November 29, 2017      

ABB Robotics, one of the world’s largest providers of industrial automation, is expanding its presence in the collaborative robot market and is pushing for cobot standards. Yesterday, the company announced that it is working with Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd. on promoting cobots and developing “common industry approaches to safety, programming, and communications.”

Why would a Swiss company and a Japanese company work together on cobot standards when they both supply industrial equipment?

The global market for collaborative robots will grow to $6.77 billion by 2025, predicts Grand View Research Inc. The firm attributes much of that growth to increasing adoption by small and midsize enterprises, as well as in automotive manufacturing, plastics, pick-and-place, and machine-tending applications. This market will experience a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 60.3% from 2017 to 2021, says Absolute Reports.

The cobot market will have a CAGR of 57.4% and will reach $4.4 billion by 2023, according to a slightly more conservative estimate by Energias Market Research. Industry analysts agree, however, that Europe and Asia will continue to be leaders in producing and using such robots.

Other leading cobot providers include FANUC Corp., KUKA AG, Rethink Robotics, Robert Bosh GmbH, Universal Robots A/S, and Yaskawa Electric Corp. Both established robotics companies and smaller, more specialized businesses have cobots in their portfolios.

Business Takeaways:

  • Major automation providers are moving to capture the growing global market for collaborative robots, which are designed to be more flexible and safer to operate around people than traditional, caged robots.
  • ABB and Kawasaki have formed an international partnership to inform the public and potential users about the benefits of cobots.
  • Although ABB is pushing cobot standards or a “common approach” for robots with two arms, it will also release a more nimble, single-armed robot in 2018.

Educating customers and policy makers on cobot standards

ABB and Kawasaki said their partnership “is the world’s first to focus on cobots.” Zurich-based ABB focuses on the energy and utility industries, while Tokyo-based Kawasaki is known for vehicles and transportation. They may be competitors, but the steady growth in robotics demand and the chance to shape international markets are encouraging this push for cobot standards.

“ABB is clearly the No. 1 in China. Our long-term investment that started more than a decade ago in China is paying off,” CEO Ulrich Spiesshofer recently told CNBC. “The robotics market is solid; I can tell you all around the world, there’s tremendous opportunity out there.”

Kawasaki's duAro is involved in the company's partnership with ABB for cobot standards.

Kawasaki’s duAro is a dual-armed cobot.

Although ABB Robotics and Kawasaki Robotics will “share knowledge,” they plan to “continue independently manufacturing and marketing their own offerings while working together on joint technical and awareness opportunities,” particularly around cobots with two arms.

Among other robots, ABB makes the YuMi dual-arm cobot, while Kawasaki’s duAro is a dual-arm SCARA robot. Kawasaki sold 2,000 units of its duAro in China this year.

The companies’ joint efforts will include “educating policy makers, NGOs [nongovernmental organizations], and the general public about the benefits of collaborative automation.” They are exhibiting together at the International Robot Exhibition (iREX) conference in Tokyo this week.

Robot arms with padding, sensors and programming for full stop, and slower operations are intended to be easier to use and reflect an evolution from the production lines of old. Cobots have gone from being research projects to significant parts of large and small operations. Outside of industry, concerns persist about robots taking jobs and need to be addressed positively.

“Collaboration between people and robots, machines, and processes is increasingly important, as production in many industries has shifted from larger lots with little variation to low volumes with a high mix,” said ABB. “This means more variability and more human intervention. Collaborative automation allows people and robots to each contribute their unique strengths — people offer process knowledge, insight, and improvisation for change, while robots offer tireless endurance for repetitive tasks.”

“The scale and pace of change in the robotics industry today is unimaginable,” said Per Vegard Nerseth, managing director of ABB’s Robotics business.

“Collaborative robots, especially those with two arms capable of human interactions, can greatly contribute to society and help the world cope with labor shortages and an aging workforce,” said Yasuhiko Hashimoto, managing executive officer and general manager of the Kawasaki Robot Division.

Kawasaki is also expanding its production in China and working on humanoid robots.

More on Cobot Standards, Markets:

ABB is pushing for cobot standards as it releases a new one-armed robot.

ABB’s Per Vegard Nerseth and Sami Atiya with the newest member of the YuMi family at iREX 2017.

ABB debuts single-arm cobot

Also at iREX, ABB is showing its new single-arm collaborative robot, which has a smaller footprint and is meant to be easier to integrate into existing assembly lines. This is similar to the development of Rethink Robotics, which started with the dual-arm Baxter and later released the single-arm Sawyer.

“The success of YuMi has exceeded expectations; it was originally designed for small-parts assembly, but it has turned out to be exceptionally versatile — it can solve a Rubik’s Cube, make sushi, wrap gifts, and conduct an orchestra,” said Sami Atiya, president of ABB’s Robotics and Motion division. “Based on YuMi’s enormous success, we fully expect our new single-arm robot to be equally well-received, especially since it was developed at the request of customers.”

“The newest robot is a much anticipated addition to the ‘factory of the future,’ enabling our customers to grow and thrive in the age of mass customization,” said Vegard Nerseth. “Combining this robot with our ABB Ability digital solutions will allow our customers to take efficiency and reliability in their factories to the next level.”

ABB this month opened a robotics plant in Thailand, and the company last month launched what it called the “world’s first digital automotive painting system.”