Companies looking to deploy collaborative robots often need more than just the robot arm – a combination of several end-of-arm tooling is required, which can include different end effectors, grippers, and other gear. This week, three companies in this space combined as OnRobot to offer customers a one-stop-shop for end-of-arm options.
Denmark-based On Robot, U.S.-based Perception Robotics, and Hungary-based OptoForce have merged to become OnRobot (one word now, not two). The merger was made with the assistance of the Danish Growth Fund and Enrico Krog Iversen, CEO of On Robot and the leader of the new OnRobot.
Iversen, the former CEO of Universal Robotics before the company was sold to Teradyne, spoke with Robotics Business Review about the merger of three companies.
“The whole idea with the rollup of the three companies, as well as adding more companies to OnRobot in the future, is to be industry-independent and application-independent,” Iversen said. “We will have the right product for an end user, no matter what kind of industrial collaborative application they are going to develop.”
After initially investing in On Robot in 2016 and then investing in the other companies, Iversen said he began to see synergies between them, as sales staffers from each company would be pitching their products to the same end-user companies. At that point, discussions began about the possibilities of creating the new venture for the end-of-arm market.
Iversen said the companies decided to keep the OnRobot name for the merged entity because it describes the types of products the company will make.
“We decided to keep the name OnRobot because this is what we’ll do — we’ll make anything that can go on a robot, so it made sense to stick with that name,” he said.
Denmark home, but global reach
Because the Danish Growth Fund is a government-funded group, Danish rules say direct investments must be made in Danish companies. Thus, the new OnRobot will be headquartered in Denmark, Iversen said.
Individual operations and development will remain in Los Angeles for Perception and in Hungary for OptoForce. Additional regional offices will remain in Germany, China, and Malaysia.
The new entity also strengthens Denmark’s role in the robotics industry.
“In recent years, Denmark has successfully established itself as a global hub for robotic technologies,” said Christian Motzfeldt, CEO of the Danish Growth Fund, in a statement.
“Universal Robots was a pioneer, and since then, many more strong and innovative companies have been formed with roots in Odense, Denmark. The new OnRobot has the potential to become not only a world-leading company, but also a catalyst for further development of the Danish robotics cluster.”
Cobot market continues to grow
Even though collaborative robots currently represent only 3% of global robot sales, the International Federation of Robotics is predicting that share to rise to 34% of a $25 billion market by 2025. Iversen said this growth will depend on cobots being used in more applications, along with the need for “new tooling that can be quickly and easily integrated into the cobot’s user interface.”
Products that each company makes includes:
- Plug-and-play grippers from On Robot, including the RG2 and RG6, that mount directly on a robot arm.
- Force/torque sensors from OptoForce, which add a “sense of touch” to industrial robots for tasks that would require dexterity.
- Bio-inspired robot grippers from Perception Robotics, which include a gecko-inspired gripper that handles large, flat objects and a tactile gripper with rubber sensors, like a skin, that also give robots a sense of touch.
All of the products will have OnRobot branding when they hit the market, including some that launch next week at the Automatica trade show in Munich, Iversen said.
The company also plans on expanding product lines to work with multiple robot manufacturers, as well as work in multiple industries that need tooling for their robots. While OnRobot has close ties to Universal Robots, Iversen said it won’t limit itself to one cobot model.
“I think Universal Robots and OnRobot will have a very good relationships, I think all of our products will help Universal Robots to sell a lot of robots,” Iversenn said. “But we will have similar relationships with all of the other robot manufacturers. In the initial phase, we will have some piggybacking on Universal Robots, but moving forward, we will spread out and migrate to other platforms as well.”
Next phase for OnRobot – multiple applications?
The next evolution for cobots will be the goal of a single robot performing multiple tasks, with the ability to quickly re-tool the arm and program the interface for the next task. Iversen said the industry isn’t there yet, but it could get there in a few years.
“The majority of uses out there is still one robot for one task,” Iversen said.
At the moment, a big challenge for OnRobot is entering the competitive market for end-of-arm tooling.
“I think there are plenty of challenges when you do something like this,” said Iversen. “There’s a lot of competition in the market; it’s definitely not a blue ocean we’re operating in.”
“There are also challenges when you have to integrate people from three different cultures – company cultures and geographic cultures – but that’s also what makes this very fun to work with,” he added. When we’ve negotiated those challenges in the right way, it will have a big reward.”