Abraham Sosa
Director of Global Accounts Latin America
Universal Robots
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Universal Robots Aims to Make Impossible Automation a Reality

By Alejandro Enríquez | Tue, 10/05/2021 - 09:00

Q: How has Universal Robots supported growing automation efforts before and after the pandemic?

A: The inherent flexibility of Universal Robots’ collaborative robots (cobots) helped support the rapid development and deployment of automation globally. The key is that being a smaller type of robot – compared to those regularly used in plants – they can physically interact with humans in a collaborative work environment. As many companies and production plants implemented social distancing, the use of Universal Robots’ cobots allowed companies to optimize operations without affecting business production.

Q: What were some of the lessons learned from the pandemic?

A: 2020 was a year of change. Our market analysis gave us four important lessons. First, agility became key to make informed decisions and turn them into action plans to help industries find their way through difficult periods and seize new opportunities. Second, many business owners evaluated exiting their business, which is common in periods of economic uncertainty. COVID-19 was no different. To get the most out of what companies have built, owners must create a succession plan. Three, downtime provides opportunities to update and invest. With manufacturing plants forced to shut down, some organizations took advantage of the offline time to upgrade IT systems and update processes. Finally, automation and collaboration were put into practice. To reduce employee interactions, manufacturing organizations turned to automation to keep team members safe. Automation adoption will be one of the legacies of the pandemic. Organizations should continue to explore automation opportunities to start maximizing its impact.

Q: What are the key drivers of companies adopting these alternatives?

A: Today’s manufacturing environment is under increasing pressure to be more flexible due to uncertain production volumes and product lifetimes. A safe and flexible cooperation between robot and operator improves productivity in a flexible production system. Manufacturing companies are experiencing an increase in human-robot interactions and in the use of cobots.

Empirical results gathered by Universal Robots reveal that companies are concerned about “operational efficiency” and “ergonomics and human factors.” Drivers are aligned with productivity, flexibility and quality improvements. Understanding these drivers can help motivate manufacturing companies to adopt cobots and reap the benefits of this technology.

The cobot brought to the Mexican industry the possibility of automating areas that could not be transformed previously due to the unpredictability of traditional automation.

Q: What is the main added value that cobots could bring to the automotive industry and what are the obstacles to achieve this?

A: Parts of the automotive manufacturing process have been highly automated for decades but some tasks remain highly dependent on manual labor. For tasks like screwdriving and assembly, the flexibility and small footprint of UR’s cobots benefit automakers. A large part of auto production occurs in urban areas that lack an extra 100,000m2 to expand into. In highly regulated sectors like automotive manufacturing, where traceability is key, cobots also help manufacturers control and track key production processes, such as the precise torque applied to screws when they are mounted to the car body.

Q: Do you see a future when cobots outnumber traditional robotic equipment?

A: Robots regularly perform low value-added or dangerous jobs, allowing technicians to focus on their core business and create more added value. In comparison, cobots provide businesses and industries with unmatched flexibility, increase productivity and maintain competitiveness. The adoption of collaborative robots worldwide has grown in recent years and, without a doubt, machines that can collaborate with workers without causing them any risk will be increasingly common.

Q: How is Universal Robots advancing the fifth industrial revolution?

A: Industry 5.0 puts people at the center of production, shying away from mass production to focus on customization. In this age of technological advances, machines and humans work together to improve manufacturing processes. Although many say that robots will replace workers, a better review of the data shows that nothing could be further from the truth.

Cobots will benefit workers who will be exempted from carrying out the most tedious and dangerous tasks, which will be entrusted to collaborative robots. The worker’s role is to supervise and program the cobot. Even those without skills in robotics can program them thanks to its intuitive interfaces.

Q: How is Universal Robots ensuring flexible solutions for small and medium customers?

A: Until recently, most SMEs did not consider acquiring an industrial robot due to its large size but cobots are much more compact, versatile and affordable. We might be facing the democratization of collaborative robotics. Some companies are retaking the production processes they had outsourced thanks to cobots.

We are at the dawn of a revolution at the hand of collaborative robotics, which are predicted to grow by 60 percent in 2022, according to technology consultancy MarketsandMarkets. The sector is expected to be valued at US$3.3 trillion in 2022.

Q: How does Universal Robots help clients finance these robots?

A: Universal Robots recently launched a new cobot leasing program in collaboration with  global finance company DLL. This partnership enables manufacturers, regardless of their capital equipment size or budget, to reap the benefits of automation without worrying about cash flow and seasonal fluctuations.

We are leveling the playing field by allowing manufacturers to immediately put cobots to work without an initial capital investment. Universal Robots Financial Services offers end users a fast, low-risk and financially friendly model to accelerate automation. The partnership makes it easy to upgrade existing cobots, add additional units or test cobots for the first time to maximize productivity, quality and profitability.

Q: What are Universal Robots’ plans for Mexico in the short term?

A: Universal Robots expects that in the next three to five years, the collaborative robot market will grow over 50 percent in Mexico. At the same time, the company will continue to solidify its leadership in the market by showcasing that cobots carry out monotonous and dangerous tasks within the manufacturing industry, without displacing the workforce.

 

Universal Robots aims to integrate collaborative robotic technology into all types of manufacturing companies, regardless of their size.

Alejandro Enríquez Alejandro Enríquez Journalist and Industry Analyst