Cobot working together with a person

This article was originally published on Innovation Agency website. You can read it here.

Market research companies agree that global robotics sector will experience rapid growth by 2030. Although in Lithuania it is still in the initial stages of development, experts suggest turning it into a strategic area and thus speed up the digitization of industry and other sectors.

Market research company Market Research Future (MRFR) has published its latest forecasts for the global robotics sector. It is predicted that by 2030 the value of this sector will reach 214.68 billion US dollars, which means that the average annual growth of robotics will reach 22.8 percent. Market researchers name robots becoming more and more affordable as a reason of such a breakthrough, adapted not only to large-scale industry, but also to the needs of small and medium-sized businesses.

The head of the Lithuanian Robotics Association, Daumantas Simėnas, says that Lithuanian industry stands behind other European countries in the field of digitization, and robotics sector is not developing as fast as it could.

‘There are about 15-20 robots per ten thousand industrial workers in Lithuania, while in countries such as Slovakia, Italy or Germany, this number is more than 10 times higher (according to 2020 data, respectively: 175, 224 and 371 industrial robots per 10000 workers). The growth of the sector is not enough to catch up with the world average, and the growth is most hampered by the belief of the companies that workers are cheaper labour. In fact, robots are becoming cheaper, and their integration is becoming simpler, so as wages rise, innovations pay off faster. Also, employees are freed from hard and dangerous routine work, so more attention can be paid to raising qualifications and creating higher value for the company,’ said D. Simėnas.

Market experts around the world are talking about robotics becoming increasingly user-friendly and affordable technology for companies. The International Federation of Robotics, to which the Lithuanian Robotics Association also belongs, names easier-to-program robots, increasing opportunities for human and robot collaboration and the growing demand for robots for automating supply chains as the most important trends in the sector.

‘One of the most important global trends is robots operating in the same environment as humans and the growing use of collaborative robots – cobots. Industrial robots are usually separated from humans, so working with them in a shared environment (due to the risk of injury) is limited. Collaborative robots sense their surroundings and slow down or stop completely when the human approaches. The use of this type of robots is particularly wide – they serve in the assembly, packaging and testing of products or other operations. This makes possible to create processes in which one part of the work is done by a robot, and the other by a human, leaving the most dangerous, difficult and dirtiest tasks to the robots,’ said D. Simėnas.

The expert emphasizes that, thanks to similar technologies, Lithuanian industrial companies could make their activities more efficient, reduce costs and the amount of waste and energy consumed.

‘If the digitalization and modernization of processes were more actively supported, the development of the circular economy, which is closely related to digitalization, would proceed faster. This would help Lithuanian industrial companies to protect themselves from global economic challenges and develop products and components here in Europe, reducing dependence on Asian supply chains. An excellent example of the successful development of the robotics sector is the Odense Robotics, automation and drone cluster, established in Denmark. This organization helps companies at all stages of growth – accelerators are established, business and technology development programs are held here. This is where Universal Robots, the world’s leading developer of collaborative robots, grew up. A similarly functioning and state-supported cluster could turn Lithuania into a vibrant part of the global robotics ecosystem,’ said D. Simėnas.

According to the head of the Lithuanian Robotics Association, the emergence of such a cluster requires the cooperation of municipalities, regional and central authorities, and targeted investments.

‘The example of Odense shows that the initiative of the local and the support of the regional governments (in Lithuania, it would be the Regional Development Council) for the chosen strategic direction is an effective way to start form a cluster. In Lithuania, the city of Panevėžys is already showing its own initiative, but it needs greater and more targeted support from the central government. Of course, a strong educational institution and a private research center must become the axis of such a cluster. Local and national support systems and investments must be directed to the activities with the most breakthrough potential – experimentation, prototyping, investments in the development of so-called hardware start-ups’, said D. Simėnas.

According to D. Simėnas, the development of the robotics sector has already begun – domestic companies are implementing important projects in Lithuania and abroad, and at the end of the year, the European Digital Innovation Center (EDIH) will start operating, which will strengthen the digital transformation capabilities of industry and other companies.

‘Lithuanian robotics companies are already carrying out complex and international projects, for example, using their developed robots to automate the warehouses of one of the world’s largest shipping companies in the Netherlands. Among the products created and implemented projects by Lithuanian companies are a fully automated assembly line for Internet of Things devices, a metal bending robot, the smallest lasers in the world that can be applied in many areas, advanced biometric systems based on artificial intelligence. In order for more companies in the country to implement these and other technologies, to learn more about the benefits of robots, the Lithuanian Robotics Association and its members are planning to start developing RaaS (Robotics as a Service) – a model that will invite companies to rent robots for several months and thus ensure their suitability for their business,’ the expert added.

Currently, companies seeking to implement innovative technologies and modernize processes in Lithuania can contact the experts of the ‘Smart Inotech’ for industry, a project implemented at the Innovation Agency, who will help create a digitalization strategy.