Robots are our life, says Jurgen von Hollen, president, Universal Robots. This Denmark-based technology firm has introduced a new class of robots, collaborative robots or cobots, which can work alongside humans with no safety caging. “India is still the newest operations of Universal Robots, but we see tremendous business potential here, especially in the burgeoning small and medium enterprise community,” he tells Sudhir Chowdhary in a recent interaction. Excerpts:
When did you introduce collaborative robots in the Indian market?
The Indian operations started in 2016. We have deployed over 400 cobots in India since 2011, majorly in the automotive, FMCG, electronics industries, besides education and R&D centres. Bajaj Auto is our oldest customer in India (since 2010).
We believe that cobots have been able to suitably cater to a labour-intensive market like India as they act as the third arm for the workforce and do not displace or replace it. We see immense potential in the Indian market. Where traditional robots used to work in certain known areas, like in automotives, collaborative robots have trail-blazed going into new areas, where traditional robots just can’t work because of the fencing and space requirement.
How has the India experience been?
It has been phenomenal. We have been doubling every year for the last three years. We are still the newest operations of Universal Robots so we have a long way to go. We see a huge business potential in the country. We have 70 clients in India with Bajaj being our number one client; it has deployed 150 cobots so far. Thanks to it, the top five two-wheelers are using our technology. Our other clients include Renault Nissan, Mahindra & Mahindra, Unilever and Aurolab. Our latest collaborator is the SMEW, manufacturers of textile machinery, based out of Ahmedabad.
Increased demand for our affordable, cage-free, user-friendly collaborative robot arms has propelled Universal Robots to a revenue of $170 million in 2017—a 72% increase over 2016 performance.
Do you see Indian corporates being ready to invest in robotic systems?
There are numerous examples which show that Indian MSMEs and SMEs have slowly begun to adopt this technology. Each SME has a specific requirement and need of application. At the same time, SMEs in India are just like any other company in the middle of Ohio or Germany. They have similar problems like cash flow, quality of products, resource issues and the need to be flexible. Thus, we are decentralising and making the regions capable to take independent decisions as there’s a possibility of getting it wrong if decisions are made in Denmark.
In what sectors and geography, do you see the demand coming from?
Some reports talk about a market of upto $7-8 billion in 2025, which is a very big number. We are still underestimating the market as most of the manufacturers are still unaware of the collaborative robot technology. We see about 40 competitors in the collaborative robot space as of today, out of which 18 have been established in the last two years. The number of competitors is increasing because of the expanding market. Thus, when you look at the market drivers, it depends on the country and the manufacturing requirements. For example, in Germany automotive is a still a major driver, while in China it is electronics. Even in USA, only 10% of our target market knows about collaborative robot. In the last couple of years, we have seen that inculcation of latest technologies has been on various governments’ agendas around the world and thus, we see a huge potential in the global market.
How would you look at the market potential for cobots, when compared to the traditional robotics market?
We see it picking up as we take the complexity away and the fear away from people about something different. The potential to double every year is more than realistic. But, as the first mover, we have 60% market share globally. The cobot market is expected to continue to be one of the key growth drivers in the automation market in the coming years. Universal Robots will continue to leverage its position as the market leader and grow at the same or above the collaborative robot market growth rate of 2018.
Are you planning on expanding your production outside Denmark?
The current facilities will be able to cope with the current rate of cobot manufacturing till 2019. Asia has been driving growth and exceeding our expectations. We will be considering other countries as it is an open market with a huge scope.