Buying A Cobot

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By June Ramli

Singapore, July 25:  Every since the pandemic started two years ago, foreign labour in Southeast Asian (SEA) countries has been hard to come by.
As a result of this many businesses have either wound down or closed their business operations altogether.
But it is not all doomed and gloom as there are Universal Robots (UR) coming to the rescue.
For those who have the means, purchasing a collaborative robot or cobots for short might just be the solution that many companies are looking for. 
Headquartered in Denmark, UR aims to empower and change the way work is done using its leading-edge robotics platform.
To date, the company has installed over 50,000 cobots worldwide.
In an exclusive interview with DailyStraits.com, UR’s Regional President for APAC James McKew tells us what the company’s expansion plans are for the region and much more. 

What are UR’s expansion plans for the SEA region?

Rising economic uncertainties, global pandemic, border measures and other societal complexities are factors leading to labour shortages in Southeast Asia as well as worldwide. Trends are pointing towards a growing demand for automation, and we are making plans to meet this demand in Southeast Asia and globally. This includes a new and bigger manufacturing facility which can build three times as many collaborative robots (cobots) in the headquarters based in Denmark, to accommodate the company’s growth, and more staff in Southeast Asian countries to support partners and customers.
With more cobots deployed in the manufacturing sector, we foresee that the need for robotics education will become prevalent. Universal Robots Academy provides easy and intuitive free e-learning courses to engaging training courses offered both in-class and virtually by certified trainers worldwide. In fact, we have recently achieved the milestone of opening our 100th training centre. Across the Asia Pacific, we have nine training centres and more are expected with the growing customer base and demands.

Universal Robots aims to empower change in the way work is done using its leading-edge robotics platform. Since introducing the world’s first commercially viable collaborative robot (cobot) in 2008, UR has developed a product portfolio including the UR3e, UR5e, UR10e, and UR16e, reflecting a range of reaches and payloads. Each model is supported by a wide selection of end-effectors, software, accessories and application kits in the UR+ ecosystem. This allows the cobots to be used across a wide range of industries and means that they can be redeployed across diverse tasks. The company, which is part of Teradyne Inc., is headquartered in Odense, Denmark, and has offices in the USA, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, the Czech Republic, Romania, Turkey, China, India, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Mexico. Universal Robots has installed over 50,000 cobots worldwide.
To date, Universal Robots has installed over 50,000 cobots worldwide. Image Supplied.

Who are your customers in SEA?

Cobots can do repetitive tasks with precision, 24/7, even in dangerous situations. Hence, they are commonly utilised in manufacturing, packaging, pick and place, screw driving, assembling, soldering, welding and precision engineering in a wide range of industries, from metalworking, electronics, and automotive to aviation in SEA.
For example, JVC Electronics Indonesia, a global leader in electronic and entertainment products deployed Universal Robots’ UR3 collaborative robots (cobots) for pick and place, screw driving and soldering to increase productivity and achieve consistent output quality. With the adoption of cobots, JEIN improved its production processes and workers’ safety, while reducing yearly operational costs by more than USD 80,000.
In Singapore, Sky Engineering, a precision engineering company, automated machine tending tasks such as cleaning and preparation tasks for a CNC machine using a UR5 cobot. This allowed one man to operate two machines at one time and significantly reduced cost, leading to a payback period of only 15 months.
An engineering, manufacturing and integrated technology solutions provider for original equipment manufacturers in Thailand, Benchmark Electronics wanted to increase its production output and quality to improve customer satisfaction. At the same time, they needed robots that could safely work alongside human workers for assembly and testing tasks in its production facility. Four UR5 and two UR10e cobots were deployed and to their delight, increased operational efficiency by 25 per cent while freeing workers to focus on higher-value, complex assembly tasks.  In Vietnam, Vinacomin Motor Industry Joint Stock Company (VMIC), which produces spare parts for mining trucks, was struggling with low productivity and inconsistent quality. When they deployed two UR10 cobots, the company saw productivity increase by two to three times and consistent product quality and a 50 to 60 per cent rise in orders. 

What is the market reach of UR at the moment and how do you plan to scale those numbers going forward? 

Universal Robots has established a presence in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam through a network of local UR staff and solution partners, and with the head office for SEA located in Singapore.  In recent years, it is increasingly difficult to hire and retain staff for repetitive tasks and we are seeing SMEs (small-medium enterprises) in SEA implementing cobots more readily in applications like machine tending, packaging, palletising and screw driving because of the reliability, versatility and precision of UR cobots. UR cobots are often deployed in industries such as metal & machining, electronics & technology, automotive, aviation and plastic & polymers. Moving forward, UR is investing more in innovation. The recently announced UR20 is the first of such innovations which addressed key pain points in packaging, palletising and machine tending. UR20 enables picking, packing and palletising of heavy parts, and stacks goods to two metre in height. UR20 also offers flexible processing of larger dimension parts to machinery such as cutting, punching, drilling, machining and forming. It can be mounted in any position for easy movements around workplace objects such as machine tending doors. Universal Robots is also further investing in UR+, our ecosystem of partners, to provide more components, software and solutions which can help our customers in SEA and other parts of the world, solve their challenges and ensure a smooth deployment. UR+ is the first ecosystem of third-party end-effector solutions and other add-ons for UR cobots, which enables UR and our partners to focus on what each of us does best while providing more integrated and creative solutions for our customers.  Those who are new to automation can attend online training modules for free. The UR Academy, a global network of training centres, and online robotics training offer customers access to high-quality training to get the best out of their cobots. Learners can attend free online training modules, webinars and video tutorials available in 16 languages including English, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Thai.  

Universal Robots launched the world’s first commercially viable cobot in 2008 and has since built an ecosystem of more than 1,100 integrators, distributors and independent partners creating components, kits and applications for its cobots. The company has sold more than 50,000 cobots and has drawn on the knowledge gained through its established customer base in the design of this latest product.
Universal Robots launched the world’s first commercially viable cobot in 2008 and has since built an ecosystem of more than 1,100 integrators, distributors and independent partners creating components, kits and applications for its cobots. Image Supplied.

In terms of setting up the cobots, on a scale from one to five how easy is it to be installed by companies? 

As compared to the traditional industrial robots where installation can be time-consuming and costly, UR cobots are relatively easy to integrate into the work processes without the need for major changes in existing infrastructure and production layout.  On average, from unboxing to setting up the cobot, it takes about half a day to set up the robot. Next, users can calibrate parts like grippers and then move on to training the cobot by physically moving the robot to program waypoints. The time taken will depend on the complexity of the task, but it is significantly lesser than traditional industrial robots. 

Tell us about the buying process, once a company decides to purchase the technology, can you please tell us what happens next?

At the initial stage, customers who are keen to integrate cobots can reach out to UR via our website or directly contact us via email or phone.  Our local team of experts will evaluate the requirements and guide the customers through the process, ensuring that their questions are addressed before selecting a cobot. The customers can get in touch with us by asking an expert, scheduling a no-cost assessment or finding a local distributor on our website. From there, we will conduct the first level of qualification and assessment before assigning it to one of our local partners for further action. One of the less-known benefits of UR cobots is the nearly maintenance-free operation and long-term reliability. We understand how experiencing any operational downtime can lead to reduced productivity, efficiency and profitability. This is an issue that companies simply cannot afford. We support our customers with articles and videos to assist them with simple and basic maintenance activities

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