Universal Robots Return of the Robots

It’s been a year since we last spoke with Universal Robots, and in that time their robots have continued to evolve.

Universal Robots manufacture cobots, cost-effective, flexible, safe and user-friendly collaborative robots that work closely with people in production environments, making automation easier for everything from SMEs to larger corporations. We were impressed by what they were doing last time, but the company has come a long way since then.

“We’ve increased our range,” says Mark Gray, the UK Sales Manager for Universal Robots. “We now have a 16-kilogram payload robot which opens up new sectors for our products.”

Appropriately, for a company that builds “cobots”, Universal Robots has also embarked on an exciting new collaboration.

“We also have close links with MiR, the Mobile Industrial Robotics company, owned by the same company like us, Teradyne,” Gray says. “We’ve just announced a joint facility in Denmark together. We have got a few companies in the UK using a MiR robot with a Universal Robot on the back of it. So that’s been a big development for us. That seamless collaboration gives us the ability to work closely together.”

A Growing Ecosystem

One of the exciting projects Universal Robots was engaged in the last time we spoke with them was their “ecosystem” which allowed independent developers to offer new tools and attachments for Universal Robots’ products.

“The ecosystem has increased. Last time we talked there were 30 end effectors, now there are 90 and over 20 vision systems and more things coming out every month,” Gray tells us. “The ecosystem has evolved more in the last 12 months than ever before. All the end effectors are split into different groups, two and three-finger grippers are one, dispensing effectors for gluing, polishing, welding another. And there are process end effectors and vision systems including 3D vision systems.” 

As well as giving customers more options, the ecosystem also serves to demystify the process for them.

“So if you make plastic trim for cars and you want a robot you can bolt onto a desk to put screws in, you can now click on a screwdriver on our website and create a little 3D movie of what that looks like,” Gray explains. “By working with these partners, it de-risks buying a robot and screwdriver and seeing if they can communicate.”

Robots on the Payroll

However, while Universal Robots’ products have rapidly multiplying applications, there are still barriers to customers looking to introduce cobots to their workplace.

“Whenever we implement automation that has to go through budget approval and be financed and that means explaining technical things to non-technical people,” Gray says. “Until you can show the benefit in an Excel spreadsheet, they don’t understand it.”

Of course, tasks that automation are typically applied to aren’t optional, they’re essential. It’s just that the usual solution doesn’t involve such a large upfront expense.

“If you ask for £20,000 for a piece of equipment, there’d be sharp intakes of breath, but they won’t think anything of paying two people to load up a van,” Gray points out. “There is still human labour doing that, one person for one shift will cost you a minimum of £30,000 a year once you’ve provided toilets, car parking, and minimum wage. If you’re producing biscuits on three shifts that’s £90,000 a year.”

This is where Universal Robots global leasing partner, DLL comes in.

“Our global leasing partner DLL will lease our products over a number of years like you would a company car,” Gray explains. “It means smaller companies who find it difficult to raise capital can use a monthly operational budget to pay for the robot over three years if they’ve maintained the cashflow. But there are also tax advantages as well and bigger companies are getting involved. It means people can implement our tools a lot quicker. Leasing means not putting down more money than you would spend to hire a temp.”

Always on the Move

The ecosystem and the leasing options combined are getting cobots into new places, doing new things, but Universal Robots isn’t ready to stop there.

“I would say Universal Robots is a company will never stand still. We’re always looking for the next revolution, but to be in front we realise a robot is a tool or a platform and the enablement of everything around that,” Gray says. “A robot is fine at doing multiple tasks and we’re always adding new software, but the important thing is the equipment around it, making it flexible so it can be moved around the factory. People still think about robots as being good for one task, but these can be redeployed and retooled really quickly. So, you see people in UR+ with rapid tool changing, where you can swap the end effector by unclipping something and plugging in an effector. You’re using it as a tool rather than a fixed piece of equipment.”

Universal Robots’ relationship with MiR is only going to build on that by giving Universal Robots’ products mobile capabilities.

“It means you can send robots to stock locations and bring them onto the production line or send robots into environments you don’t want to send people into,” Gray explains. “For instance, in the biopharma sector, we’re sending robots into clean rooms. There are companies just starting to do it now and it’s great we’re occupying the same space as MiR so we’re able to work on these collaborations. We’re very close. Our CEO and the CEO of MiR, Thomas Visti, are good friends.”

On the Road

Of course, as well as improving the products and making them more accessible to SMEs, it’s also essential to get the word out.

“We’re at our first cobot roadshow of the year right now. It’s something we tried for the first time last year,” Gray says. “Most robot companies go to the NEC for one or two shows a year and stand with their products on a platform waiting for people to come and look at them. We don’t do that. We do a couple of shows, but we also take the robots on tour go to different cities all over the UK and show people what they can do. We give them a chance to programme them. It gives people a chance to see our products up close and in person in their own back yard.”

More like this