As European companies and countries strive to remain competitive, automation initiatives are seen as a means to stimulate economic growth. In particular, Industry 4.0 in Scandinavia shows the region’s leadership in robotics development and adoption.
“In the U.S., the platform development and fundraising are further ahead, but within robot technology, Denmark is not behind,” said Bjarke Nielsen, manager of RoboCluster. “Denmark is a pioneer country, and in my opinion in the top three. When I was [at the RoboBusiness conference], both Denmark and Scandinavia were mentioned many times for doing well in this line of business.”
According to Nielsen, Denmark has used industrial automation for 50 years, and the business of robotics is growing very fast, as it is in Europe as a whole. The healthcare sector is seeing 27% annual growth, while Denmark’s RoboCluster is seeing a growth of 34% annually.
In addition to established companies like collaborative robot maker Universal Robots (UR), others such as Mobile Industrial Robots have seen their revenues skyrocket year after year.
Nielsen was named the winner of the automation award 2017 from the Danish Robot Network, Intelligent Marking, for the development of the world’s first robot for doing line marking on sports complexes autonomously. Last year’s hi Tech & Industry Scandinavia conference provided numerous examples of how companies are taking advantage of the region’s talent pool.
KUKA showcases Industry 4.0 in Scandinavia
KUKA’s robotic arms are easy to program, customer service manager Conny Olsson told Robotics Business Review. It’s a part of KUKA’s Industry 4.0 initiative, where more capable software manages nearly every aspect of production.
The KR3 R540 has 3 kg payload and is used by the electronics industry for pick-and-place assembling, and it’s ready to use for driving screws.
KUKA also has a mobile platform that can be used, for instance, in the automotive industry. The mounted robot can work at one station and then automatically move to another station. With accompanying software and cloud technology, the company said, the whole manufacturing process can be monitored via “smart production” – where problems can be identified before it becomes a major problem.
OptoForce demonstrates sensors
OptoForce produces a lightweight 6-axis F/T sensor to plug and play with UR and KUKA robotic arms that Domotor claimed includes a “revolutionary” optical technology. In addition, the company planned sensors for ABB and Yaskawa robotic arms as well.
Danish robot investor Enrico Iversen invested in OptoForce company over one year ago and has been working on fine-tuning the sensor even further.
“The biggest change is that we have worked even harder to understand what customers need,” Domotor said. “When you automate, it can be hard and difficult to use info sensors. We had to simplify it to a couple of settings, and after a couple of clicks, you are up and running.”
“When you see the differences between regions, I think Europe is quite strong and better automated than the U.S.,” he added. “The leading robotic companies are in Europe.”
“I have lived in China for one year, and they have picked up automation,” said Domotor. “China looks for not necessarily the best product, but products that have been successful and of good quality as a model. With end-of-arm tooling, I see a recent boom because of the advancements. It is easy to integrate, also for companies without engineering. I think we should look at what else we can automate? We keep flexibility when we automate.”
Easy Robotics on wheels
Per Lachenmeier, CEO at Easy Robotics, talked about his work with Palle Hannemann (of parent company Hannemann Engineering) to develop an easy solution that meets the demands of Industry 4.0 in Scandinavia with small and medium-sized production and changeovers in production runs.
Easy Robotics builds mobile platforms on which robotic arms can be attached, but are easily transportable as a carry-on suitcase and moved to the next assignment.
“I think that the market needed an easy-going solution,” he said. “Many solutions are constructed where the workpieces are taken to the robot. Why not take the robot to the workpieces? Easy Robotics makes it simple for the customers to use robots — plug and produce. My job is to help small and medium-sized companies.”
Blue Workforce and Blue REALITY
Blue Workforce offered expo attendees the opportunity to try its Blue REALTY system, a patented communication platform that’s yet another example of the push towards Industry 4.0 in Scandinavia. It’s also an example of how simulation software is making it easier for manufacturing operations to bring in robots.
”With Blue REALITY, you design the production and during production, you have the digital twin,” said Blue Workforce CEO Preben Hjørnet. “The design interface makes it possible to be offline and develop the future production. We are ready for Industry 4.0.”
Marc Freese developed the system and explained that simplicity is the key to its easy use. He compared it to a video game with drag-and-drop items, requiring no programming skills. In addition, he said it is much cheaper than the traditional methods of automating a production line.
Freese explained the three stages of use for the Blue REALITY system: “One: Before buying a robot, try different ways of operations and collect the simulation data. [Gain the feel] of the real system. Two: After simulation, you buy the robot and install it. Connect virtual world to the real world, and calibrate in 10 seconds. Adjust parameters and gripping height. Then you are ready to run. Three: While running, Blue REALITY displays important info. And you can see the production on the screen – monitoring the production and interact with it”.
What else is happening with Industry 4.0 in Scandinavia?
- Festo: Festo presented what it said is the world’s first pneumatic automation platform controlled by apps. The valve hardware incorporates more than 50 different functions.
- ABB: The industrial automation leader showed how virtual reality and simulation can help plan a factory before it is physically built through ABB‘s Virtual Commissioning robot studio.
- Eltronic & Rethink Robotics: The partners showed how the Sawyer cobot is easy to setup and operate, and it includes an integrated vision and force-sensing system.
- Taking out the trash — in space: Aalborg University‘s self-expanding module is intended help rid space junk from Earth’s orbit. End-of-life satellites and other debris left in orbit constitute a rapidly growing problem and have attracted great political attention because of its threat to communications and national security.
- First hygienic beam load cell: Eilersen Electric last year presented what it said is the world’s first hygienic beam load cell to be used in the food and pharmaceuticals industries. The new hygienic design is unique without any grooves or gaps, facilitating easy cleaning to minimize the risk of bacteria and fungus growth on the load cells and thereby ensuring an overall high level of hygiene.