designed Mouldings. “The simplicity saves us a lot of expensive engineering hours that is usually required with typical automation projects.”
Efficient Collaborative Automation
The OnRobot VGC10 gripper is used to automate the sealing of wads on plastic caps. Wads are used to seal containers and protect their contents from deterioration or contamination through exposure to air, moisture or other impurities.
First, the cobot’s vision system detects the wad on the table. The image is stored in the cobot’s database and programmed to trigger the machine to move and send instructions to the VGC10 gripper to pick the wad up. The gripper then inserts the wad into the bottom of each plastic cap. Once the wad has been fitted, the gripper drops the assembled cap into a hole in the centre of the table, where finished goods are stored before being packed and shipped.
Benefits Aplenty with Collaborative Application
The shift from manual hand assembly to collaborative automation has helped Designed Mouldings shorten the production cycle time, increase productivity and maintain consistent output quality. Designed Mouldings has also seen a reduction in material waste by one to two percent, and employees are now relieved from a tedious task – allowing them to focus on higher value jobs.
The company is now able to cope with the increase in orders without putting pressure on their current workforce or having to hire any contract staff, saving costs.
“The OnRobot VGC10 gripper can easily complete a 20,000 product run in 24 hours – three times faster than if it were done manually. With a constant stream of jobs, we are expected to achieve ROI in six months,” said Paul.
New Automation Possibilities
With the successful implementation of the collaborative application with the VGC10, Paul and his son Daniel are looking at other collaborative automation opportunities. Specifically, Designed Mouldings is looking to use the OnRobot RG2 gripper to assemble filters for hospitals.
“As one of the leading injection moulding companies in the industry, ensuring we stay competitive is crucial. Collaborative applications through OnRobot is an important step towards securing our future and enhancing our competitive edge,” added Paul.
About the VGC10
The VGC10 electrical compact vacuum gripper has unlimited customization possibilities. It has changeable suction cup options for nearly any application need. The VGC10 can fit into tight environments to extend your automation possibilities. It can lift small, odd-shaped, and heavy objects with a smaller robot arm. The VGC10 features two independently controlled air channels that allow it to act as a dual gripper with pick-up and release in the same action, further increasing efficiency and reducing cycle time. With no compressor or air supply needed, this compact electrical gripper is easy to move, and simple programming makes it quick and easy to redeploy for greater production flexibility. Seamless integration with the robot of your choice.
Order your morning latte macchiato conveniently via app from the bus, quickly scan the QR code and let the robot barista serve it fresh - MyAppCafé makes it possible.
Order your morning latte macchiato conveniently via app from the bus, quickly scan the QR code and let the robot barista serve it fresh - MyAppCafé makes it possible.The 160 variants of coffee specialties - including espresso doppio, cappuccino, chocciato or latte - can of course also be ordered directly on the touchscreen.
The idea came to Karlsruhe-based MyAppCafé founder Michael Stille during a “Tatort” episode in which a catering robot played a central role. First conversations quickly began. A similar solution was already on the market in the USA - but without interest for the European market. Together with two other Karlsruhe companies, IBS and Rothweiler Feinwerkmechanik, Stille developed its own solution.
High economic efficiency and minimum personnel costs
MyAppCafé delivers the whole concept - turnkey and automatically. The decisive goal during development was cost effectiveness: Each franchisee only needs to spend a maximum of one hour a day refilling and waiting, the rest is fully automated. MyAppCafé only needs to be refilled after around 650 issues - of course the system informs the operators in good time. An important argument for the fully automated gastronomy solution, says Michael Stille: “Almost no personnel is required, a maximum of one hour of working time for refilling and cleaning must be scheduled after 650 issues. By comparison, four employees would be needed to provide the same service. With our robot Barista, you are in the profit zone much faster”. The integrated fully automatic cleaning systems combine the highest hygiene standards with minimum effort.
A robot is the heart of the cell: The engineering office IBS has been a close partner of the international robot manufacturer Kawasaki Robotics for years. After reviewing and comparing several options, the choice for the robot quickly fell on Kawasaki - also by recommendation of IBS. The prototype as well as all further cells were built based on the Kawasaki Robotics RS005L.
