Exclusive Interview with Mr. Pradeep David, General Manager, Universal Robots, India and Sri Lanka

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1. Give us a brief background of Universal Robots.


In 2003, the three founders of the company, Esben Østergaard, Kasper Støy and Kristian Kassow, together came up with the idea of creating a light robot that is easy to install and program as they could see that heavy, expensive and unwieldy robots were dominating robotics and there was a huge market for a user-friendly option. In 2005, they officially founded Universal Robots, with the aim of making robot technology accessible to small and medium-sized enterprises. An investment by Syddansk Innovation shaped the foundation of the company.


In 2008, the company sold its first product through distributers in Denmark and Germany.  Universal Robots’ first product was the UR5, a six-jointed articulated robotic arm that revolutionized the market for industrial robots. The UR5 weighs 18 kg, has a lifting capacity of up to 5 kg and a working radius of 85 cm. Within a year the company expanded its business in the entire European markets.


In 2011, Universal Robots entered the Asian market with an office in China and in next two years, they established subsidiaries, in New York, Shanghai and, also established a distributor network in South America and Oceania.  


The second product UR 10 was also launched at the same time. It was targeted towardslarger tasks with a lifting ability of 10 kg and a reach of 130 cm. In 2015, the company witnessed the launch of world’s most flexible, lightweight table-top robot UR3, to work alongside humans, which has a payload capacity of 3 kilos which can be used for light assembly tasks and automated workbench scenarios.


The company is a part of Teradyne Inc., headquartered in Odense, Denmark. UR has subsidiaries and regional offices in the USA, Spain, Germany, Italy, Czech Republic, China, Singapore, India, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea.


The Indian operation of Universal Robots started in 2016. Universal Robots has deployed over 200 Cobots in India since 2011, majorly in the market segments of automotive industry, FMCG, Electronics, Education and R&D Centers. Bajaj Auto Ltd. which is our oldest customers in India saw a gradual rise in the productivity and efficiency in their production after deploying UR cobots. It also increased the productivity of their employees along with their product quality. They have deployed over 100 cobots since 2010 and are now the 3rd largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world.



2. Tell us about Collaborative Robots and their USP.


A collaborative robot (cobot) was assembled with the intention to of physical interaction with humans in a shared workspace, where the repetitive and heavy tasks are taken care by cobots and supervision and quality checks are done by human beings. They are robotic arms designed to assist human beings in a specific task, as a guide or assistor and as a portable tool. Various researchers have proved that the teams made of humans and robots collaborating efficiently can be around 85 percent more productive than teams made of either humans or robots. Cobots can safely work alongside humans, without any danger of injury, they are easy to deploy (just plug and play), flexible to use and inexpensive hence they are triggering the demand in the manufacturing industry comprehensively around the globe. 


Since the first robot was launched in 2008, the company has experienced considerable growth with the user-friendly robots sold in more than 50 countries worldwide; 11,000 of our collaborative robots are in use worldwide for the industries like Automotive & Subcontractors, Textiles & apparels, Food & agriculture, Furniture & Equipments, Electronics & Technology, Metal & Machining, Plastic & Polymers, Pharma & Chemistry, Scientific & Research. Some of our key customers are BMW, Volkswagen, Siemens, L'oreal, Bajaj Auto, Aurolabs etc. UR cobots are also being used for some unusual, out of the box applications like Healthcare, Physiotherapy, Photography, Cooking, Bartending, Farming, Flying planes etc. Developmental technologies like driverless autonomous vehicles could also see the use of cobots, in the near future.



3. The Indian textile industry being labour intensive; how will cobots contribute to its development?


We at Universal Robots believe in giving back to the employees and thus, collaborative robots will function as a helping hand to the workforce and not a replacement. Cobots function to increase the productivity of the workforce as they are accessible and easy to use, the employees too, are excited to work side by side with their robotic co-workers increasing efficiency along with the quality and quantity of production.


Cobots can be used in any segment of textile manufacturing where accuracy, precision and repetitive mass production is required. The key areas in textiles industry where UR cobots are being used are inspection, ‘pick and drop’, cutting and sewing. The world’s first robot which has been used for sewing garments is made by us.




4. How do you plan to expand the use of collaborative robots in the Indian Textile Industry?


Cobots are a part of Industry 4.0 which has paved way for the next industrial revolution – Industry 5.0, which enables man and machine to work hand-in-hand. The scenario where humans and robots are inter-dependent and accomplish what each of them does best, safely. We are in an age where the application of next-generation automation is doing more than we ever thought possible, impacting individuals and businesses in many instances without even being noticed.


We are in talks with various textile companies all across India and we believe that our robots are built for such precisions.


A fabric industry needs high level of accuracy; weather it’s the application of picking the fabric parts from an exact location (by avoiding folding and minimize wrinkling) or cutting of materials in an exact shape or scraping denims.  Our flexible, cobots, which occupy a very little space in work area can work alongside workers safely as a third arm and can help them in producing superior products.  Hence it’s with this precision approach, we are going into the market and we believe that UR cobots have the potential to change the dynamics of this sector.



5. How would Universal robots like to expand its operations in India and the SAARC region?


UR Cobots are sold in more than 50 countries worldwide and 11,000 of our robots are deployed globally. Some of the leading manufacturers are using our technology include BMW, Volkswagen, Siemens, L'oreal, Bajaj Auto, Aurolabs, etc. Our cobots have got over 65 patents pertaining to Robot Safety, Robot Construction, Trajectory Control, and Robot Calibration & Programming.


We established office in India, Bangalore in February 2016 but some of the companies in India are using our cobots from past 7 years, which is much before the launch of the local operations. One of them is Bajaj Auto which has deployed over 120 cobots since 2011. We have been successful in developing a strong channel network which covers the entire country from North to South and East to West.


According to a study done by International Federation of Robotics (2017); the future will be robots and humans working together. Robots substitute labour activities but do not replace jobs. Less than 10% of jobs are fully automatable. Increasingly, robots are used to complement and augment labour activities; the net impact on jobs and the quality of work is positive. Automation provides the opportunity for humans to focus on higher-skilled, higher-quality and higher-paid tasks.


This clearly establishes the fact that the future of automation is not machines taking over human job but it’s the synchronization of robots and human which lays the foundations of thefuture. We cannot always depend on labour for high quality and repetitive jobs because after a certain point they can get tired which can affect their performance whereas a robot can perform such work 24 x 7 hours, without a tea or lunch break. However there are certain quality checks and supervision roles which a human mind can do best as compared to a robot. The human robot collaboration ensures that the high precision, repetitive and heavy lifting jobs are taken care by UR cobots so that the labour can concentrate on high skilled and higher remuneration jobs. Hence it’s not the question of cheap labour any more it’s the question of quality, efficiency and higher productivity which can only be achieved through human robot collaboration.   



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