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Robots assist with pretzels and beer

Dec. 30, 2014

Large automakers and electronics manufacturers remain the largest users of robots, but small and medium-size companies, including breweries and bakeries, are offering robot makers room for growth. The Wall Street Journal reports International Federation of Robotics figures showing that sales to small and medium buyers rose 10% in 2013, vs. only 4% in the auto industry.

John Revill in the Journal reports that German brewer Badische Staatsbrauerei Rothaus AG has been using an ABB Ltd. IRB7600 robot since 2005 to speed up delivery times by sorting 30,000 bottles per hour.

Revill writes that key to getting robots into small and medium companies is ease of use. He quotes Per Vegard Nerseth, who runs ABB’s robot division, as saying, “The vision is for us to make robots as simple to use as a smartphone. A lot of the smaller companies, such as bakeries, may have qualified bakers, for example, but not lots of robot technicians.”

And Fanuc, Revill writes, encouraged an English building-supply company to invest in robots by offering a six-month trial. He quotes Chris Sumner, who runs Fanuc Europe, as estimating that about 80% of Fanuc’s European customers are small and medium-sized businesses, with sales to them growing 20% per year. And Joerg Winter of German robot maker Kuka AG reports that roughly a fifth of his company’s robot orders are for smaller projects.

Meanwhile, Arturo Baroncelli, president of the International Federation of Robotics, reports that more than 200,000 industrial robots will have been sold in 2014—a record. “The breakthrough of human robot collaboration just started,” he writes. “It will capture other industrial sectors that, to date, have remained undeveloped. The topic is hot!”

He adds that robot experts and users will discuss robots and people working together at the next IRF CEO Roundtable on March 23 in Chicago in conjunction with Automate 2015 and the collocated 46th International Symposium on Robotics (ISR 2015).

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