Lending a hand (or two) to European industry – how robotics is driving new growth opportunities for SMEs

Interview with Imre Paniti PhD. MTA-SZTAKI Institute for Computer Science and Control, Hungarian Academy of Sciences

Lending a hand (or two) to European industry – how robotics is driving new growth opportunities for SMEs

Imre Paniti, PhD., is a member of the jury for Epson’s Win-A-Robot contest. As National Coordinator of euRobotics Week in Hungary, a research fellow at the Institute for Computer Science & Control at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and a supervisor at the Budapest University of Technology & Economics, he has a strong background in robotics and mechanical engineering.

1. What is it about robotics/automation that really fascinates you?

My research interests lie in industry 4.0, sensor integration, Incremental Sheet Forming (ISF) and cobotics. Specifically, I am focused on rapid prototyping and patenting, as well as the role of robots in the workforce.

Contrary to popular concerns that the growth of robotics will eliminate jobs for humans, I am optimistic regarding the effect of industrial robotics on the human workforce. In fact, I’m sure that robots will play a key role in creating new jobs; robots are not actually replacing the human hand but increasing speed, strength and precision. Moreover, robots are giving an extra hand or two to the production line for a better European industry. If industries are to keep up with larger sales volumes, it will often make more sense for humans and robots to collaborate in a sort of symbiotic behaviour that will improve efficiency in factories.

I think we will see that the economic growth resulting from robots will produce greater potential for new professions.

2. What is the most exciting use of robotics and automation technologies that you have seen in recent years?

Integrators are supporting a move towards zero programming solutions. Making integration smoother, quicker, faster and cheaper will be a big focus of the coming years, as plug and use solutions become more widely available. This is also driving new market areas. Many large manufacturers are eager to use robotics but find themselves in need of qualified professionals who can quickly and efficiently install and incorporate these technologies into their existing infrastructure. Many SMEs are seizing these opportunities for business development as integrators.

Therefore, robot manufacturers who can provide modular solutions for easy integration of different types of sensors such as hands or automated guided vehicles (AGVs), will get more from the market. Complex modular solutions are the key, where complexity remains hidden for the user.

Looking to the future, artificial intelligence is likely to become a part of industrial robotics as well, as we move away from human coded solutions to deep learning between machines…

3. What are the trends driving robotics in Europe?

SMEs really see a use and potential for cobots, but it remains a research field. The biggest issue at the moment is how to deal with safety specifications needed for cobotics – such as reducing speed to make the human-robot interaction safe without impeding cycle time to the extent that it would reduce the productivity of the solution. At this stage, in the case of certain assembly tasks, human-robot collaboration remains the most efficient solution with the technology we have available.

As sustainability grows on the global agenda, robots also have a part to play in increasing sustainable production. Robots can help decrease waste in industry, by removing failures in the production process - the goal is to achieve zero-waste production.

4. In which industries do you see robotics and automation technologies being used in the next 10 years?

In the next decade, I foresee robotics expansion in the service industry, as well as in mining and nuclear power plants where there are many safety and health hazards for humans. But despite the importance of cobots in the economy, they will not take over the robotics market; instead, traditional industry robots will continue to own the largest share.

5. How are robotics technologies supporting SMEs across Europe?

There is definitely a need for low-cost technologies for smaller economies like that of Hungary. The problem is that a cheap robot is not always a good robot. Service and quality are important factors when considering which types of robotics a company should incorporate, yet the costs of these high-quality technologies are substantial for all but large manufacturers. However, if smaller companies understand the ROI of investment in robotics and how a specific robot can be tailored to their needs; they are more likely to make the investment.

Robotics sales are increasing in Hungary, and small companies are also purchasing robots. There’s a demand, but we are a small market. Here in Hungary, it is mainly the automotive sector that uses robots in manufacturing.

6. What do you hope to see from Epson’s Win-A-Robot contest?

The Epson Win-A-Robot contest is definitely a step in the right direction for the robotics industry and those looking to enter it. I see it as an opportunity to promote robotics to students and other young people. In an economy in which industrial robots are increasingly being used, it is important that those entering the workforce should gain as much hands-on experience as possible first to give them the best opportunities for success in the workforce.