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Increasing demand for robotics in Malaysia's manufacturing industry: Universal Robots interview

AvantiKumar | April 10, 2015
Shermine Gotfreden of Universal Robots outlines some of benefits the company's new UR3 tabletop robot is delivering to Malaysia and Asia's manufacturing industries, which includes the making of medical devices and electronic components.


UR3 in action


Photo (courtesy of Universal Robots) - UR3 in action


How does U3R compare to other solutions in the market?

Safety is a key feature of the UR3. The robot has 15 advanced, adjustable safety settings. One of these is the unique force-sensing feature that enables the UR3 to limit the force on impact if the robot encounters an obstruction. As a default setting, the new robot is able to sense a force of 150 Newton but can be programmed to cease all movements if it encounters a force as low as 50 Newton along its path of motion.

Our force-sensing feature uses a patented technology to determine external forces on the robot from motor currents, without the need for expensive additional torque sensors. Linear force is usually measured in Newton. On earth, 10 Newton is roughly equivalent to a 1kg weight.

The force sensing feature allows the robot to function side-by-side humans without the use of safety guarding (subject to the necessary risk assessments), unlike the other robot manufacturers in the market. All of this contributes to a low initial cost of ownership and low total integration cost. This makes collaboration between man and machines in a production environment safer than ever.

Could you give some more detail on how your robotics solutions meet the demands of agile manufacturing requirements as well as any recent Asian success stories?

The robot is useful for the many technology companies and small and medium enterprises located in Malaysia and across the region. The robot can be moved and reprogrammed to perform new tasks in minutes, thus giving flexibility to one's production. This is especially important for High Mix Low Volume and seasonal or batch productions encountered usually by SMEs.

PLC Industries, a Singaporean precision engineering firm, is one example of a High Mix Low Volume production environment. Before PLC began automating their lines, the production only had the capacity to manufacture a handful of products (between two CNC machines) per weekly cycle. Today, with the help of two UR10s, they are able to boost the output by 40 percent.

This exponential increase in output is attributed to each UR10 being able to take over two shifts daily over the course of a six-day workweek. Since only one worker is required to supervise both robots, the unfavourable impact of manpower shortage is significantly lessened.

Why are UR3 and robotics solutions driving demand in the region's manufacturing sector?

UR3 is a co-bot, which can work side-by-side with employees rather than behind a safety guarding. It capitalises on a growing trend by manufacturers to turn to technology to compete amid rising wage costs and labour shortages.

Lightweight collaborative robots are cheaper, more dexterous, easier to move between tasks and do not require specialist programming skills. Many of them can be taught new moves by simply taking the robot arm and moving it to show it what to do.

This has helped make automation more accessible for small and medium-sized businesses that previously could not afford the expensive heavyweight traditional industrial robots or did not consider them economical for smaller production volumes or contract manufacturing.

Many manufacturers are using co-bots to assist their human workers, as well as relieving them of ergonomically unfavourable work.

Workers are typically redeployed to higher value tasks that robots cannot do, which require more skill and understanding, or retrained to manage the robots.

Overall, the UR3 has a low cost of ownership and integration with a list price of €16,500 as well as a payback period of under a year in Malaysia.


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