Universal Robots (UR, Odense, Denmark) was one of the pioneers of today’s modern field of collaborative robots (cobots) with the launch of the UR5 robot in 2008, however the company didn’t rest on its laurels at IMTS 2018 in Chicago. The company used the show to highlight its newest line of robots, the e-series; launch a new application builder tool; and announced the sale of its 25,000th cobot – the most of any provider in the space.
First announced in July, the e-series was formally launched in North America at the biennial event held September 10-15. Esben Østergaard, CTO and co-founder, Universal Robots, introduced the new lineup at a press conference on Monday, in which he highlighted the impact cobots are having on manufacturers big and small.
New features of the e-series include an integrated force-torque sensor on the end-of-arm, integrated cables within the arm thanks to an enhanced end-of-arm interface, improved repeatability, full ISO 10218-1 compliance and a new lighter teach pendant. The product line will be available in 3 kg (UR3e), 5 kg (UR5e) and 10 kg (UR10e) payload capacity.
The new robots feature a repeatability of 30 microns (0.03 mm) for the UR3e and UR5e, while the larger UR10e is capable of 50 microns (0.05 mm) repeatability. This makes the new units suitable for precise finishing, assembly and electronics tasks, according to the company.
Among the key improvements for the e-series is a new externally accessible 500Hz system bus which features internal cabling to reduce downtime and slowdowns from caught cables. The new system bus, including enhanced end-of-arm interface, further expands the capability for plug & play end-effectors, software and peripherals through the company’s Universal Robots+ (UR+) ecosystem. To accept these new add-ons, the e-series supports power consumption of up to 2A of peak current and features four additional digital inputs with an associated interface for use with conveyor tracking.
For Østergaard, the changing environment for manufacturers is driven by changes to consumer behavior–changing how we look at the industry. The success of Universal Robotics, he attributes that to simplicity. However, it’s now time for them to expand and with the e-series will have more than one product line for the first time in company history.
Jürgen von Hollen, president, Universal Robots, focused on the growth, success and underlying philosophy the company has had since its founding. “We truly believe, as a company, in empowering people…we can change lives,” von Hollen said.
In 2017, Universal Robots saw 72% growth and are targeting 50% growth in 2018. The first half of 2018 has seen revenue of $105 million, while growing their workforce by 150 people during the same time. Long term, according to von Hollen, is to maintain greater than 50% market share within the cobot category.
Part of the reason for that growth, according to UR, is due to the growth of their partner network–currently at 300 channel partners globally–for sales and support and is seen as critical to continuing to grow within the small- and medium-sized enterprise market. Through this focus on partnering, their UR+ ecosystem has grown to more than 350 developers and more than 1,000 solutions and accessories.
For von Hollen, cobots are not just about safety, but the added flexibility and ease-of-use are key to differentiating them from their industrial robot cousins. “Safe gets you in the party, it won’t differentiate you,” stated von Hollen.
Universal Robots’ focus and strategy has worked for them so far, according to the company they currently hold around 60% of the cobot market share. Kay Manufacturing (Calumet City, IL), purchased the company’s 25,000th unit and will receive it with joints in a rich gold finish to highlight the milestone. According to UR, they have sold more cobots than all their competitors combined.
Moving forward, UR sees themselves being more application driven in the next 3-5 years, adjusting to think more about complete solutions. They see their sweet spot as very easy to define as UR is not trying to push into the conventional industrial robot space. As Østergaard stated, “it’s not our objective.”
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