a view from germany: rethink ceo on cobots and other key takeaways from hannover messe

in trending now by Scott Eckert

At this year’s Hannover Fair, exhibitors once again spared no expense and effort in presenting their latest innovations to the public, while visitors to the world’s largest industrial trade fair saw the entire spectrum of industrial equipment. This time, the dominant topics were artificial intelligence and machine learning – for example the table tennis playing robot at the stand of OMRON, which continuously optimizes its gaming behavior on the basis of the collected data. But also the increasing merging of production and IT in the sense of a powerful Industrial Internet of Things is still on everyone’s lips as well as of course the rapid development in robotics: Driverless systems open up new possibilities for production and logistics and collaborative robots work hand in hand with humans. That was out of the question a few years ago. In the meantime, the technology has reached a higher level of maturity and companies have recognized the potential of collaborative robotics for themselves. With cobots like our Sawyer you can also automate where traditional industrial robots reach their limits.

Cobots are more flexible than traditional industrial robots and can handle a variety of tasks that their larger, bulkier predecessors are not capable of doing.

It is becoming increasingly important for the manufacturing industry to be able to respond dynamically to fluctuations in demand, changing customer requirements and structural challenges such as a shortage of skilled workers. For this reason, flexible automation solutions such as collaborative robots are an absolute trend topic at the Hanover Fair. I am still impressed with what the current state of technology already makes possible and I am already looking forward to next year’s Hannover Fair.

The Rethink Robotics booth at Hannover Messe 2018 was full of cobots and people looking to get hands-on time with the manufacturing tools of Industry 4.0.

What could visitors to the Rethink Robotics stand discover that they could not see from other cobot suppliers?

Of course we are not the only cobot supplier at the Hannover Messe with Rethink Robotics. The market is growing rapidly and many suppliers want a piece of the pie. Nevertheless, the question of what distinguishes Rethink Robotics from other cobot manufacturers can be answered quickly. Our cobot Sawyer is known for the fact that it can be integrated incredibly quickly into the production environment within almost any industry. How is that possible? The train-by-demonstration method, in which Sawyer learns movement sequences by simply guiding the robot arm, also enables employees without programming knowledge to implement complex applications. Sawyer’s powerful software, Intera, provides intuitive operability through its graphical user interface, which visualizes each application step via a decision tree. Sawyer cobots are powered by Rethink Robotics' Intera software.The low integration effort without downtimes, the manageable costs and the simple handling contribute significantly to facilitate automation for manufacturers of all sizes. Sawyer is also a holistic and fully integrated solution and that’s what makes us different: a fully integrated, cost-efficient solution.

How do you perceive this year’s attitude at the Hannover Fair on the subject of cobots?

What struck me and my team most was the level of knowledge of the visitors. While in 2016 I was still often asked, “What are collaborative robots?” or “What can a cobot do?”, this year we often heard concrete questions, such as “Can Sawyer run these applications?” Representatives of companies of all sizes and industries approached us with very real questions, for example: “I have this and that production line and would like to use Sawyer for this specific application. Is it suitable for this and if so, how much implementation time do I have to expect?” The question of operability was also often asked: “Is Sawyer really that quick and easy to learn?” Yes, it is. At our various stations, visitors could experience first-hand how quickly Sawyer can be taught a task with the train-by-demonstration method. We know that this plays a crucial role, especially for SMEs, in determining whether or not to use a cobot because they do not have the resources to hire highly paid programmers. The growing interest and the practical discussion that can be observed on the subject of cobots makes us optimistic for the future. It confirms that we offer the market exactly what it currently demands: a flexible, cost-effective and easy-to-implement automation solution that allows companies to react quickly and dynamically to new challenges.

What does Hannover Messe 2019 look like for you?

So far, we have seen an enormous learning curve among visitors and customers from year to year. When we first came to Hannover Messe, not many people knew what cobots were and what they could do for manufacturing companies. Few people knew the financial implications of purchasing a cobot and what the difference is from a traditional industrial robot. We were faced with the great challenge of first clarifying the market, e.g. that the use of cages is superfluous because collaborative robots act smart, are compact and can work safely alongside people. Cobots react to resistance and recognize when external conditions change, they are not rigid machines, on the contrary: cobots are flexible. So flexible that they can easily be moved from one application to the next and can even be used in the most unpleasant and smallest production environments. We expect to be able to show even more applications, exciting use cases and new functions at next year’s Hannover Fair. The great thing about Sawyer is that he is not an end product, but is constantly evolving through regular software updates. And the applications for which it can be used continue to evolve in the same way.

Next, take a look some of the industries in which cobots are working, such as electronics manufacturing and packaging. Also, be sure to subscribe above and check out the rest of the Rethink Robotics blog.


About the Author

Scott Eckert

A seasoned manager with experience in building high-growth businesses, Scott was President and CEO of Motion Computing, the leading provider of tablet PCs for vertical markets, taking the company from a startup to #1 in the world in its category. Prior to Motion Computing, Scott was an executive at Dell, Inc. and widely known as the founder and general manager of Dell’s worldwide Internet business unit. Under his leadership, grew from zero to $4Bn in revenue, the largest e-commerce site in the world at the time. Scott was also Managing Director for Dell’s Home and Small Business Division in the UK and Ireland, one of the company’s largest international business units. Prior to entering the technology industry, Scott spent a number of years in strategy consulting and as part of a turnaround team in the consumer product industry. Scott holds a BA in Quantitative Economics from Stanford University and an MBA from Harvard Business School. He is currently a member of the Board of Directors of the Robotic Industries Association (RIA).

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