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Small Companies Fueling Automation Wave in Denmark

At Hi Messe in Herning, Denmark, October 2017. Credit: Lars Moeller

March 29, 2018      

As the cost of purchasing industrial robotics becomes cheaper and easier for companies to manage, smaller companies are driving a new automation wave in Denmark, enabling them to keep up in an ever more competitive world. Collaborative robots, in particular, are enabling small companies to update their production lines without having to renovate facilities or invest in expensive installations.

Jørgen Stenberg, chairman of Trade Fair Committee, recently praised local industry, saying, “Danish [robotics] is in a strong position at the world market. We are very innovative, we are very flexible, and we have a lot of courage. And we have something that many countries don’t have: We have a proper tradesmanship, and this we must be proud of.”

Not competitive without robots

Haarslev Industries, a manufacturer of processing equipment for customers in the meat, pet food, fish, oil, environmental protection, and biofuel industries worldwide, is just one example of continuing robotics investment in the region.

“We are not competitive without robots,” said Chief Operating Officer David Coen. “Robots give the ability to use your machines effectively and produce better quality than humans. Using old robots, the rework rate is about 6& to 7%. Using new robots, it is less than 1%.”

Haarslev Industries has nine robots now, including eight welding/grinding robots and one handling robot, operating around the clock. In the coming year, the Danish company plans to acquire at least six more robots both in Denmark and globally. It has had little negative feedback from employees, Coen said.

“We interviewed the operator, who in the beginning had reservations [about the implementation of robotics],” Coen explained. “Now he liked the robot, as his back was so much better, so not having a robot is no longer an option.”

Cobots drive latest automation wave

Linak manufactures actuation solutions, with a turnover of 3.5 billion DKK ($578 million U.S.) in 2016. Martin Vejling Andersen, production development manager at Linak, described his company’s use collaborative robots as part of the current automation wave.

“We have innovation challenges across the organization and want to implement more automation in the production, although we have a strong production in Denmark,” he said. “With help from the Technological Institute in Denmark, we will improve the line balance and ergonomics and create a digital production.”

Linak manufactures actuators as part of the Danish automation wave.

Linak manufactures robotic actuators.

“We are testing how to build a collaborative robot in a U-cell in the in-line actuator assembly line, and the pilot project is still going on,” Vejling added. “Our starting point is 80% automation and 20% fitter in a true co-operation with robots. We have 20 to 30 U-cells, so there is a great potential in this.”

Linak has had an annual growth of 10% and no workforce reduction while adopting this automation. Using cobots is also a way of bypassing labor shortages.

Small companies using robotics

Until recently, small manufacturers were reluctant to buy robots because of their high prices. A prime example of a company taking advantage of cheaper robots is BM Silo, a family-owned company with 40 employees, hardly a traditional contender for robots.

“From 1965 to 2006, we had manual series production,” said CEO Dorte Martinsen. “In 2006, we optimized the production, and our project was to create a partial automatic silo line. We have one handling robot and one CO2 welding robot.”

“We asked the [Danish] Technological Institute for help to double the capacity in the existing buildings and using the same machines,” he explained. “In order to survive, we had to fully automate and digitize the production, with one silo produced, executing an order.”

For BM Silo, the challenge was to find qualified employees with robotics skills. It solved the problem by encouraging a culture of experimentation and education — in essence, letting employees play around with robotic arms.

“[Back in 2015], I brought home two Universal Robots arms,” said Martinsen. “I let the apprentices understand that they have to be innovative and play with the robots in order to find the best use of them. The most important asset is your employees.”

Riding the automation wave onward

A recent report from the International Federation of Robotics titled “How Robots Conquer Industry Worldwide” predicts that in 2020, there will be 1.7 million new industrial robots worldwide, a double-digit average annual increase from 2017 to 2020.

Scandinavia will be a key player in these developments, following its stated goal of a drive towards Industry 4.0. Linking physical factories with virtual ones will also play an increasingly important role in global manufacturing, according to Danish robotics experts and end users.

In addition, they predict developments including better machine-learning software, as well as vision and sensing devices, coupled with analytics platforms that will pave the way for new business models.

A guide for first-time robotics users

One person working to help first-time robotics users is Søren Peter Johansen, who works for the Danish Technological Institute, which teaches companies how to undertake successful automation projects.

Johansen emphasized the importance of knowledge before setting out to work with robots.

“Educate, hire, rent, or share persons with knowledge or automation and robots,” he said. “Involve suppliers and customers. They have probably seen something [similar to] your production challenges, and they know the person who has the knowledge you need.”

Johansen also recommended that companies focus on “lean production before you make an investment in automation.”

“Identify the complicated elements and test them. Test the complicated elements before investing in a complete solution in one or more pilot projects,” he concluded. “The first robot project often takes more time than expected. It will often be more expensive than you expect, [but] it will often give you more knowledge than expected.”