With a maximum payload of 5 kg and a maximum reach of 903 mm, the RS005L is part of the universal R series for small to medium payloads, suitable for assembly, material handling, machine tending and many other applications. Its special design enables the high-speed robot to have a longer reach and an extended working range.
In addition to the technical aspects, the RS005L convinced Michael Stille with its appearance, which fitted well into the design of the cell: “We wanted to have a real industrial robot inside, not a ‘toy’. And Kawasaki was very accommodating to us as a partner and through the quality of the robots.”
Challenging development and rapid success
IBS finally developed the approximately 7 square meter large cell according to the detailed ideas of Silence. The implementation was demanding, among other things for a smooth communication between Kawasaki robot, WMF coffee machines, the output and the app. Via business and technology networks in Karlsruhe, the experts were called in for all components and aspects. Thus the startup ROCK5 from Karlsruhe developed the intuitive App. Within a few months, the development led to the successful prototype, which completely met the high demands - full automation, intuitive operation and reliability.
Just in time for the Franchise Expo in Frankfurt am Main in November 2019 the MyAppCafé cell was ready for the market and was presented to the public for the first time - with great success and numerous inquiries. Home game in Karlsruhe: For the first MyAppCafé cell, the Postgalerie shopping center was quickly found as an optimal location - also easily accessible for tests and presentations. Besides Karlsruhe, there are already locations in Böblingen and the Stadtgalerie Heilbronn aktuell, Saarbrücken will follow soon.
How MyAppCafé works
After ordering the desired coffee specialty via app or touch screen, the Kawasaki robot takes a cup and transports it to one of the two high-end coffee machines of WMF type 9000 S+ as well as to two syrup stations and a specially developed milk system, if required. It then moves the finished coffee to one of the dispensing stations where it can be removed for immediate enjoyment. The robot can prepare and serve up to 120 coffee per hour.
A cool highlight: the hot drinks can be decorated with an individual text or picture on the milk foam using a food printer, at no extra cost. Even your own photos can be uploaded via app and displayed on a fresh cappuccino. “Our customers can be as creative as they like: They can upload a vacation selfie directly from Milan and order the printed coffee in Karlsruhe for their return,” says Michael Stille.
Sustainability and fair trade have been important components of MyAppCafé right from the start: the cup and lid are made of environmentally friendly and compostable corn starch and all ingredients have organic and fair trade seals - from coffee to optionally available soy milk.
The robot barista never gets tired: MyAppCafé is active 24 hours a day, seven days a week - without waiting or queuing. Practical in times of Corona: Payment is made with all common contactless methods, including EC and credit cards, PayPal, ApplePay and GooglePay.
High demand: Growth despite Corona
The Corona pandemic has naturally slowed down the momentum, as in all industries, but new inquiries are still coming in every day worldwide. Among other things, talks are currently underway with several listed companies in Germany who plan to integrate MyAppCafè. On average, it takes two months from ordering a MyAppCafé cell to the start of operations at the desired location.
Even though Corona has slowed down the search for a location, the prospects are very positive: By 2021 at least 50 boxes should be in place in Germany. Demand is also strong internationally - the first cells in action as well as appearances at franchise fairs have generated interest from Dubai, the USA, Poland, Sweden, France and Israel, among others. As locations are so far among other things shopping centers, universities, stations or airports in the focus, but the possibilities for the integration of the robot-supported MyAppCafé cell are versatile.
With no robotics experience, the family-owned Zippertubing Company integrated Universal Robots in vision-guided applications tending snap fastening machines for wrap-around cable jacketing.
“What integrator are you using?” A question Tim Mead, operations manager with Zippertubing in Arizona kept hearing as he visited robot manufacturers at trade shows. “But we wanted something that we could integrate ourselves. Something that would save us a lot of money and bring the installation down to a price point that made sense for us,” says Tim Mead. His company was facing a very large increase in demand for its thermal wraps used by automotive and aerospace industries to protect hoses, pipes and cables. On Zippertubing’s production line, workers had a hard time keeping up with the fast-paced, highly-precise, highly-repetitive task of correctly inserting the cable jacketing into snap machines. That’s when the company started to look into more user-friendly collaborative robots, or “cobots.”
