KUKA posts record robot sales despite challenging year
KUKA Robotics in the UK and Ireland has posted the strongest annual sales figures in the company’s history, despite the challenges of the Covid-19 crisis and the consequential recession. The group attributes the success to its proven sales strategies and to four main strategic factors that combined to make 2020 a record year.
With the rise of e-mobility, driven by customer demand for green modes of transportation, the automotive sector has undergone big changes in vehicle design and propulsion. KUKA has been at the forefront of automation for e-mobility production and a big cause for celebration was a large order from commercial electric vehicle manufacturer Arrival, a new company with a unique production model.
Every Arrival vehicle is produced in a relatively small and low cost “microfactory”, each of which can produce 10,000 vans or 1,000 buses per year. The company has already announced an order of 10,000 electric vans from logistics company UPS, with the option for a further 10,000; production in the UK is now supported by Arrival’s first US microfactory, in York County, South Carolina.
KUKA UK is supplying the robots for Arrival’s rising demand, across the world. CNBC reported in November 2020 that Arrival was aiming to build three to four of these factories a year, each serving a city and its community, linked in a global framework. The potential for future use of robotics and automation from KUKA is very promising.
“The UK automotive sector faces big challenges, but electrification is coming fast and, with winning the Arrival contract, I am confident that KUKA is very well placed to capitalise on this growth market,” says Paul Williams.
KUKA UK appointed a specialist automotive account manager, Paul Williams, in late 2019. With a strong track record in automotive robot applications, he has already made big in-roads into the sector. “KUKA is embedded in the big car plants in Germany but we are not as well established in automotive in the UK, for legacy reasons,” says Bernard Bagley, head of robot sales, KUKA UK. “Paul and the Arrival contract are helping to change that.”
KUKA has restructured its sales teams under general industry, in order to cover sectors and regions simultaneously and efficiently. Now, every sales manager targets an industry sector as well as a geographic footprint. Along with KUKA’s System Partner model of partnering with specialist integrators, the approach is much more customer-facing. KUKA brings projects to its System Partners and vice-versa; KUKA sales engineers and System Partners always “walk the floor” to help advise on optimum automation strategies and act as a trusted advisor.
“This change has generated a lot more interaction with end-customers, which has always been our goal,” says Bernard Bagley. “Our System Partners provide this customer focus and our restructured sales team is now doing the same.”
Thirdly, KUKA has crystallised its strategy for education and research and development. The company has always believed in the fundamental need for appropriately skilled operators, technicians and engineers, in order to extract the best out of automated machines, assembly lines and research projects. KUKA UK and Ireland have invested heavily in supporting the education and research sectors and have developed dedicated educational robot cells and training material, alongside bespoke research cells focused on emerging technologies.
KUKA Ireland recently won a significant tender to supply the Louth & Meath Education and Training Board (LMETB) with a range of educational and collaborative robots for its new state-of-the-art Advanced Manufacturing Technology and Training Centre of Excellence (AMTCE) in Dundalk, Co. Louth. The training facility at the centre, which is set to be the largest vocational training facility of its kind in Europe, includes tailored educational industrial 6-axis robots with vision systems, robotic welding cells, robotic milling/machining cells and collaborative robot, cobot, cells.
Brian Cooney, managing director of KUKA Ireland, says “Manufacturing is experiencing a serious skills gap and shortage of resources in advanced manufacturing technologies at vocational level, which is not being addressed by the third level colleges and universities. The investment by the LMETB in this visionary AMTCE training centre is not only addressing this skills gap in Ireland but is also setting the standard by which other European centres may be measured.”
The AMTCE provides tailored training courses to upskill and reskill operators and technicians and forms a critical component of the Irish Government’s Industry 4.0 Strategy 2020-2025 program and Covid-19 recovery plan.
KUKA Robotics is the only robot manufacturer with a dedicated presence in Ireland with local sales, customer service, application engineering and training. “This recent success is testament to our focus on providing the best possible products and service to our customers. This is never more important than starting with the operators and technicians who will be responsible for the continued success of our manufacturing sectors,” says Brian Cooney.
KUKA UK and Ireland enters 2021 with a very strong team, with experts in sectors, applications, and regions across the board, together with a network of independent Platinum, Gold and Silver level System Partners, who deliver first class solutions and consultancy centred on their core competencies.
Looking to 2021, KUKA believes the robotics and automation sectors are set for significant growth in response to increased demand to offset the heavy reliance on ever scarcer resources, to reshoring, and to escalate efficiencies and competitiveness in manufacturing. New social distancing requirements in factories and workplaces increase the need for automation to create safe working environments within a limited floorspace.
The life-science sector, including medical device, pharmaceutical and biotech, is a notable growth market. Laboratories are presenting new applications for robots and cobots, especially in labs and clean rooms, that require precise, repetitive processes where a robot can provide the consistency, reliability and traceability that such a highly validated process demands.
Brian Cooney says that, while 2020 has been a difficult year for many manufacturing sectors suffering under the double impact of Covid-19 and the uncertainty around Brexit, it is widely expected that there will be a strong bounce back in the UK and Irish economies in 2021 and beyond. With the benefits of Industry 4.0 and digitisation, together with incredible advances in manufacturing technologies, KUKA expects to take its record 2020 success into 2021 and deliver continued growth, despite the economic challenges.
