Manufacturing AUTOMATION

Q&A: Cobot adoption with Kristian Hulgard, GM of OnRobot Americas

January 16, 2020
By Kristina Urquhart

With the International Federation of Robotics World Robotics Report recently indicating there’s been 23 per cent growth in the cobot market, OnRobot, the Danish manufacturer of end-of-arm-tooling for collaborative applications, is poised for success.

Kristian Hulgard, OnRobotKristian Hulgard, OnRobot

We chat to Kristian Hulgard, general manager of OnRobot’s Americas division, about cobot adoption.

Manufacturing AUTOMATION: How are you planning to address the new demand in the market?

Kristian Hulgard: Going from a smaller market now to a bigger market requires us to grow faster than the market is growing. We want to be representative of all robot brands in all industries and on all applications. Now we’ve checked one of the boxes, with our One-System Solution, [which] means our tools communicate to all types of robots. So now we need to add even more tools to our portfolio and then get out there on more applications.

MA: Let’s talk more about the One-System Solution, which unifies communication between a robot and OnRobot’s tooling solutions. What challenges does this application solve?

KH: Everybody who’s in automation knows that every robot has their own language. Every robot has their own way of being programmed. We’ve created what’s like a plug-and-play system that you attach to the robot – you click on our tool, and no matter what robot you attach it to, you have the same user experience. You have the same interface that connects to the robot.

So if you can program your robot, you can program our tools. And what we see now with our partners, our integrators, our distributors, is they are reducing their integration time on the education, and they’re providing more to the end user. So, the end users get a faster, cheaper and easier solution.


MA: What technology allows the robots to communicate with your tooling, no matter what brand they are?

KH: We have what we call the Compute Box, which is our own translator. The metaphor is that our Compute Box is like Google Translate – so no matter what language we send to the Compute Box, it will translate that into something that our tools can understand and vice versa. It just simply makes the tools and the robots speak in the same language.

MA: What is the market landscape like for OnRobot in Canada, and to a larger extent, North America?

KH: In Canada and America in general, we’ve predominantly been representing the metal and machining industry. Now going forward in the past year, we’ve seen a high growth in our products going to packaging and assembly and pick-and-place tasks. [Our products] are not only for machine tending, which has been the “normal” collaborative robot application.

Our products have been have been introduced in the past year on a wide variety of applications in a lot of different industries. And that’s the trend we would like to see and that we’re going after. The sky is the limit right now and the market opportunities, especially in Canada, are everything from food and beverage to electronics to packaging to processing.

MA: Has the global manufacturing downturn affected OnRobot’s growth?

KH: We’ve only seen growth this year and last year as well. We tend to try to not only take a piece of the pie that’s already there, but hopefully also add something new to that pie, if that makes sense – like opening up new possibilities for automation, making it easier and making it more affordable for the end user to be able to automate processes they weren’t able to automate before.

Even though the big numbers of the industry have gone down, we have seen clear growth this year, and with our ambition, our goals and the strategy that we’ve set, then we will also see massive growth next year. That’s 100 per cent sure. We try to expand the market, instead of just addressing the already existing market.

MA: What are some of the challenges you have in your role right now in terms of getting the word out about cobot implementation?

KH: We want to educate a very large market and that in itself is a challenge. You need to reach a lot of people in a short time and be the most effective as possible.

We’re changing the focus a little bit from the products that go to the customer to the overall solution. The normal process would be: now we buy a robot, now we buy a gripper, now we buy a stand. But now it’s about changing the mindset of the customers or the end users to talk about solutions, to talk about applications. Everything has to work together. Everything has to be easy. Because if you lose your collaborativeness for one product or one part of the application, then you kind of lose the whole value.

When you get an iPad, you don’t read the manual, you just pick it up and use it. And we see that collaborative automation is going that way. The customer wants everything to be easy. So they pick up a collaborative robot, they know how to program it, it’s easy – but if the gripper or the tool is complicated, the value disappears. Every single part needs to be collaborative. That’s where we see the market going.

MA: Are there any trends in end-of-arm tooling that you foresee over the next three to five years?

KH: More and more tools are moving away from pneumatic and into electronic. You want your tools to be controlled by software; you want intelligent tooling, meaning you want feedback from your tool. If it’s a gripper, you want to know, what am I gripping, am I gripping it right, what is the size of the object I’m gripping? You want all this information, and you can only get that from electric tools.

So more and more end users – the integrators and distributors, they’re moving away from the traditional pneumatic gripping solutions and tools and now into electric, software-controlled tools. That’s clear trend in the market now.

MA: OnRobot has said it’s going to be upping its portfolio from 10 products to 50 by the end of 2020. Can you elaborate more on what’s next?

KH: I can’t speak about specifics, but if you can make up the application you want to use a lightweight industrial robot or a cobot for, then we will produce a tool to go on that robot or around the robot to help that application. Whatever type of application you can think of out there, we will have a product to support that application.

It’s an ambitious goal to say 50 products by the end of [the] year, but I’ve seen the roadmap myself and I can say that I’m very confident that we will have somewhere between 40 and 50 products in a year from now.


This article originally appeared in the November 2019 edition of Robotics Insider, a quarterly e-book produced by Manufacturing AUTOMATION.

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