The Rise of Collaborative Robots

ABB, one of the biggest manufacturers of industrial robots in the world, has unveiled its first collaborative robot, YuMi, aimed at the consumer electronics industry. YuMi will be launched on the market in April 2015 at the Hannover Messe, the world’s biggest trade fair for industrial technology.

 

SALIENTS

  • A Solution for the Assembly of Small Pieces – YuMi is a dual-arm robot for the assembly of small pieces and components. The full assembly solution includes adaptable hands, flexible parts feeders, controlling force sensing, vision guidance and ABB monitoring and software technology.
  • Designed for Human-Machine Collaboration – The name “YuMi” comes from “you and me, working together”. With its padded arms, force sensors and embedded safety systems, the robot can work side by side with humans, without barriers. Thanks to its small size, it can be installed on a normal workbench.
  • Adapted to the Consumer Electronics Sector – YuMi has been developed thinking, initially, of the needs of the consumer electronics industry, which requires flexibility, agility and high precision in the handling of parts and components. It will gradually be incorporated into other markets.
  • A New Color for a New Era – YuMi is an example of the new color for ABB robots, white graphite. The company announced this redesign last year in order to celebrate the arrival of a new era of collaboration between robotics and industrial manufacturing.

 

 

ANALYSIS

  • Robotics Industry Leaders Embrace Collaborative Robots – With the emergence of YuMi, ABB joins the list of the giants of traditional industrial robotics which are now entering the market for collaborative robots. KUKA have done so with their LBR iiwa models and Yaskawa Motoman with their Dexter Bot. FANUC’s prototype for a collaborative robot is scheduled to hit the market in 2015. Although the market price of YuMi is, as yet, unknown, it is expected to be in the range of the six figures of Yaskawa and KUKA, in keeping with the performance and high standards expected from products by these companies, in order to compete in a different league from the revolutionary UR of Universal Robots or the Baxter from Rethink Robotics.
  • The Universal Robots Revolution  Universal Robots, the Danish company founded in 2005, has revolutionized the industry with their UR5 and UR10 robots and their innovative approach: robots which are lightweight and easy to install, with extremely intuitive programming functions. With their lower total implementation costs these products are aimed at the SME sector, which has never been well served by classical industrial robotics. Universal Robots is still a small company compared to the biggies of the industry, but it has shown spectacular growth, with more than 300 distributors worldwide and a doubling of sales year on year, which demonstrates the degree of market acceptance they have achieved. With a basic price of $30,000, and an ROI period of less than one year, the robots of Universal Robots have created a new field of endeavour and have spurred some of the other manufacturers into playing catch-up.
  • Assembly which Requires Extreme Precision – The assembly of small electronic components, smartphones and tablets, has traditionally been a task to be performed by humans, due to the flexibility and accuracy required. Foxconn made ​​headlines some months ago when it announced that it was going to incorporate several thousand robots (Foxbots) on its production lines to assemble the new iPhone 6. But it recently made ​​the news again when it announced that it was halting the project because the robots were not meeting Apple’s precision standards, which require a tolerance of 0.02 mm, where the tolerance of the Foxbots is 0.05 mm, which is really high for robotic assembly, but not high enough for Apple, evidently. For their part, the UR Universal Robots, with tolerances of 0.1 mm, are focused on other tasks. Robots such as YuMi, which ABB says is capable of threading a needle, will be used in industrial situations which, for now, are not yet automated.
  • Industrial Robots: More and More Intelligent – With a projected annual growth of 15% on average through to 2017, according to the International Robotics Federation (IFR), the industrial robots market continues its strong and steady progress. Industry leaders from all sectors already have their own robotics divisions: Caterpillar, Panasonic, Siemens, Boeing, Bosch, Northrop Grumman, Foxconn, Honda, ABB, Lockheed Martin … And new investments are being made in future technologies. ABB Technology Ventures, ABB’s risk capital arm, invested $12 million in the artificial intelligence start-up Vicarious to give it access to an area of strategic interest with which to galvanize its own robotics division. Vicarious uses the principles of computational theory of the brain to create software that can think and learn as humans do. In the coming years we will see artificial intelligence and robotics converging in industrial – and non-industrial – robots which will be more and more “intelligent” and capable in their recognition, control and communication functions.
  • Reasons for Falls in Prices – Various factors lead us to suppose that there will be a progressive decline in the prices of industrial robots in the coming years:
    • On the one hand, the competition coming from Chinese manufacturers. According to the IFR, China, the largest and fastest growing robotics market, installed nearly 37,000 industrial robots in 2013. Of these, more than 9,000 robots came from local manufacturers, according to the China Robot Industry Alliance (CRIA). This percentile is three times that of 2012, and will continue to grow given the strong commitment of the Chinese government to boosting in-country manufacturing of such devices.
    • On the other hand, competition from startups and small businesses for the SME market. The early bird may get the worm, but no company in this area can afford to be complacent. New start-ups and their low-cost products  will follow the example of Universal Robots to compete in the sector of collaborative robots with this and other big companies. The Roberta from Gomtec, the MABI Speedy-10 from MABI Robotics or the OUR-1 from Smokie Robotics, this latter at a price of $15,000, among others, are also seeking their own slices of the market.
    • Taking all of this into consideration, and foreseeing an increase in production that will inevitably reduce costs, Nelmia estimates that the fall in prices of industrial robots could reach 20% by 2020 in the six figures category and 35% in the lower echelons of the market.