“We chose Universal Robots’ UR5 for a few reasons. After a quick demo we realized this was a collaborative robot we could integrate on our own. We were also looking at the versatility,” says engineering manager at Zippertubing, Matt Hesselbacher, explaining how Zippertubing’s products can change from month to month. Safety was another concern as operators would be working around the robot, feeding it raw parts and take away the finished pieces.
“The biggest benefit we’ve found with the UR5 is that our product quality really has improved; the robot has been running for eight months now and we have gone from having some product returns to now zero defects on parts produced,” says Mead. “With the robot itself, we can specify 300 percent more tolerance on our parts than with manual operation,” he says, adding that Zippertubing’s customers are noticing this improvement as well.
Tim Mead’s background is in chemical engineering, not robotics programming, so he was initially hesitant to build a robotics cell from scratch. “The demo convincing us was done by Universal Robots’ distributor In-Position Technologies and it looked very straightforward, there’s also a lot of cool training stuff on the UR website” says the operations manager who used the free Universal Robots Academy to get up to speed after purchasing the robot.
The Arizona company programmed their first UR5 to pick up pre-cut fabric material that the cobot moves through a snap-set machine where five male snaps are inserted, then it moves over to a second machine where five female snaps are added. The 25 second cycle concludes as the UR5 presents the piece to a vision camera that inspects whether the snaps are added correctly. Depending on outcome, the UR5 is directed to place the finished piece in either the “good” or the “scrap” pile.
UR5 enables lights-out manufacturing
Zippertubing is now working on a more compact, second UR5 installation that reduces cycle time while increasing the quantity of parts to run after-hours by integrating a turntable for delivery of the fabric. “We can have the robot run all night and double our production output. We can also have it handle two or three additional parts and cover even more of our production,” explains Mead, detailing how the collaborative robots enabled the company to reduce its labor force by 32% in those applications. “We can now take that freed up labor and move them to other more customized high-skilled, high-demand sections of our production line, where our operators can use their skills in a more beneficial way.”
For change-overs requiring different tools, the company went to the UR+ Solution website, an online platform with certified plug & play products for UR cobots and found the Milibar tool changer. “The benefits of using this is quick changeability, adding a new tool to the end of the robot arm is not an issue now,” says Mead.
Automation assistance to Chinese colleagues
Zippertubing estimates about a two year ROI on their UR5 purchases. “The return on investment is not just a return on the money we spent on the robot and the system; it’s also a matter of quality for us and for our customers,” says Hesselbacher, who stresses that a continuous lights-out production will push the ROI much lower as well. The success of Zippertubing’s Arizona plant has resonated with its sister facility in China too. “Our Asia facility is totally manual at the moment, and they’ve reached out to us to see if we could build them some of these robotic cells,” says Mead, who will refine the next UR robot application and provide it to his Chinese colleagues. The Arizona company is now also looking at other tasks UR robots could automate. Sewing is one of them.
“It will be a unique challenge as we want the robot to do snaps and sewing with the same tool,” says Mead, who is optimistic that his team will get the sewing project figured out in the foreseeable future.
The 2021 “Award for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Robotics & Automation” (IERA) goes to PixelPaint technology of ABB. Two high-precision robots make car painting faster, more sustainable and flexible – helping manufacturers to efficiently respond to individual demands. Two-tone and customized designs are applied in one pass. The technology eliminates overspray benefitting the environment.
“The jury is pleased to honor ABB’s PixelPaint technology,with the 17th IERA Award,” says Jury Chair Rob Ambrose. “The innovative solution for automated car painting combines more flexibility and customization with reduced wasted paint for the well-being of the environment.”
No more paint is lost
In the past, 20 to 30 percent of paint was wasted due to overspray. By contrast, the inkjet head of PixelPaint applies 100 percent of the paint to the vehicle surface – improving environmental impact. The technology also significantly increases efficiency in car painting. Previously, applying a two-tone or customized design was a time and labour-intensive process. The vehicle had to be put through the painting line twice. With the new technology, customized painting speeds increased by 50 percent. PixelPaint also eliminates the process of masking and de-masking each car, helping to reduce bottlenecks.
