October 04, 2016      

Universal Robots A/S has been on a roll, doubling in size every year for the past few years. This week, Teradyne Inc., which bought the collaborative robot maker in 2015 for $285 million, named Jurgen von Hollen as UR’s new president. Von Hollen talked with Robotics Business Review about his new job and the robot market.

“I was recruited for the role,” he said. “I’m still in the midst of relocating from Frankfurt [Germany] to Odense, Denmark.”

Von Hollen previously worked at Daimler-Benz aerospace, Daimler-Chrysler Services, Deutsche Telecom, and Pentair.

“If you look at my career, it has been about international, global, and scaling companies, so I’ve worked in many different roles,” he said. “At Bilfinger’s engineering solutions division, I was responsible for 10,000 people and about $1 billion in sales. I’ve been active in the automation field.”

Assessing cobot demand and scaling up

“The key thing is my experience with scaling companies and with multiple markets and industries,” von Hollen said. “I’m personally interested in process automation, understanding the core processes of customers.”

He noted that one challenge in his first days at Universal Robots is to understand the collaborative robot market.

“Yes, it’s the technology, but what about the people behind it?” von Hollen asked. “Are we getting to the [potential] markets?”

But a wide range of predictions doesn’t make von Hollen’s job easier.

“One big question is identifying the robot market size and growth,” he said. “It’s still such a young industry, and market data is very sparse or not very clear.”

“Everybody has an opinion on the growth of the market, and I’ve seen deviations of 20 to 40 percent,” von Hollen said. “Fortunately, my analysis is that UR is very strong and focused.”

“My strategy is always market-backed,” he said. “If the market is growing, then we grow with the market. I want to go beyond that, to achieve and hold the leadership position.”

Educating end users

“There’s a lack of profile or definition of collaborative robots versus traditional robotics,” von Hollen said. “We need to make sure that we’re educating the market as we’re going along.”

He listed three major challenges:

  1. The market itself: “In advanced technologies, you’re basically selling and developing the market at the same time, compared with just selling,” he said. “We want to keep market growth going.”
  2. The technology: “Maintaining UR’s focus is critical as we head toward Industry 4.0 and digitization,” said von Hollen. “Trying to be everything to everybody is not the key to success.”
  3. The people: “I want to make sure that we can keep our [corporate] culture, even as we double in size,” he said.

Internal efficiencies

In addition, von Hollen acknowledged that Universal Robot can find efficiencies internally by automating some processes, alleviating pressures on staff as UR continues to grow quickly.

“The company has gone through such dramatic growth, that there hasn’t even been time to fully consider that. It would be a quick win,” he said. “Our staff has been in firefighting mode, but there’s still the need to invest and scale properly.”

“From my relatively new perspective, that’s a benefit of having Teradyne as owner,” von Hollen added. “We’ll be ready to scale for the next five years.”

More on the Collaborative Robot Market:

Supporting innovation

In August, UR launched the Universal Robots+ accessory and integrator program and the +YOU developer community.

“The concept is good,” said von Hollen. “It helps support and development around UR’s arms and drives the ecosystem around it without causing us to lose our focus on our product line.”

“I also think it’s early days; we’ll still be developing the concept over the coming weeks and months,” he said.

When might Universal Robots come out with a new product?

“I don’t yet know,” von Hollen said. “But we are in a position to dictate when we bring out a new product.”

“I’ll be meeting with our technical staff in the coming weeks and with our top 20 customers in the next month,” he said. “We’ll find out what’s needed out there in terms of innovation.”

“I look forward to helping our customers increase their productivity,” he said. “It’s a challenge of educating users on where to automate.”