SCHUNK gripper plays a central role in AMRC Wales opening ceremony
In December, the University of Sheffield officially opened its Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC Cymru), a £20 m state-of-the-art research and development facility in North Wales. As a member of the AMRC, SCHUNK UK played an integral role in the opening ceremony, holding the ceremonial ribbon with a SCHUNK gripper for Wales’ First Minister Mark Drakeford to cut it.
Described by Welsh government ministers as a ‘game changer’ for the economies of Wales and the Northern Powerhouse, the AMRC Cymru is a purpose-built research and development facility close to the Airbus wing-manufacturing plant in Broughton.
It was officially opened by First Minister of Wales Mark Drakeford and Economy and North Wales Minister Ken Skates, who accompanied Professor Koen Lamberts, president and vice-chancellor at the University of Sheffield, on a tour of the new building to see the new technologies that will be available to manufacturing companies across Wales.
Situated in the Deeside Enterprise Zone, the facility will operate from a 2,000 square metre open access research area focus with a focus on advanced manufacturing sectors such as the aerospace, automotive, nuclear and food. This region has a strong manufacturing base and AMRC Cymru will build on this, driving world-class research and expertise across the supply chain. It is predicted the new facility could increase Gross Value Added (GVA) to the Welsh economy by as much as £4 billion over the next 20 years.
Holding the ceremonial ribbon for the First Minister was a SCHUNK Co-act gripper attached to a Kuka Cobot that was mounted on a Kuka AGV. The new SCHUNK EGH Co-act gripper is the latest addition to the SCHUNK Co-act gripper family and is a flexible system for gripping and moving of small to medium-sized workpieces in the areas of handling, assembly and electronics.
The long stroke of the SCHUNK EGH Co-act gripper can cover a very wide range of workpieces, as the gripper fingers are particularly suited for positioning over the entire stroke. The robust parallel movement of the fingers ensures constant gripping force at a position over the entire stroke. Quick and easy to assemble, there is no height compensation required for the robot. The design of the SCHUNK EGH Co-act gripper enables the gripper to be attached to the robot quickly and easily as the included adapter plate is attached to the robot flange using the supplied fastening material. Subsequently, due to the assembly quick-release fastener, the gripper can rapidly be attached to the adapter plate with the enclosed hexagon socket wrench.
The final step is to establish the electric connection and a starter kit is available for quick and easy installation of the SCHUNK EGH Co-act gripper. This contains all the necessary components to successfully mount the gripper onto the robot and to put it into operation. In essence, the new system offers long and freely programmable stroke for flexible workpiece handling with a gripping movement that incorporates parallel kinematics for constant gripping force over the entire stroke length.
With fast commissioning, programming and simple use of an intelligent servo gripper due to the ‘Plug & Work’ starter package, the SCHUNK EGH Co-act gripper offers optionally attachable flexible fingers for increased flexibility. This also increases the gripper’s range of application.
2019 ROBOTICS AWARD goes to OnRobot’s Gecko Gripper
Learning from nature: this is the spirit that spelled success for OnRobot A/S as the winner of this year’s ROBOTICS AWARD, presented at this year’s HANNOVER MESSE, the world’s leading trade fair for industrial technology. The Danish enterprise received the top prize for its Gecko Gripper. The runners-up forwardttc, in cooperation with KUKA and the MASKOR Institute, also attracted a lot of attention and praise for its innovative robotic solutions.
Developed by OnRobot A/S, the Gecko Gripper is an innovative system designed to hold objects without the need for additional energy; a system that captured the imaginations of the jury and the general public at the 2019 ROBOTICS AWARD. On Tuesday, robotics experts and enthusiasts gathered for the ninth successive year at the Automation Forum in order to celebrate innovative technological solutions. The Finance Minister for the German State of Lower Saxony, Reinhold Hilbers presented the Award, which carries a total purse of €10,000, on behalf of Award Patron Bernd Althusmann, Lower Saxony’s Minister of Economic Affairs, Employment, Transport and Digitalisation.
OnRobot is a company based in the Danish city of Odense. The Gecko Gripper is modelled on structures found in the feet of certain reptiles. Millions of microscopically fine hairs create so-called van der Waals forces when they contact smooth surfaces. This results in strong adhesion and anti-shearing force without the need to use any power for the purpose. The object is released simply by tilting the gripper surfaces.
In the run up to the 2019 ROBOTICS AWARD, numerous enterprises and institutions from Germany and abroad submitted innovative solutions in the fields of industrial automation, mobile robots and/or autonomous systems. Three made it through to the final round at HANNOVER MESSE.
The second prize was awarded to a joint project by forwardttc GmbH and KUKA AG. This project involves a low-cost charging assistant for electric vehicles (both private and commercial). The automatic charging process is initiated via a remote control or an app. In terms of the possible charging capacities, the charger is compatible with all electronic passenger vehicles, and the process can even be adapted for other innovative fuels such as hydrogen.
Third prize was awarded to MASKOR, the Institute for Mobile Autonomous Systems and Cognitive Robotics at the Aachen University of Applied Sciences, for its autonomous field robot (“ETAROB”). The function of this robot is to facilitate cost-effective weed management in vegetable production. In contrast to conventional systems the ETAROB can navigate freely in an unstructured environment, avoid obstacles and remove weeds by their roots.
The ROBOTICS AWARD is given under the auspices of HANNOVER MESSE, in partnership with the Robotation Academy and the Konradin Media Group.