“In today’s fiercely competitive automotive manufacturing market, vehicle producers need solutions that can help them to improve their flexibility, efficiency and cost competitiveness while delivering a high-quality paint finish, including individualized options to meet the growing demand for non-standard and customized designs,” said Joerg Reger, Managing Director of ABB Robotics Auto OEM Business Line.
International Federation of Robotics (IFR) congratulates
“I congratulate ABB on winning the IERA award 2021 against strong competition,” said Milton Guerry, President of the IFR. “The four finalists have all presented a success story of an innovative product in robotics and automation which combine the needs of today’s manufacturers with a high degree of user-friendliness.”
Barcelona-based INFAIMON presented its InPicker – a universal pick and place system for industrial applications. Berlin-based Micropsi Industries took part with its MIRAI software – an AI-driven control system that enables industrial robots to deal with variance in production. Mobile Industrial Robots from Odense in Denmark presented the MiR250, a user-friendly mobile robot that optimizes material handling workflows across industries.
The IERA Award highlights and honors the achievements of innovators with value creating ideas and entrepreneurs who propel those ideas into world-class products. The IEEE Robotics and Automation Society (IEEE/RAS) and the IFR jointly sponsor the award - underlining their determination to promote stronger collaboration between science and industry in robotics.
Leading product design experts recognize ABB’s GoFa™ collaborative robot for innovative design to make robots more approachable.
ABB’s GoFa cobot was awarded the prestigious Red Dot Best of the Best design award in recognition of its unique design concept to make the new robot appealing and accessible to users.
The global Red Dot Design Awards recognize achievements in product design, with the jury assessing thousands of entries every year. Red Dot’s “Best of the Best” award is for groundbreaking design and is the highest award in the competition, reserved for the most aesthetically appealing, functional, smart or innovative design.
GoFa is the fastest cobot in its class and is intended to work side-by-side with humans, without the need for fences, on a wide range of tasks. Advanced safety features, including intelligent sensors in each joint which bring the cobot to a stop in milliseconds if it senses any unexpected contact, allow GoFa to safely operate directly and continuously alongside workers.
The brief for the product designers was to create an intuitive, user-friendly, approachable design to encourage people, and particularly first-time users, to confidently use and interact with GoFa.
“Making robots more approachable, easier to use and more intuitive is key to our vision to make robots as familiar in the workplace as a laptop is today,” said Sami Atiya, President of ABB’s Robotics & Discrete Automation Business Area. “I am delighted that our new cobot GoFa has been recognized by the Red Dot jury for how user-friendly it is. GoFa is a game-changer, reinforcing the importance of good industrial design to make it easier for more people to work with robots. Creating an approachable design will ensure robots are adopted across a range of workplaces outside traditional factory environments, helping us to unlock automation for new users and new industries around the world.”
GoFa’s design is a departure from the look of traditional industrial robots, narrowing the boundaries between industrial and consumer products. It employs slim, straight arms that give the cobot a user-friendly yet strong appearance, while the advanced use of color, material and finish gives GoFa a modern, sleek look. Its simple arm-side interface design with two buttons and light ring echoes the easy-to-use interfaces of consumer products. This makes it accessible even for first-time robot users more accustomed to consumer technology and who may be unfamiliar with industrial machinery.
“Industrial design is not just about the aesthetic! Form follows function, and our emphasis on human-centric design, using the approach of a consumer product means GoFa communicates the proposition of usability, utility and ease of use,” said Andie Zhang, Global Product Manager, Collaborative Robotics for ABB Robotics. “Creating an attractive, approachable design allows people to get the best out of their cobots. We not only want people to feel comfortable working alongside it, we want users to enjoy working with the robot. GoFa is programmed by touching the robot’s arm and leading it, so it’s important that users are comfortable with holding and guiding the cobot as they teach it.”
ABB’s cobots are intuitively designed so customers need not rely on robot programming specialists. This will help industries that have low levels of automation, with customers able to operate their cobot within minutes of installation, straight out of the box, with no specialized training.
