Manuel Sordo
General Manager LATAM
Universal Robots
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View from the Top

All Robotic Hands on Deck

Fri, 09/01/2017 - 12:29

Q: What strategies have helped Universal Robots to stand out in the competitive robotics market?

A: Innovation has allowed Universal Robots to take approximately 80 percent of the global market share in collaborative robots. Our goal has been to define the different aspects that make up a collaborative robot and so far, the largest names in robotics have not been able to compete with us in our specialty. The gap has narrowed over the years but we are planning a new product launch for the end of 2017 that will once again put us well ahead of the competition.

We started operations in Latin America during 2012 and every year we have grown 250 percent on average. When we arrived in Mexico, Universal Robots was practically unknown but over the last six years we have noticed exponential growth in our market presence. Although we were competing against mature leaders in the robotics sector, we discovered a previously untapped niche in the collaborative robot segment. Even companies like KUKA that refused to accept these products are now entering the booming collaborative robot market because such products have become mainstream.

Programming ease was the decisive factor that allowed us to secure such a large market share. Our hardware and software are developed in-house together with a simple interface that any person can learn to use in just two hours. Companies can train operators who previously managed repetitive and monotonous activities, giving them the opportunity to grow and supervise the functionality of an automation unit. The system is intuitive and just as easy to use as a tablet.

Q: What advantages do collaborative robots offer over traditional automation units?

A: If we compare traditional industrial robots from 40 years ago with the machines of today, there are few physical differences. Programming and versatility have evolved but the technology has remained practically unchanged. Advanced programming also requires a high technical aptitude, resulting in complex equipment that cannot be used by everyone. These robots also require large investments in installing protective cages to isolate them from the rest of the production line. Robotic manufacturing cells are highly inflexible, so companies cannot easily relocate them to other production areas.

Although collaborative robots do not have the same load capacity as their industrial counterparts, their advantages are numerous. These units do not require cages or other types of protection equipment. They occupy a small area and the user can relocate them throughout the plant to complete different tasks. The robots have several sensors that detect human operators and slow the unit down if a person comes in close contact. If the person touches the robot, it stops moving completely. This does not compromise the entire production line, however, because operators need only press a couple of buttons for the robot to resume its task.

Q: How did Universal Robots consider the clients’ view of collaborative robots and operator safety issues during development?

A: We knew operator safety concerns would be one of our main obstacles to enter the market. Every safety standard in place was related to traditional robotic applications, so there was no precedent for our offering. New standards had to be created and even now there are still grey areas.

When we acquire new clients, we always recommend they perform a safety analysis of their operations to determine if collaborative applications are the best way to go. We have not encountered any obstacles to companies adapting to our solutions and many have helped us promote our equipment’s advantages.

Q: How relevant has Universal Robots become to the Mexican automotive industry’s growth in 2017?

A: BMW, FCA, Volkswagen, GM and many automotive companies use our robots in Mexico. We have aggressive growth expectations. Globally, we expect to keep growing between 70-80 percent and plan to increase sales in Latin America by 300 percent by the end of 2017. We are negotiating with several OEMs that are new to Mexico and are close to finalizing international deals. Latin America represents 20 percent of our sales in North and South America and by 2020 we expect that number to grow to 40 percent.

The automotive industry was the perfect target for Universal Robots due to the sector's familiarity with robotic applications. These companies are very open to technology integration and like to be early adopters when new alternatives arise. Our solutions allow companies to automate processes they have not previously considered. The potential for technology adoption in Mexico is immense, not only in OEMs’ facilities but with suppliers as well. Our robots are now included in several manufacturing activities, improving quality and efficiency at companies of all sizes.

Q: How easy is it to integrate Universal Robots’ solutions to existing automation infrastructure?

A: Integration is simple. Our systems can be controlled using the most common programming languages and are compatible with all communication protocols available in the industry. We are always innovating with our platform and have collaborated with peripheral hardware developers. This will allow our clients to communicate, program and supervise their equipment via a mobile device. We understand the need for autonomy in the industry and are ready to offer modern solutions.

Q: How can Universal Robots compete on total cost of ownership of the equipment?

A: Our robots are designed to be maintenance free. The equipment can run continuously for 35,000 hours and if any repairs are needed, the system being based on a modular architecture allows corrections to be made in a matter of minutes. Our distribution network is equipped with all the necessary spare parts to offer repair services immediately at all times. Our 100 sales representatives in Mexico are dedicated to sales and service operations, and our engineers are trained to operate and repair our products.

Our robots are versatile so users can relocate them to any area they desire. Being truly universal means countless companies in the market that manufacture accessories could use our robots in diverse production applications. The company’s goal is to imitate a human arm’s abilities and offer our clients a high level of customization.

Q: What opportunities exist for Universal Robots to target growing Mexican suppliers?

A: There are thousands of companies competing at an entry level and the only way for them to participate in advanced manufacturing activities is by investing in automation. Our challenge is to promote our solutions among Mexican SMEs. A US$100,000 investment can be daunting, and this would buy a small traditional robot with a working space of 0.5m and the necessary infrastructure from some competitors. A Universal Robots solution with similar capabilities represents an investment of only US$25,000. This is much more accessible and companies usually see returns in just three months.