"Research in new robot technology shall ensure Danish jobs"

Søren Peter Johansen

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"Research in new robot technology shall ensure Danish jobs"

This was the headline of a press release by the University of Southern Denmark (SDU) on December 6, 2012, right after researchers from a consortium, including SDU and Danish Technological Institute, received approximately DKK 18.3 million from the Strategic Research Committee. The money will be used on the project CARMEN, whose main purpose is to find new ways to expand the use of robots.

A continual problem in the Danish industry is that companies have to increase productivity. A higher productivity will strengthen industrial competitiveness and robot technologies can, among other things, help this problem. Still more robots are being developed within the Danish industry as a large amount of companies have become aware of the many benefits that are associated with automation and robot technologies.

Optimization of production for small series is a must for Danish competitiveness
However, there are still challenges and high costs associated with implementing robot systems, especially in the start-up phase, which means that the majority of industrial robots are used to manufacture products in larger series, where it is easy to see economies of scale. Denmark is a country with many small and medium sized manufacturing companies and is dependent on the production of small series. Today the production is done by hand and there is great potential for optimizing production by using robot technologies and flexible robot solutions that are relatively quickly reprogrammed to other series. In SDU's press release, Professor Henrik Gordon Petersen, who is the head of CARMEN, elaborates the importance of the new robots: "The project is important for Denmark because it can help to secure jobs. By using robots in the industry to a higher degree, we maintain production and knowledge. For this to happen there are some technological breakthroughs that has to be made - and this is what we are trying to do in the project".

Great focus at Danish Technological Institute
Flexible robot installations is also a priority and a ​​focus area at Danish Technological Institute. Competitive power of small and medium sized enterprises can be assured in Denmark by giving companies the opportunity to customize their automated production to the daily variation of products and quantities, which is everyday life for the majority of the Danish production companies.
"A lot of our services and consultations are already specifically focused on helping companies to automate their difficult small series production. CARMEN will give us more opportunities to address this issue and focus on the development of technology that will make it possible for businesses to configure their production of their daily variety of products themselves", says Anders Billesø Beck, who is Danish Technological Institutes' Project Manager on CARMEN.
Even now, the area is the largest robot technology gamble for Danish Technological Institute, which has participated in two major EU research projects with focus on developing software components for flexible production over the past years. In CARMEN, this focus will be expanded and then include modular hardware so that the operators now will be able both to program robot cells and rebuild them physically for new products by replacing modules.

We need to act
Denmark's competition based on wages with countries in Asia and Eastern Europe was lost a long time ago. Therefore, Denmark needs to find other means if we want to improve our competitiveness. To increase productivity through robot technologies and automation is an advantage to many companies although it is an immediately large expense, according to Henrik Gordon Petersen, who sees it as a good investment: "There's great potential in a wide range of industrial sectors in Denmark, where handling and collecting is an essential part of the production. Therefore, it is an investment in new knowledge, which we believe can have a big multiplier effect with a potential for a wide range of sectors".

Other participants in the research project:
Maersk Mc-Kinney Moller Institute
Department of Business and Economics, University of Southern Denmark
Department of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, Aalborg University
Georg-August University, Göttingen, Germany
KVM Conheat A/S
VOLA A/S
Brunata A/S
SCAN A/S