“With their ease-of-use digital tools, integrated safety features and higher payloads, our new cobots represent the future of human and robot collaboration. This next generation will enable even more businesses to automate repetitive, mundane and dangerous processes, to enhance productivity and flexibility while leaving employees free to do more value-add activities,” added Andie Zhang. “If you can use a tablet or smartphone, you can work with our cobots.”
The launch of ABB’s new GoFa cobot builds on the success of ABB’s YuMi® family, which has been helping businesses safely automate key tasks since YuMi launched in 2015. The design concept of YuMi, the world’s first truly collaborative robot, also won the Best of the Best Red Dot award in 2011.
As the economies reopen from the pandemic, Asia, Europe and America adjust their robotics research funding programs (R&D). What are the targets of the officially driven government programs today? This has been researched by the IFR and published in the 2021 update paper of “World Robotics R&D Programs”.
“The first version of World Robotics R&D Programs was introduced in June last year. Since then, dozens of countries have updated their robotics R&D programs.” says Prof. Dr. Jong-Oh Park, Vice-Chairman IFR Research Committee and member of the Executive Board. “The five most advanced robotics countries, South Korea, Japan, Germany, USA and China follow up a very different strategic focus.”
Robotics R&D programs - officially driven by governments
The strategic plan Made in China 2025 comes as a blueprint to upgrade the manufacturing capabilities of Chinese industries. In order to promote the rapid development of intelligent robot technology, the key special projects of “Intelligent Robots” are being deployed in accordance with the requirements of the “Innovation Chain”. The focus is on basic cutting-edge technologies of intelligent robots, new-generation robots, key common technologies, industrial robots, service robots and special robots. The development objectives aim to generate continuous growth of the industrial scale. China wants to cultivate at least three leading enterprises with international competitiveness and create more than five clusters of robot-supporting industries. The statistical yearbook “World Robotics” by IFR shows that China reached a robot density of 187 units per 10,000 workers in the manufacturing industry – the country ranks 15th worldwide.
In Japan, the “New Robot Strategy” aims to make the country the world´s number one robot innovation hub. The rate of robotization in the manufacturing sector targets an increase of 25% for large-scale companies and 10% for SMEs. Key performance indicator also is an expansion of the system integrators market – they are intermediate between the user and the manufacturer. The action plan includes important service sectors like agriculture, infrastructure and healthcare. Nursing & Medical alone has a budget of 997.3 million USD and supports the data health reform by promoting practical applications of robots and the use of artificial intelligence. According to the statistical yearbook “World Robotics” by IFR, Japan is the world´s number one industrial robot manufacturer and delivered 47% of the global supply in 2019.
The Intelligent Robot Development and Supply Promotion Act of Korea is pushing to develop the robot industry in Korea as a core industry in the fourth industrial revolution. Focus areas are: manufacturing businesses (with a special program to enhance competitiveness of SMEs Manufacturing Sites), selected service robot areas (including healthcare and logistics), next-generation key components and key robot software.
For the trans-governmental Full Cycle Medical Device Development project, the government is planning to budget 1.07 billion USD (1.2 trillion KRW) from 2020 to 2025. The statistical yearbook “World Robotics” showed a new record stock of about 319,000 operational industrial robots in the Republic of Korea in 2019 (+13%). Within five years, the country has doubled its number of industrial robots in operation. Following Japan and China, the country ranked third in 2019.
The new European Framework Program Horizon Europe has been launched on research and innovation over the period of 2021 to 2027. Building on the achievements and success of Horizon 2020, Horizon Europe will support top researchers, innovators, and general citizens to develop the knowledge and solutions needed to ensure a green, digital, and healthy future.
The robotics-related work program is embedded in Cluster 4: Digital, Industry, and Space. Robotics-related R&D&I projects will focus on the digital transition of the manufacturing and construction sectors, autonomous solutions to support workers, enhanced cognition, and human-robot collaboration. The robotics-related work program 2021-2022 in Cluster 4 will provide total funding of 240 million USD (198.7 million EUR).
