August 28, 2012      

Does this headline look familiar? While the international robotics community anticipates the unveiling of Rethink Robotics Inc.’s new line of compact, inexpensive, easily programmable robots, Odense, Denmark-based Universal Robots S/A brings its six-axis robotic arms — boasting the same revolutionary qualities — to the U.S. for a very public show-and-tell.

The UR5 robotic arm manufactured by Universal Robots has been called “The world’s most innovative robot” by The International Federation of Robotics and the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society. The U.S. audience will now see the award-winning robot — along with its big brother UR10 — for the first time at International Manufacturing Trade Show (IMTS) 2012 in Chicago.

Besides the robot’s low initial cost, it operates very cost-efficiently and is profitable in only six to eight months.” — Universal Robots CCO Thomas Visti

The UR5 and UR10 robotic arms are aimed at companies that thought robots were too expensive, cumbersome and hard to program and integrate in existing production. The lightweight, flexible UR5 and UR10 can work alongside personnel and generally require no safety shielding. The robotic arms are easily moved around the production area and present a plug-and-play solution. A simple user interface lets employees with no previous programming experience quickly set up and operate them.

The UR5 is compact

The robots weigh as little as 40 lb., enabling them to be moved around the production area to perform different tasks. The UR5 can handle a load of up to 11.3 lb., and the UR10 can handle 22.6 lb.

A significant benefit is the robot’s capability to operate with no safety shielding. As soon as an employee comes into contact with the robot arm and a force of at least 150 Newton is exerted, the robot arm will automatically stop operating.

UR5 controller

The UR5 comes with a universal controller.

Cost-effective

Instead of expensive sensor technology, the UR5 robotic arm utilizes a unique patented technology to measure electrical current in its joints to determine force and movement. The innovation enables the robot to undercut the price of other automated solutions. This enables even smaller companies to automate production that was previously unthinkable.

“Small and medium-sized enterprises demand a fast return on investment. Besides the robot’s low initial cost, it operates very cost-efficiently and is profitable in only six to eight months,” said Universal Robots CCO Thomas Visti.

User-friendly

“We decided to make programming intuitive by developing a graphical user interface combined with a ‘teaching function,’ allowing the user to simply grab the robot arm and show it how a movement should be performed. The robot can be integrated into any production process very quickly. Our experience shows this is generally done in a few hours,” explained Esben Ostergaard, chief technology officer at Universal Robots.

Since the first UR robot entered the market in 2009, the company has seen substantial growth. This year alone, Universal Robots expects to sell 800 to 1,000 robots globally.

The company’s European portfolio includes customers such as Lear, Oticon, Bosch, BMW, Scandinavian Tobacco Group, LG, Samsung, LUK, and GN Resound. In Asia, UR robots are used extensively by Bajaj Auto in its production of 4 million vehicles, motor cycles, and auto rickshaws per year. All development and production is carried out in Odense.

One can assume that the Rethink robot will more closely resemble a two-armed co-worker than a single arm (although a Double UR5 is available). Still, it will be interesting to compare the success rates of these businesses as they each carve a path into the SME industrial market.

Universal Robots will be at booth E-4601 at IMTS in Chicago, Sept. 10 to 15, 2012.