February 15, 2016      

Denmark has room to grow when it comes to automation in industry — Danes are open towards robotics, workers tend to see robots as a tool to retain jobs and create healthier work environments, and the country is a European leader in industrial robot installations.

Although Denmark offers opportunities for industrial automation, other countries are competitive, despite economic challenges. Italy is the second largest market for industrial robots in Europe, and sales there increased by up to 32 percent in 2014.

Similarly, after weak robot sales between 2010 and 2013, those in France (36 percent) and Spain (16 percent) increased considerably.

In contrast, sales to the U.K., Sweden, Belgium, and the Netherlands, which have a similar robot density to Denmark, decreased in 2014.

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No country can take its leadership position for granted, and Denmark is encouraging small and midsize enterprises (SMEs) to invest in automation.

Southern Denmark invests in robots

During the past two years, the region of southern Denmark has invested 10 million Danish kroner ($1.5 million U.S.) into the automation of production in order to resist outsourcing out of the country.

Last summer, the investment was prolonged for another three years, with 25 million Danish kroner ($3.7 million) focusing on SMEs.

Three projects were financially supported during the first phase from 2013 to 2015: AutoSyd, Automation i Syd (AiS) and Strategic Automation in Manufacturing Companies (SAFIR). They all had the same aim: encouraging SMEs to implement automation while retaining and creating jobs.

AutoSyd focused on LEAN automation concepts to clarify the potential of automation through a consortium of private system suppliers, business promoters, and educational and research institutions.

AiS is based on an interdisciplinary collaboration with a focus on technology transfer between the University of Southern Denmark, the Danish Technological Institute Center for Robotics, and member organizations RoboCluster and Danish Robot Network.

SAFIR assesses automation potential

From May 2013 to May 2015, SAFIR described more than 60 potential automation projects in 30 Danish SMEs. Of these potential projects, more than 20 showed returns on investment in less than three years, and more than 10 achieved ROI in less than two years.

In all, 13 projects were initiated, with a total investment of 25 million Danish kroner ($3.6 million U.S.).

An example is Olet Industrigummi A/S, which specializes in flexible production of rubber workpieces. SAFIR helped it identify three potential areas for automation, and the company decided on an automated brush to clean the mold from flash.

Using a robot to unload its molding machines led to more operating shifts, freed workers for more important tasks, shortened cycle times, and saved energy.

“It is our objective to ensure that our products are considered to fulfil the expectations of solid quality and a high degree of reliability,” said Henrik Simonsen, production manager at Olet Industrigummi. “We continually invest in the latest technology and rational production equipment to meet customer requirements.”

NSM A/S, a producer of complicated stainless steel and high-strength steel systems, also prioritized three potential automation projects together with SAFIR.

“We went through the automation projects roadmap and reviewed the analytical information to get a better understanding of the projects technological scope and their expected financial influence after implementation,” said Henrik Clausen, production manager at NSM.

“Then we created a summary to compare expected outcomes for the different applications,” he said. “Afterwards, we prioritized the possible applications to maximize achievement of investment and decided to focus on automating deburring processes of machined items.”

“The robot has the advantages that we will have a higher productivity and higher production capacity,” Clausen said. “We will not need to outsource jobs, which means more in-house works and more profitability. The task will be also more ergonomic for the operator, and there will be more flexibility on the workstation.”

“Before, only experienced workers could manage to do the task,” he said. “After implementing the robotic solution, every employee can execute the tasks together with the robot.”

SAFIR provides a tool that helps identify automation projects supporting a company’s overall strategy.

“SAFIR is based on Blue Ocean Robotics’ global network of robotics specialists, robotic component vendors, and robotic system integrators,” said Rune K. Larsen, partner and director at Blue Ocean Robotics. “Most SMEs know that they could improve their production processes, but they don’t have the multidisciplinary knowledge in automation and robot technology.”

“We analyze the potential to automate their production processes according to different factors like complexity, financial risks, and the companies’ objectives,” he said. “Finally, we help them to find a provider from our network.”

SAFIR will be made commercially available by Blue Ocean Robotics.

MADE in Denmark

The Manufacturing Academy of Denmark (MADE) is another project focusing on educating skilled workers, technicians, and university graduates in automated production. MADE’s members include companies, universities, and other institutions.

At present, the budget is well 183 million kroner ($26.4 million), of which the companies themselves account for 88 million kroner ($12.7 million). “But the budget is too modest,” said Karsten Dybvad from the Confederation of Danish Industry. The organization would like the government to invest more money into the project, which since its launch in January 2014 increased from 26 to 55 companies.

“We have a good starting point to be included in the next development wave, which some might call the fourth industrial revolution — if we seize the opportunity,” he said. “We think that Denmark invests too little in technical research. If you compare us with Sweden and Germany, they invest more.”

Horizon 2020 funding

This development is also reflected by the distribution of funding received by Horizon 2020. Denmark is only on tenth place of those countries receiving most funding from the EU, while Germany, the U.K., and France are the leaders.

However, looking at the numbers compared to inhabitants and GDP, Denmark is actually in a good position. So far, Denmark has received 152.4 million euro ($166.84 million), 2.3 percent of the available funding.

According to the Danish Ministry of Higher Education and Science, every sixth application from Denmark has been granted.

After the Netherlands and Belgium, Denmark is the European country that receives most funding from Horizon 2020 per inhabitant and sixth place in regard to funding per GDP, after Slovenia, the Netherlands, Greece, Belgium, and Portugal.

However, funding is concentrated on top-quality research (64.1 million euro, or $70.17 million) and challenges in society (73.8 million euro/$80.79 million), while only 0.98 percent (14 million euro/$15.33 million) is used for industrial leadership.

The funding for innovation in SMEs and advanced production methods is only a small part of the industrial leadership funding.