Manufacturing Automation - Inside Universal Robots Efforts to Empower the Small/Medium Enterprise

  • February 19, 2019
  • Feature
Manufacturing Automation - Inside Universal Robots Efforts to Empower the Small/Medium Enterprise
Manufacturing Automation - Inside Universal Robots Efforts to Empower the Small/Medium Enterprise

By Bill Lydon, Editor,


Collaborative robots are re-defining the way manufacturers operate today. To help further that process is Universal Robots (UR), a collaborative robot manufacturer driven by a vision & mission to help industries become more productive, with a particular focus on Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs).  Cobots are now the fastest-growing segment of industrial automation, expected to jump ten-fold to 34% of all industrial robot sales by 2025, according to the Robotic Industries Association (RIA).  In another report by BIS Research, UR was listed as the leading Cobot innovator taking the dominant leadership position with a 60% global share of the market, selling more cobots than all competitors combined. It is this position which motivates UR to keep pushing the era of collaborative robots forward

2018 marked Universal Robots 10th year in business.   2017 saw the company grow 72% and their decade year saw the company mark its 25,000th cobot sale by delivering a limited edition in gold. To date, the company has sold more than 31,000 cobots around the world. UR’s co-founder and CTO, Esben Østergaard, delivered the first of these robots himself after having led a small team through three years of development in a basement at University of Southern Denmark. For his pioneering role in developing cobots, he was awarded the Engelberger Award, the “Nobel Prize” of robotics in 2018.

UR’s co-founder and CTO, Esben Østergaard was awarded the Engelberger Award, the “Nobel Prize” of robotics in 2018.


Empowering Manufacturing People

As they move into their second decade, the Universal Robots vision continues to grow. At a press briefing at IMTS 2018, Jurgen von Hollen, President of Universal Robots and UR’s co-founder and CTO, Esben Østergaard outlined the company’s vison to, “to fundamentally reshape automation across the global economy.” 

“We’ve been the frontrunners of collaborative robots since the term was adopted. While safety is imperative, that’s simply the cost of entry into the cobot market now,” “We believe that being collaborative is just as much about being accessible and flexible by placing robots within reach of manufacturers who never thought they could deploy robots due to cost and complexity.”   UR’s co-founder and CTO, Esben Østergaard

Jurgen von Hollen described how they want to lower the barriers to automation and enable a broad range of users, particularly SMEs, to implement without having sophisticated automation personnel.  He highlighted UR’s ecosystem, a core of Hardware and Software supported by an innovation culture and strong partners, which is focused on the goal of changing the world by empowering manufacturing people to automate things that had not been practical to automate before.


Universal Robots vision does not stop at collaborative robots, however. Esben Østergaard described the company’s efforts in helping to solve a major industry crisis, “We are facing a looming skills gap in the manufacturing industry that we need to bridge by all means possible,”  Østergaard explained “Facilitating knowledge creation and access to our robots is an important step in that direction,”  This effort has been part of the drive behind the development of UR’s ecosystem, which is supported by a number of items including:

UR’s co-founder and CTO, Esben Østergaard outlined the company’s vison to, “to fundamentally reshape automation across the global economy.” 


Universal Robots+

In 2016, UR launched Universal Robots+, a platform that leverages the company’s global ecosystem by enabling 3rd party developers to create products – such as grippers, vision systems, software, and other accessories – that are certified to work with UR cobots. The UR+ showroom now includes around 130 certified UR+ products and 390+ approved commercial developer companies in the UR+ developer program.


Universal Robots Academy

In 2017, Universal Robots Academy was launched to raise robot literacy consisting of nine free-of-charge interactive modules of online training in mastering programming, set-up and operation of UR cobots. The program has been adopted worldwide, with more than 51,000 users from 130+ countries signed up as modules have become available in eight languages including English, Spanish, German, French, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Thai. UR is the only cobot vendor offering robotics training of this caliber for free.


e-Series Cobots

UR launched a new generation of its cobots, the e-Series, which is a platform that is intended to enable faster solution development and deployment of a variety of applications.  The e-Series cobots are designed to be unpacked, mounted, plugged into standard electrical outlet, and program in less than one hour.  

“As manufacturers increasingly embrace cobots, we see the need to support even more demanding applications with greater accuracy and tool integration,” shared Østergaard, “Launching the e-Series will help us continue propelling cobots forward into new applications benefitting companies of all sizes,”


Birth of the Universal Cobot

When Linatex, a Danish supplier of technical plastics and rubber for industrial applications, bought a UR5 robot arm from Universal Robots (UR) to automate CNC machine tending in December 2008, they did something unthinkable. Instead of installing the robot behind safety caging, fenced off from people, as was the norm for all industrial robots at the time, they deployed it right alongside their employees. Further, instead of bringing in external programmers to master complex scripting, Linatex was able to program the robot on their own with no prior programming experience. Today, ten years after Østergaard delivered that first robot, Linatex still uses a cobot from Universal Robots.

Østergaard still remembers the early days in 2008, when the small UR team distributed the first UR5s in Denmark and Germany. “10 years might seem like a long time, and it’s definitely been quite a journey; but we’ve only just started to scratch the surface,” says Østergaard. “I continue to see our cobots power new applications that we never imagined when we first launched.”


Rapid Investment Return

The economic benefits of collaborative robots have been apparent as well. UR’s collaborative robots have built an enthusiastic following, as people have seen the users results in efficiency and profitability.

Hal Blenkhorn, director of manufacturing for medical device manufacturer Tegra Medical, is one of those users. “We’ve had great financial success with the implementation of these robots, to the tune of what we’re seeing on average for the return on investment of between 3 and 6 months,” enthused Blenkhorn, “We were looking at cost, ease of implementation, and ease of use and the Universal Robots seemed to have nailed it in all those areas.”

Tegra Medical Achieving 3-6 Month Return on Investment

Another user, Dynamic Group’s Joe McGillivray shared a similar tale. “When we first started looking into automation, I was surprised to find that we could afford a six-axis robot, and a collaborative one at that,” McGillivray remembered, “I assumed those robots cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. The return on investment on our initial system was less than two months.”

Bill’s Thoughts and Reflections

When I first saw Universal Robots, in the early days of their existence, I was amazed at both the implementation and its simplicity.  It is one thing to have great products, but it’s even more impressive to combine that with a positive, productive philosophy with tangible efforts to improve the universe of manufacturing.    Universal Robots is using the concept of open platforms to create ecosystems, rather than focusing primarily on sales of UR-created robots to customers. This is a proven method that has dramatically expanded the growth and innovation in the computer and general software industries, and I look forward to seeing it work in robotics as well.

Related Articles

Learn More

Did you enjoy this great article?

Check out our free e-newsletters to read more great articles..