Germany´s High-Tech Strategy 2025 is the fourth edition of the German R&D and innovation program. The goal is for good ideas to be translated quickly into innovative products and services. Most of the framework of the High-Tech Strategy promotes partnership between companies, universities, and research institutions in order to bring together institutional research and entrepreneurial expertise. It has been set the target of 3.5 percent of GDP per annum investment in R&D by 2025. In several program lines of the mission “Shape Technology for the People”, the robotics-related program “Together Through Innovation” was launched in 2020. With this research program line, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) will provide around 84 million USD (70 million EUR) annually until 2026.
The National Robotics Initiative (NRI) in the USA was launched for fundamental robotics R&D supported by the US Government. With NRI-2.0, collaboration between academic, industry, non-profit, and other organizations is encouraged in order to accomplish better connections between fundamental science, engineering, technology development, deployment, and use. one A key sector is “Space Robotics”, where NASA launched a lunar program named “Artemis”. The purpose of the Artemis lunar program is to return astronauts to the lunar surface by 2024 and to construct promising capabilities for Mars missions after 2024. The Artemis lunar program is a joint spaceflight program by NASA, the US commercial aerospace institution, and international partners including the ESA (comprising 22 countries), Canada, Japan, and Russia. The US government is planning a budget of 35 billion USD from 2020 to 2024. The largest investor in unmanned systems technologies remains the United States Department of Defense (DOD) with 7.3 billion USD budget projected in 2020 and 2021. According to the statistical yearbook “World Robotics” by IFR, robot density in the manufacturing industry had been growing by 7% CAGR since 2014 to 2019 with 228 robots per 10,000 employees – ranking 9th worldwide. Regarding annual installations of industrial robots, the country takes third position.
Files for Download
Please find the information paper “World Robotics R&D Programs” by IFR here.
In order to boost efficiency and maintain its competitiveness in logistics distribution and retail supply chain within specific region, LQ invested high level of warehouse automation.
LQ Group is a giant trans-regional and comprehensive commercial group in FMCG industry, and it is one of the top 500 enterprises in China. LQ had traditionally used conventional human-operated warehouse system.
In order to boost efficiency and maintain its competitiveness in logistics distribution and retail supply chain within specific region, LQ invested high level of warehouse automation. At the near end of the system, four depalletizing cells with ABB IRB660 are designed to pick specific number of cartons according to the orders.
There is only one kind of cartons on each pallet; however, there are thousand kinds of cartons with various sizes, colors, patterns, shades, and etc. to be processed everyday which are not able to be handled by conventional robot solution. To solve these problems, Mech-Mind 3D vision system provided an alternative to ABB robot.
Comprising with Mech-Mind industrial 3D camera, vision system (Mech-Vision), and code-free robot programming system (Mech-Viz), the automated solution aimed to reach 1000 cartons/hour for one robot station, the cycle time between each pick is 10s, which means the vision system should also support for picking three cartons at one time pick.
The Mech-Eye deep is mounted on a stand 1700mm above the top of cartons.
The max weight of one carton is 30 kg.
The FOV (field of view) is 1000*1200*1300 (length*width*height).
The recognize accuracy of vision system should be larger than 99.99%, the time consuming of the visions system should be within 2s and the locating accuracy is±3mm. The vision system is perfectly compatible with ABB robot and the communication protocol is TCP/IP.
The vision system should determine the coordinates and the pose of the cartons which should be picked; therefore the path planning and collision detection of the robot can be taken care of.
Multiple sizes and colors cartons for FMCG (length:600~300mm,width: 500~200mm,height: 500~200mm)
In order to reduce the downtime of waiting for new pallets, two cameras are installed on the left and right of the conveyor and guides the robot to execute the order alternatively. The pallets are conveyed to the left and right of the depalletizing station. Once the pallet arrives at a certain position, the host control system sends the signals of the cartons on the pallet including size, weight and quantities to the robot.
As soon as the robot receives the arrival signal from the host system, it triggers the camera to take a picture and sends the picture to Mech-Vision. The vision combines the coordinates and poses of cartons into grasping points and sends it to Mech-Viz.
The Mech-Viz receives the order information and grasping points, afterwards, it guides the EOAT on how many suction cups have to be activated in order to pick a specific number of cartons and which specific cartons have to be picked on the same layer; moreover, Mech-Viz should also inform the robot of the cartons direction when it is put on the conveyor.
