June 30, 2016      

MUNICH, Germany — One of the leading collaborative robot makers has expanded its business model with a support ecosystem. Universal Robots A/S unveiled Universal Robots+, an online showroom with plug-and-play systems for its collaborative robots, and +You, a forum for developers, at the Automatica show here last week.

The Universal Robots booth was surrounded by third-party developers launching end effectors, vision systems, and many other application solutions for UR cobots. For example, many visitors went from the bigger stand to that of On Robot ApS, a company demonstrating a gripper certified to work with UR robotic arms. The gripper can also be used on other robots.

Excitement around Universal Robots+

“We’ve had a rush of visitors coming to learn more about Universal Robots+ at the show,” said Esben Ostergaard, co-founder and chief technology officer of Universal Robots. “The way this new initiative reaches out to our ecosystem — inviting them to develop future applications with us [and] benefitting our end users — was very well received.”

Universal Robots' stand at Automatica 2016

Attendees examine UR cobot at Automatica 2016.

“Working together in this way is unique for our industry, but it aligns with the core values of UR, as we believe the future to be collaborative,” he said.

Until now, Universal Robots has mainly focused on providing cobots for easy setup and rapid return on investment (ROI) rather than end effectors or potential applications. The Odense, Denmark-based company is owned by Boston-based Teradyne Inc. and says its robots provide ROI in just 195 days.

The new collaborative ecosystem could help increase the number of robots in manufacturing.

“This initiative is a win-win for all stakeholders involved,” according to Ostergaard. “Our end users are now able to bring home a product, tested and certified by UR and ready to use, shortening their implementation time significantly.”

He described the Universal Robots+ program a kind of accelerator in getting technology to the end user.

“The developers could be three university graduates with a great product, but with no money for marketing,” Ostergaard said. “Often, they sell their product very expensively in limited quantity or close down again, but if they close, the technology is lost.”

“Our new +You developer program has a training and community forum helping smaller companies go to market faster, while gaining global — and free — exposure of their products through our new online showroom,” he explained.

Universal Robots+ application examples

The applications showcased at Universal Robots+ are called “URCaps” because they extend the capabilities of the UR robots.

In addition to a variety of grippers, some examples of end-effector products include a Robotiq force-torque sensor kit and RoboScanner for 3D scanning.

Accessories include the Airgate Robot Communication Solution 1.0 and robot guidance with SICK 2D vision.

Software available through Universal Robots+ includes the ArtiMinds RPS for easy programming and simulation, RoboDK for offline programming and simulation, and accredited application support.

On Robot is ‘born global’

As an example of exhibitors in Universal Robots’ eco-system, On Robot‘s gripper received strong interest at Automatica.

On Robot's stand at Automatica

On Robot had a small but well-placed stand in Munich.

“We have been so busy that we ran out of paper to write down the leads,” said Bilge Jacob Christiansen,” CEO and founder of On Robot. “We have been contacted by at least three distributors from the USA with interest in selling our gripper.”

“We see that 80 percent of all UR robots have no security fence, so our RG2 gripper has a chance to bring us to the top of this market, especially as we have seen robots from UR everywhere at Automatica,” he said.

Christiansen described his business as “born global,” with 80 to 85 percent export to 18 countries through 30 distributors. He began development of the gripper in December 2013 in Odense, Denmark, and co-founded the company in January 2015.

On Robot shared a small stand at Automatica with its German distributor Smart Robotics. German interest in adopting more automation is strong, and the gripper has been sold to a subcontractor for the automotive industry there.

“We are grateful to be next to UR at Automatica. Being part of Universal Robot+ and being certified by UR gives us, as a small company, credibility,” Christiansen said. “It takes time to build up a customer base. In this collaboration, we speed up the process.”

On Robot’s gripper is flexible and can be used for many kinds of manufacturing. It can grip delicate subjects weighing less than 4 lb. such as a candy snowball or printed circuit boards, or it be used in the molding process for aluminum or plastic.

On Robot's grippers

On Robot’s grippers are designed to be flexible and easy to use.

The On Robot gripper applies a maximum pressure of 40 Newtons at the max, much less that the limit of 140 Newtons for collaborative robots.

“Compared to air-pressure grippers, our RG2 gripper is a little more expensive, but you need not buy any air-pressure hoses,” Christiansen said. “The gripper is easy to install and has no external cables.”

Some factories install two grippers on the same line to minimize cycle time. One gripper takes the manufactured material out, while another puts in the new raw material. Businesses in Germany, Spain, and Denmark have bought systems with two grippers working in tandem for their production lines.

On Robot displayed eight grippers at Automatica — two at its own stand, two from Smart Robotics, two at Universal Robots’ booth, one at Mobile Industrial Robots ApS (MiR), and one at Budapest, Hungary-based OptoForce Kft.’s stand.

Universal Robots an IERA finalist for 2016

The UR3 robotic arm was a finalist for the IERA award for Outstanding Achievement in Commercializing Innovative Robot and Automation Technology. IERA is short for “Invention and Entrepreneurship in Robotics and Automation.”

In 2012, Ostergaard accepted the IERA Award for the UR5, which Univeral Robots described as “a flexible and eco-friendly robot arm.”

“The UR5 is a small, light, and user-friendly six-axis industrial robot, which has been created specifically for small and medium-sized enterprises,” according to the company.

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