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 deployed the robot right alongside their employees. 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. Ten years later, Linatex still uses a cobot from Universal Robots.
UR’s co-founder and CTO, Esben Østergaard, delivered the first robot himself after having led a small team through three years of development in a basement at University of Southern Denmark. For his role in developing cobots, he was awarded the Engelberger Award, the “Nobel Prize” of robotics, earlier this year.
"Ten 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,” said Østergaard. "I continue to see our cobots power new applications that we never imagined when we first launched."
Østergaard and the growing UR team launched the larger model, UR10, in 2012 and the table-top model, UR3, in 2015 – the same year Teradyne acquired UR for $285 million.
"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," Østergaard said "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."
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 seamlessly with UR cobots. The UR+ showroom now includes around 130 certified UR+ products and 390+ approved commercial developer companies in the UR+ developer program.
A year later, in 2017, Universal Robots Academy was launched to raise robot literacy. It consists 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 45,000 users from 130+ countries signed up as modules have become available in eight languages including English, Spanish, German, French, Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Thai.
"We are facing a looming skills gap in the manufacturing industry that we need to bridge by all means possible," said Østergaard. "Facilitating knowledge creation and access to our robots is an important step in that direction."
According to the Robotic Industries Association, cobots are the fastest-growing segment of industrial automation, expected to jump ten-fold to 34 percent of all industrial robot sales by 2025.
In June, UR launched a brand-new generation of its cobots, the e-Series, which is a platform that enables faster solution development and deployment of a wider variety of applications.
Last year the company grew 72 percent and earlier this year the company marked its 25,000th cobot sale by delivering a limited edition in gold. To date, the company has sold more than 27,000 cobots around the world.