March 09, 2017      

ODENSE, Denmark — Universal Robots A/S, which announced its favorable financial results this week, is offering robotics training at its Universal Robots Academy to help encourage adoption of collaborative robots.

In addition to its UR+ program for software and end effectors, Universal Robots has launched initiatives to make it easier for companies to use its “plug and play” robotic arms in production. In the free Universal Robots Academy, people can learn how to program its robots online for free through six modules.

It is unusual in the robotics industry to make such training available for free, said Esben Ostergaard, chief technology officer and founder of Universal Robots. “But this is a long-term investment for us,” he said. “We want to raise the robot literacy.”

“The reason for speeding up the entry of cobots is not only to optimize production here and now,” he explained. “[But] we are facing a looming skills gap in the manufacturing industry that we need to bridge by all means possible. Facilitating knowledge creation and access to our robots is an important step in that direction.”

The online robotics training modules are available in English, Spanish, German, French, and Chinese. The six modules cover configuring end effectors, connecting inputs and outputs, and creating basic programs, as well as how to apply safety features to an application.

Business Takeaways:

  • Universal Robots has benefited from the growing cobot market and is working to educate end users in the use of its collaborative robot arms.
  • The new Universal Robots Academy joins other support programs, such as the UR+ platform for end effectors and software.
  • Based on its existing use cases, UR’s leadership expects cobots to help human workers, not replace them.

Robotics training from UR can help end users develop applications.

Jurgen von Hollen working at Universal Robots headquarters.

While other vendors offer robotics training, Universal Robots’ free academy is part of its strategy to help grow the cobot market.

“We really believe in a different business value, a shared value, to get the message out about our products,” said Jurgen von Hollen, president of Universal Robots. “We see it as an enabler for market growth, [and] we’ve gotten a fantastic response.”

“Our business model is that when you buy our cobot, this is good to go; we don’t want you to pay for anything more,” he told Robotics Business Review. “This is very different from the traditional approach in this space.”

Robotics training increases accessibility

One early adopter of the Universal Robots Academy was Whirlpool Corp., where the online training is now the basis for all UR robot training at the company’s plant in Ohio.

Tim Hossler, a controls engineer at Whirlpool, emphasized the convenience of being able to offer this resource to employees in-house.

“Now we don’t have to wait and send them out for basic training elsewhere,” he said. “The modules can be completed at our own pace, and we can even pick and choose which modules we offer different personnel depending on skill sets and their level of interaction with the robots.”

“I really like the interactive approach — it makes learning very hands-on and transferable to what we would actually be doing here at our plant,” Hossler said. “I was also pleasantly surprised that the modules were free of charge for anyone to use. It definitely increases the accessibility of the UR robots.”

The academy modules have received positive feedback from users around the world, said Stefan Stubgaard, global product manager at Universal Robots.

“This learning resource is now also reaching small and medium-sized manufacturers that up until now regarded robotics as costly and complex,” he said. “By simply logging into the academy, they experience first-hand how simple the setup can be, and they can easily envision what production tasks could be automated with the cobots. We will definitely be adding more modules to complement our basic offering going forward.”

Cobots as a jobs enabler

Cobots are a jobs enabler, said von Hollen. “First of all, this goes back to the foundation of our company,” he said. “Esben’s vision of cobots is putting a person back in control of what’s happening.”

“We think of robots as a tool for optimization, in which 1 plus 1 equals 3,” von Hollen said. “When you take best skills of people and the strengths of robots, you can get something quite special.”

“Second, in all my travels around the world, I’ve not heard about taking people out of production,” he recalled. “Conversations are usually about scaling the business or helping small and midsize companies operate when they can’t find labor, particularly in rural locations.”

More on Cobots and Robotics Training:

Use cases diversify

“I often see videos sent by partners and end users of a lot of interesting applications that we could never have imagined for our robots,” von Hollen said. “Our biggest surprise in learning that in being agnostic to the customer, the functionality of our robots applies to every size, every industry.”

Universal Robots’ arms are used in more than just manufacturing; its robots are also finding uses in healthcare and other industries.

“Esben’s idea of just focusing on providing the best technology platform and then allowing an ecosystem of developers and partners allows us to leverage a far greater innovation, resource, and investment base than we could do ourselves,” he said. “This is driving the market.”

“I just got back from Singapore, and I’ve learned the retail space has huge potential that we didn’t envision early on,” noted von Hollen. “We’ve been talking with partners in China, and we see innovation around end effectors.”