March 27, 2017      

Blue Workforce A/S, a Danish robot company making a lightweight industrial robot for pick-and-place operations, has received funding from a Chinese investor. The investor, which declined to be named, is also becoming Blue Workforce’s Asian partner.

Hong Kong-based Blue Workforce Robotics (Asia Pacific) Co. will quadruple production capacity within a year. The new business partner has more than 20 years of experience with multinational robotics and software automation.

The capital injection — not specified, but in the double-digit millions of Danish krone — will be used to streamline Blue Workforce and strengthen its sales promotions worldwide, said founder and CEO Preben HjOrnet.

“The new joint venture will provide additional engineering capabilities to supplement our Danish engineering team,” he said. “It is an entirely new channel to penetrate the market throughout greater China and the rest of the Asia-Pacific region.”

“Blue Workforce’s Ragnar solution is perfectly aligned to meet the needs of the emerging market for automatic handling and packaging solutions in China and throughout the Asia-Pacific region,” said Hai Chang, a board member of Blue Workforce Robotics. “Their complete go-to-market strategy and business model specifically target the factories that seek to utilize robots for handling materials with easy deployments, greater affordability, and lower production costs.”

“We believe our clients will appreciate their innovative and scalable robotic platform,” he told Robotics Business Review. “It breaks down the entry barriers to reliable automation solutions, and factories get a greater value out of their investments because they don’t have to pay for any unnecessary performance or features.”

Business Takeaways:

  • As the global market for cobots continues to grow, so are the Danish robot companies offering them for multiple material handling uses.
  • Blue Workforce’s strategic partnerships and acquisitions are intended to help it scale up production and marketing for its Ragnar robot and Coppelia Robotics’ V-REP simulation and planning tool.
  • The appeal of cobots lies in their affordability, ability to be easily replaced or moved as needed, and their relative safety to work alongside humans.

Global expansion

Danish robot company CEO Preben HjOrnet.

Preben HjOrnet remains CEO of the enlarged Blue Workforce A/S.

“We’re extremely excited with our expanding global footprint through our upcoming Asian joint-venture operations,” said HjOrnet, who remains leader of the merged companies. “We share the vision and a great synergy in technology and product development, market penetration, and operational productivity.”

Blue Workforce recently also recently acquired Switzerland-based Coppelia Robotics GmbH, which produces the V-REP simulation tool.

Coppelia Robotics’ 3D simulation, developed by Mark Freese, includes machine vision, data collection, the robotic frame, and gripper technology. The modular simulation is intended to allow each customer to build its ideal configuration.

Ragnar comes with this software and is intended to meet emerging Industry 4.0 standards, according to Blue Workforce.

Danish robot makers pursue cobot market

After Universal Robots A/S and Mobile Industrial Robots ApS (MiR), Blue Workforce is the third Danish robot maker entering the global market for collaborative robots. The market for so-called cobots — which don’t require fenced workcells and can operate alongside humans — will grow to $3.3 billion by 2022, predicts Markets and Markets.

“We are growing rapidly and must expand our competent staff considerably to meet the global demands,” HjOrnet said.

“For the Danish Growth Fund, the right person is essential, and it was important that Preben HjOrnet showed great involvement and drive in Blue Workforce,” observed Henrik Larsen, head of business clients at the fund.

Blue Workforce’s Ragnar robot (named after a legendary Viking) is designed to serve the packaging, sorting, and handling needs of the food industry. The grippers are approved for food safety, are designed to save energy, and don’t require a vacuum. Instead, they use a pneumatic piston that runs in linear movements to the gripper.

Ragnar can handle everything from dough to sushi, but at a quarter of the price of other robots on the market, said the company. A complete system costs just €40,000 ($43,000).

“We hope that the investment in Blue Workforce can cement Denmark as an innovative nerve center, where talents and innovative companies develop the leading technologies of the future,” said Christian Hannibal, head of the Digital Task Force at the Confederation of Danish Industry.

“The global market for robots is expected to increase fivefold during the next 10 years,” he said. “Considering this, it is excellent that a Danish robot manufacturer can once again attract global investments.”

Rapid delivery with Ragnar

Among the advantages that Blue Workforce promises is that customers need only a month to implement Ragnar. In one day, an end-user organization can complete a simulation to determine the optimal robot setup.

In one week, a customer can test the simulation and receive a quotation, according to Blue Workforce. In one month, the robot is ready to use in the customer’s facility.

“I think robots should be as easy as possible to use and to reconfigure to other parts of the production if needed,” HjOrnet said. “It is important that you don’t have to be a trained engineer to operate them. We need to expand robot technology to include small and medium-sized companies to keep up our competitiveness.”

The growth of the cobot market depends on industrial automation spreading to smaller companies, so Ragnar’s cost, ease of use, and scalability are important selling points, said SOren Peter Johansen, manager for robot technology at the Danish Technological Institute.

“It is a robot that covers many needs in the market,” he said.

More on Cobots and Danish Robots:

Danish robot Ragnar for flexible materials handling

Ragnar can easily be put on wheels and moved.

A robot in reserve

Some customers buy a spare robot to ensure that the production line keeps running in case one robot breaks down. Swapping out a robot takes only a short time because of Ragnar’s software and frame, which is available on wheels.

Blue Workforce customers include a Danish bakery and companies using Ragnar to handle cosmetics, toys, and waste. Blue Workforce also claims that since Ragnar is so affordable, the decision to implement automation doesn’t have to be made at the CEO level.