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Will robots change the face of manufacturing in Asia?

Zafar Anjum | Feb. 11, 2014
Enrico Krog Iversen and Shermine Gotfredsen of the Danish robotics company, Universal Robots, share their views on the impact of robots on manufacturing in Asia and worldwide

"The difference between traditional robots and our robots is the level of collaboration that is facilitated at this moment," says Gotfredsen. "If you have a conveyer running different processes or tasks, maybe 10 men standing there doing different tasks, so the robots can actually go in and do certain parts of the process to automate it. So you have a mixture of tasks being handled manually and being automated. You can see a line of robots working side by side with human being which has never been seen before."

The Rise of Universal Robots

Universal Robots, based in Odense, was founded in 2003 by three researchers (Esben Østergaard, Kasper Støy and Kristian Kassow). They wanted to make robot technology accessible to all. They wanted to make unique industrial robots that could automate and rationalise all industrial processes, and were affordable, flexible, user-friendly and safe to work closely with.

At that time, a flexible robot weighed an unwieldy 150 kg-"a huge robot for small applications like putting pepperoni on a pizza," says Iversen in jest. "That's when the founders said we can do this in a better way, in a smarter and more flexible way. They discussed the idea for a couple of years and then in 2005 they decided to form the company. The first working prototype was ready in 2007."

In early 2008 the three founders ran out of money. "Also they came to the conclusion that they were experts in robots but they were not experts in management, financing, manufacturing, marketing and so on," says Iversen. "They started looking for investors and partners. That's when they found an equity fund in Denmark and this fund by coincidence found me and together we decided to invest in the company."

Iversen had a previous business that he had sold, so he had some funds to invest. He joined in 2008 as the fourth employee of UR and became the company's CEO. That's when the whole transformation of the company started. He wanted to take the company to a global scale right from the start.

"The product roll out (of robots) started in late 2008 and gradually the company has gone global region by region," he says. "Today we are available in six continents and we have about 200 partners in over 50 countries."

"The operations have been profitable since late 2010 and we have set some pretty ambitious objectives for this year," he adds.

Universal Robots in Asia 

"We have been around in Asia for about a year," says Gotfredsen (even though the company officially opened in China in 2011). "We cover countries like China, India, Japan, Korea, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Thailand. Because of our flexibility, a broad range of industries feature our robots such as in electronics, automotive, medical home appliances."

 

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