Are the Robots Taking Over?

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Ostergarrd: In Europe we are mostly focused on the metalworking industry and the plastics industry, a little bit in the woodworking industry and a little bit in food, and you could say end-of-the-line packaging also.

Matties: That's the beautiful thing about a product like yours. You're not locked in to a single market.

Ostergarrd: Exactly. It is a universal robot that we make. We don't put the hand on the robots, we just have the arm that stops at the wrist. So what we provide is basically a universal moving tool to which the customer can add a hand (tool) of their choice that meets their specific needs.

Matties: So what makes yours better than the other robot arms that are out there?

Ostergarrd: The main difference is we have a different focus. The other arms more or less come out of the needs of the automotive industry, which is reliability, performance, exactly the same motion every time. So flexibility and safety has not really been a big requirement in the automotive industry. Since you can say the world's production has shorter and shorter product life cycles, you need more and more flexibility in the production equipment used in the world. For this reason, we try to promote these selling points with our robots: easy programming, flexibility, and safety. Also the light weight of the robot makes it easy to move around. It all adds up to flexibility, which is the new need we see.

It's a little related to something that we had been thinking a lot about in our company, which is really about making humans do what humans are good at and making machines do what machines are good at. Machines are good at doing the boring things, doing the same thing every time. Humans are good at creativity and knowing what should be done and how things should be. Machines are not very good at that. So we basically want to make technology as a tool for people, to free them from doing the boring things or the repetitive things.

Matties: Well, here in Asia, we're at the circuit board show. Obviously, automation is mandatory. You're hitting this at exactly the right time, it seems.

Ostergarrd: Yes, and this is why we had a product launch here yesterday. We introduced the smallest member of our robot family, a small robot that is very well-suited for the electronics industry, because there are not that many big, heavy parts in the electronics industry. On the other hand, space is always a requirement in all production. So we made a very small, you could say, tabletop robot. The robot we launched yesterday looks a lot like the other two robots we have, but it’s just smaller.

If you think a little bit about it, it's actually kind of different because the five kilo robot we have is intended to replace a human arm for doing repetitive motions. Maybe it's putting things in and out of machines. The ten kilo robot we have is more intended for replacing a worker standing up and using two hands to move parts around. But the new three kilo robot we brought is actually kind of a different thing because it can automate on the table. So you can have a worker sitting at a table, and then on the same table you have a robot installation running. I think this is something new, and it's something that would fit very well into the electronics industry. That's why we are launching it here. It also brings a new aspect to what a robot is and how we use industrial robots.

Matties: Are your robots all stationary/fixed at this point?

Ostergarrd: The robots we have are robot arms. They cannot move around. We see other companies put our robots on mobile platforms and then give them mobility, but that is not the focus of our company. Our company focuses on making a tool for people to automate things easily, and that is simply buying a robot, screwing it on the table or placing it somewhere, maybe attaching it to existing equipment. Then you can simply drag the robot arm around to show it what it should do, and it learns that and does that.

It's really easy to automate simple things. My dad was an engineer; he was working on the water supply of Cebu City in the Philippines when I was small. So I lived there when I was a kid. They had this task of pulling a cable through pipes, and what they did was tie a string to the tail of a cat, and the cat was not always happy about that and it was a pretty painful situation sometimes. Then they would chase the cat through the pipe, to get the string through, and they would use the string to pull the cable through. That's actually when I made the first robot, because I had a Lego cable car with simply a battery pack and a motor. Then you can make a track vehicle that could go through the pipes there.

Matties: So where do you see your company headed next?

We see big potential for the kind of robot we make. We know that there are a lot of other companies that have seen the same potential as us and we want to try to be ahead, so we have to move very quickly to maintain this initiative. We have the world leadership right now, this way of thinking about the robots.

Matties: So your programming method of teaching it through motion, is that a patented process that you have?

Ostergarrd: No. That's not patented.

Matties: Is it common?

Ostergarrd: It's not common. I don't think any other industrial robots have it, but as a concept it's not that new. The other robots didn't have the need for it because their main focus has never been flexibility. Especially the German way of thinking, where you have an engineer deciding everything and the guys on the factory floor do not touch but do just what they're told to do. Now this mentality is changing in many


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