Industry & Technology: Today begins the “We are Cobots” event, a virtual fair dedicated to your products and collaborative applications. What are the main technological trends presented?
Jocelyn Peynet : We have many developments in progress to make our equipment even more versatile. For example, there is a tendency to associate cobots with mobile robotics. We have a privileged relationship with the company MIR (Mobile Industrial Robots) [société appartenant au groupe américain Teradyne, également propriétaire d’Universal Robots, ndlr], which builds high performance AMR (autonomous mobile robots). On the occasion of “We are Cobots”, one of our integrator partners will come to present a solution combining the two types of robots. It’s an application that is finding more and more resonance in the automotive and aeronautical sectors.
In addition, we have twenty partners in the field of grippers who will exhibit their technologies. In this area, the trend is moving towards increasingly versatile end-of-arm tools, capable for example of taking different parts with the same gripper.
We also have partners who develop artificial intelligence solutions for our cobots. This relates more particularly to deflection operations (“bin picking”). The AI allows to optimize the trajectory of the arm and recover a whole bunch of objects placed
What are the developments on the side of Universal Robots?
For our part, we are strengthening the ease of integration of our cobots in factories, by offering turnkey “kits” for certain applications, directly implemented in our software. For example, if an industrialist wants to quickly set up a sanding or robotic welding station, we provide him with all the equipment adapted to the task, as well as software parameters adapted to his needs. “We are cobots” is an opportunity to demonstrate this application-based approach.
Are your solutions intended to replace traditional robots to provide more flexibility?
At the moment, our cobots are used more in new applications, rather than replacing traditional robots, already widely used in factories. Our main goal is to automate manual and very repetitive movements. But it is true that our equipment goes upmarket: our latest model (UR16) has a maximum load of 16 kg, which allows it to fulfill demanding tasks for the industry. We have many customers in SMEs interested in the ease of access to our solutions, but industrialists looking for flexibility in their production are increasingly using our cobots.
Numerous robotic applications have been deployed to help in the fight against covid-19. Have the cobots been highlighted?
Indeed, with the health crisis, many robots have been used in the field, whether directly in support of the population, in protection of nursing staff, or in reinforcement in factories. This gave new visibility to these solutions. Human-robot interactions, a concept at the heart of collaborative robotics that Universal Robot has been carrying out since its creation, have played an important role. In addition, the covid-19 crisis has shown the great adaptability of collaborative robots. The installation of a traditional robotic cell takes several weeks, in order to put in place the security elements, while the cobots can respond to the emergency. They are designed to be easy to access and quickly operational. These are the ideas that we have put forward for years.
In what ways have your cobots been used in the field?
The approaches have been very inventive. For example, in China, a university put a Universal Robot arm on a mobile robot to perform certain medical tasks, to protect nurses. The arm was used to monitor a patient from a distance and therefore limit the exposure of healthcare staff to the virus.
The industry has also shown great responsiveness and implemented innovative solutions using cobots. In times of crisis, factory production cannot remain frozen, and some manufacturers have been able to quickly convert their production tool thanks to collaborative robotics. In Spain, the SEAT factory located in Martorell, near Barcelona, reoriented its production within a few weeks and produced nearly 300 respirators per day during the confinement period. It was able to achieve this by reconfiguring its UR10 cobots so that they could carry out test operations on these new products. This flexibility in production, which is impossible to achieve with traditional robotic cells, becomes an important criterion in factories, even outside the context of a health crisis.