The team of Authorized System Integrators and automation equipment suppliers are working tirelessly with companies that manufacture life-saving products including personal protective equipment (PPE), disinfectants, medical diagnostic equipment, ventilators and many other items used in the fight against the coronavirus.
New and innovative automated systems are also helping companies minimize product handling to create more space on the production floor and meet social distancing requirements.
“We’re extremely proud of the work that our Authorized System Integrators and automation equipment suppliers have done throughout the pandemic,” said Mike Cicco, president and CEO, FANUC America. “We live in unprecedented times that require a rapid response to make protective and life-sustaining products, and minimize person to person contact, and I think everyone involved has answered the call.”
Interactive Design - Lenexa, KS
Robotic System to Line Track, Pick and Package COVID Test Swabs
As COVID testing escalates across the globe, a major producer of test kit swabs needed an automated solution to help meet the increasing demand. Interactive Design quickly engineered and designed a flexible system equipped with multiple machine vision guided FANUC SR-6iA SCARA robots to automatically orient, feed, and load swabs into horizontal form, fill, and seal packaging machines. FANUC iRVision allows the robots to locate the swabs as they are conveyed from the machines that produce them. Depending on the position of swabs on the moving conveyor, each robot accurately picks 75 to 90 swabs per minute.
“Interactive Design’s integration team responded at record speed,” said Nate Maholland, sales manager, Interactive Design. “These systems are going to start hitting the customer’s facility in less than half the time they would under normal conditions. We’re very proud to help at this critical time.”
ESS Technologies – Blacksburg, VA
Flexible Filler/Capper for Vials and Small Bottles
As cases of COVID-19 began to intensify across the U.S., a diagnostics manufacturer reached out to ESS Technologies to build two identical filling systems with automated cap torque for diagnostics vials to be used in manufacturing COVID-19 test kits. Speed and urgency drove the project, which required the system to fill up to 120 vials/min.
Though originally developed for vials used in COVID testing, the machines can be used for applications using vials or small bottles. Available in semi-automatic and fully automated configurations, ESS’ flexible filler/capper uses a circular puck conveyor system to transport vials or small bottles to the inline filling system. A timing screw drive positions six vials beneath the six-up diving nozzle assembly where a precise amount of diagnostic reagent is dispensed. The cap placement is automated using FANUC’s SR-6iA SCARA robots and a cap feeder. A three-up final torque station then applies the precise amount of torque to the caps. The machine uses Allen Bradley PLC controls and a 6 in. color touchscreen HMI for ease of operation. An optional 10 in. HMI is available. The system provides fast changeover - under 10 minutes.
In addition to filling and capping COVID test kits, a second diagnostics manufacturer has asked ESS to build several end-of-line packaging systems comprised of 13 robots for collation, cartoning and case packing sterile test kits. ESS has been able to offer fast delivery times for these systems, allowing the manufacturers to ramp up their important production capacity. According to Kevin Browne, president and founder of ESS Technologies, Inc. “Everyone at ESS immediately understood the urgency of building high speed, high performance packaging machinery to increase the manufacture of test kits and prepare for future vaccine packaging. As a critical manufacturer for the pharmaceutical and diagnostics industries, ESS worked with suppliers to keep the supply chain flowing, and we were able to deliver two complete systems in just a few weeks.”
PaR Systems - Shoreview, MN
Automated Assembly System for Respirators
A major manufacturer of personal production equipment (PPE) needed to quickly ramp up production of their respirators to aid in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
PaR Systems was able to design and build four robotic dispensing systems in just five weeks. Each system includes a FANUC LR Mate 200iD robot for automated dispensing. Since implementing the system, parts are produced within 25 minutes, just a fraction of the time it took with the previous automation. Now, the customer is able to assemble nearly 20,000 respirators per week.
“I’ve never seen a faster or more seamless delivery. It was truly a collaborative effort between PaR, FANUC, our customers and suppliers - all united to help produce this important equipment towards a cause,” said Jon Sakry, SVP of Operations at PaR Systems. “Our team went from concept to install for the customer in just five weeks! We took advanced measures to ensure the health and safety of our employees and customer teams were not compromised, including working extended hours and weekends to meet deadlines, safely separating testing groups and maintaining safe social distancing measures throughout the entire production process.”
