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PH now embraces robots as co-workers

Shermine Gotfredsen, a Singaporean-Danish mother of two, can discuss robotics over lunch with any man.  She is the general manager for Southeast Asia and Oceania of a European producer of flexible and lightweight robot arms that can perform tasks alongside humans.

“Today, we have close to 21,000 collaborative robots deployed worldwide.  Globally, we have more than 400 employees and partners.  We have offices in 12 countries and last year, our turnover was at a $170 million, which gives us a growth of 72 percent,” says Gotfredsen who heads Universal Robots Pte. Ltd. in the region.

Universal Robots, a Denmark-based company established in 2005 by three Danish engineers and acquired by US firm Teradyne for $285 million in 2015, is a pioneer in the production of ‘co-bots’ or collaborative robots designed to share workspace with humans.  Co-bots are considered the future of the automation industry because they complement human workers.  Over the past decade, the company has produced three co-bot models: UR5, UR10 and UR3.

UR is considered the global leader in co-bots with a global market share of 58 percent, according to BIS Research.  It has also found great acceptance in the Asia-Pacific region, including the Philippines.

Universal Robots Pte. Ltd. general manager for Southeast Asia and Oceania Shermine Gotfredsen explains the functions of UR3, the latest model of collaborative robot that is now available in the Philippines.
“We have a strong growth in Southeast Asia since 2012 when we started off.  In the Philippines, we started distribution only in mid-2016,” Gotfredsen, who is married to a Danish national, says in a news briefing at Dusit Thani Manila Hotel in Makati City.

She says the company saw a strong reception in the Philippines despite the country having one of the lowest robot density rates in the world.  Robot density refers to the number of robots deployed in a country for every 10,000 employees.

“If you look at a global level, 74 robots per 10,000 employees is the typical average for robot density.  In Asia, it is 63 units, which is lower than in Europe and North America.  For the Philippines, we are really behind.  We are at 3 robots for 10,000 employees,” Gotfredsen says, citing figures from the International Federation of Robotics.

“The Philippines trails behind Singapore which has 488 robots per 10,000 employees and is now one of the leading robot adoption countries in the world. So there is definitely a pressing need and room for improvement for businesses in the Philippines to adopt robotic automation in order to compete with regional firms,” she says.

The figures are 45 for Thailand and 34 for Malaysia.

Gotfredsen says that since the company entered the Philippines in mid-2016, it has been well received by different industries.  “To our pleasant surprise, we have actually been very successful in the Philippines, considering the low robot density rate we have here, surpassing our expectations.  There is a very strong adoption to date in a span of one and a half years,” she says.

Gotfredsen graduated from a vocational education in business administration from the International Business College in Kolding before becoming a Danish resident. Before joining Universal Robots, she worked as a sales coordinator for a Danish home ware products company. Prior to that, she founded a successful children’s enrichment business in Singapore from 2000 to 2007.

She now lives in Singapore with her husband and two children. She enjoys traveling, cooking and reading.

“The Philippines needs to seize automation opportunities to stay competitive and avoid losing ground to its neighbors. We are committed to supporting local businesses adopt our co-bot solutions, working closely with our partners in the Philippines to make automation accessible to all. We offer free seminars and technical workshops on co-bots in the Philippines and welcome local companies to learn how co-bot technology can benefit their businesses,” she says.

While she does not give a specific number of co-bots deployed in the Philippines so far, Gotfredsen says the main industry drivers are automotive, electronics, food and beverage and fast-moving consumer goods. 

“We have currently expanded our channel partners to two in the Philippines,” she says.  UR has recently tapped Asia Integrated Machine Inc. to provide a one-stop solution for manufacturing firms, including processing, weighing, packaging, inspection, conveying, palletizing and warehousing.

The partnership will see AIM deploy and offer customized automation solutions comprising end-effectors and accessories for UR’s co-bots.

“We have just forged partnership with Asia Integrated Machines and naturally, with the group results, we will continue to focus on investing heavily into the market to support the demands that we are seeing in the Philippines.  One of the strategies is to make available a series of free seminars and technical workshops to further pass on this knowledge to the market so they understand the availability of the technology and can explore automation for their businesses,” says Gotfredsen.

AIM is UR’s second channel partner in the Philippines after Elixir Industrial Equipment which has been instrumental in growing UR’s distribution base in the country since 2016. 

“Usually in the first year in the market that we enter, we do not see as high adoption as we have witnessed in the Philippine market,” says Gotfredsen who expects sales to further grow this year.

Gotfredsen says that globally, UR’s sales climbed 72 percent to $170 million in 2017.  “The expectation here is aligned with our global growth that we have been experiencing.  In Southeast Asia, we are growing rather at similar rate as the global growth, which last year was 72 percent. Our target moving forward is above 50 percent.  So that’s what we work with for the next three to five years,” she says.

She says the use of co-bots is not limited to factories or manufacturing industries.  “Basically it is not restrictive to any industry. But if we look at manufacturing in the Philippines, then we see a lot in electronics, electrical, FMCG, F&B, automotive and even the medical industry.  These are definitely the industries we are serving on a global level, and thereby will be relevant for us.  But if we have companies taking them out to restaurants, that is good,” she says.

“Because of the characteristics of universal robots, we see developers, partners and even research institutions coming out with very innovative applications in the services sector, F&B like restaurants, cafes and bars, in hospitals and even in film making. Creativity is limitless and is up to imagination,” she says.

Gotfredsen says unlike conventional industrial robots that are large, bulky, large and difficult to program, co-bots are small, compact, lightweight, flexible and safe.  It saves space and can work in a confined environment with human workers, she says.  The six-axis co-bot arms can do any repetitive movement or motion, from plucking items to stacking boxes, painting or welding.

“The robotics market was dominated by very large, bulky, different to program robots and typically only afforded by large companies.  This is how the whole idea of developing robot technology that is accessible to everyone came about. We wanted to develop robots that are affordable to small and medium businesses—small, lightweight, easy to program and safe to work alongside people,” she says.

UR’s smallest robot arm is UR3 which has a maximum payload of 3 kilograms.  The unit costs about 20,000 euros with an estimated payback period of two to three years.

“If you look at the UR3, the maximum payload is 3 kg.  The weight of the robot arm is only 11 kg.  That is a very good ratio. Typically for the same payload in the market, conventional robot will require 20 kg to 50 kg. With UR3,  I can basically carry this robotic system and move it from one place to another.  On the other hand, the size of the conventional robot computer box is like a refrigerator,” she says.

Gotfredsen says co-bots are not meant to displace human workers but to complement them. She says that in India, co-bots have enabled women to account for a half of the labor force in a leading automotive company.

“Automation has proven to have helped businesses expand. If you do not do automation in the first place, your business would not have taken to greater heights.  We need to bear in mind that automation is a facilitator to help the business expand as well,” says Gotfredsen.

“If the business aims to expand further, it is good to adopt automation,” she says.

Topics: Universal Robots
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