This example underscores PaR’s mission to help manufacturers solve production challenges with automated solutions to get critical supplies to those who need them.
“In my years at PaR, we’ve done some important work including protective equipment for our military personnel, and assisting with the clean-up at various nuclear reactor sites. I count this latest automated system to produce respirators that protect first responders as another very important project, and I’m proud we were able to deliver the system in an extremely quick timeframe,” said Dan Hagen, Business Segment Leader at PaR Systems.
Sealed Air – Charlotte, NC & Soft Robotics – Bedford, MA
Touchless Packaging System
Sealed Air, the originator of the BUBBLE WRAP® brand and CRYOVAC® food packaging technology as well as other sustainable packaging solutions has partnered with Soft Robotics to integrate their respective technology platforms to create an end-to-end packaging system. A key goal of this technology partnership was to minimize person to person contact typically found in order fulfillment applications. The new system uses Soft Robotics’ Superpick 3D piece picking solution that includes a FANUC LR Mate 200iD six-axis robot. The SuperPick system pairs Soft Robotics proprietary vision and software with the company’s patented soft gripper technology to accurately pick variable products from unstructured totes.
The new touchless systems will allow people to social distance, take them out of potentially dangerous areas, and enable them to manage the robotic system versus manually handling the products. It also gives companies dealing with a labor shortage the ability to meet their customers’ growing demands and reallocate their workforce to higher-level tasks.
The new TS2 SCARA series from Stäubli is not only well received by the industry, now the innovative four-axis robots have won one of the most coveted design awards, the Red Dot Design Award 2021 in the "Product Design" category.
A great success for the still young robot series, which sets benchmarks in terms of dynamics, precision and cleanroom.
“We are very proud to receive this prestigious prize. It rewards the passion and commitment of the Stäubli teams designing products and solutions with unmatched performance, precision and reliability to various environments from harsh to sterile,” emphasizes Christophe Coulongeat, Group Division Manager Stäubli Robotics.
The new four-axis impresses with their unique cylindrical working area which caused a sensation among experts when they were launched. The compact, closed design with internal media and supply lines knows no interfering contours, no sources of error and no unnecessary particle emissions. A completely sealed housing, the connections concealed under the robot base if desired, dead spaces consistently avoided - this is how hygienic design works today. This makes the robots the first choice even for sensitive applications in the pharmaceutical, medical and food sectors.
It has now been a full year of facing the coronavirus pandemic and although we see some faint light at the end of the tunnel, we are still far from the “old” normal.
It has now been a full year of facing the coronavirus pandemic and although we see some faint light at the end of the tunnel, we are still far from the “old” normal.
By now, we can clearly state that the pandemic has accelerated automation adoption. We especially see a push towards robotization in sectors beyond automotive, sectors that have so far been more ambivalent to the opportunities offered by automation technologies. Technological advances, e.g. in sensing and AI, spiced up with further progress in usability and ecosystems, are lowering the hurdles and will drive further deployment of robotics solutions, making robotics a mainstream technology.
Mobile robots are conquering warehouses and e-commerce, and are also poised to revolutionize smart factory solutions. - Early examples are deployed in the automotive industry; other sectors are likely to follow.
The automotive industry will presumably be the driver for another critical trend: reducing energy consumption and optimizing resource efficiencies in manufacturing processes. Combined with efforts to shorten the supply chains and produce closer to consumption (driven by insights gained in the past 12 months), this has the potential to massively reduce the carbon footprint of the goods produced.
Soon you will have the opportunity to find out more about these and other trends, which the robotics community will showcase during the fully virtual trade show and conference Automate Forward (March 22-26, 2021). We are looking forward to an exciting exhibition highlighting the latest innovations, lively panels and enlightening keynotes.
IFR is co-sponsoring an Executive Roundtable on “How Collaborative Automation is Driving Productivity” on March 25, 2021. Please join us for the conference and check the IFR booth in the exhibition area.