If you phone Enrico Iversen, you’re most likely to reach him in his car. The founder of OnRobot is often on the road – he has to be, because he wants to conquer the growing cobot market with his new grippers and sensors. His advantage is that the robot builders he visits know him as a competitor – the former CEO of Universal Robots.
After selling his shares in Universal Robots, Iversen could easily have taken himself off to a nice spot in Denmark to enjoy life and leave the stressful trade fairs behind. But he decided against it, and instead invested his money in fledgling businesses and turned three independent companies into one: OnRobot.
“There are still lots of new business models to discover in the robotics world,.”
His latest business model is plug-and-play grippers and sensors for cobots which can work with the cobots straight away without needing to be programmed. This was a development that had been eagerly anticipated in the robotics industry. What do the three companies actually do? On Robot manufactures the plug-and-play electric grippers RG2 and RG6. They are highly flexible and ‒ according to the company ‒ can be programmed and operated from the same interface as the robot without the need for engineers.
OptoForce makes force/torque sensors that bring the sense of touch to industrial robots. This enables them to automate tasks that would otherwise require the dexterity of the human hand. Perception Robotics develops compliant rubber tactile sensors to give robots a sense of touch and to equip automation systems with robust material handling capabilities. All three companies now trade under the name OnRobot.
“We now have cobots in the industry, on the factory floor. But we need grippers and sensors for the applications.”
The goal of Iversen and his partners is to enable cobots to perform several tasks and robotic arms to be quickly retooled, ideally without any additional programming. Collaborative robots – which work safely alongside humans in applications such as packaging, quality testing, materials handling, machine tending, assembly and welding – currently account for 3% of global robot sales according to the International Federation of Robotics, but the share is expected to rise to 34% of a $25 billion market by 2025. These are huge figures.
Commenting on the forecasts, Iversen says: “This growth will most definitely depend on cobots being used in more applications.” However the Danish entrepreneur doesn’t want to spend too long analysing. He is far more interested in creating new added value.
The Gecko Gripper developed by the start-up Perception Robotics, which has now merged with OnRobot, offers a new approach according to Iversen – its inspiration comes from nature and it uses the same adhesive system as the feet of a gecko: millions of fine fibres adhere to the surface of the workpiece and generate strong van der Waals forces. For the Gecko Gripper technology, OnRobot uses a licensed concept that was originally developed and brought to market maturity by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). “This unique and fast-moving solution makes vacuum grippers with a compressed air system unnecessary for handling large, flat objects,” promises the Danish businessman. In contrast to vacuum grippers, the Gecko Gripper can easily handle perforated or porous workpieces such as circuit boards. The gripper is compatible with Universal Robots and Kawasaki robotic arms. “That’s important to us. We’re connected to Universal Robots because of our history and meet for coffee from time to time, but we work with all other robot manufacturers,” emphasizes Iversen.
For Iversen, the robotic arm is ‘just’ the interface to the worker. In his eyes, the innovation is in the robot’s tools. And the first customers confirm the validity of this approach. Danish gear manufacturing company Osvald Jensen reduced the cycle time on its CNC machine by 12 seconds with the dual gripper. The ‘old’ single gripper took 27 seconds to perform this task.
“To stay competitive in a high-cost country like Denmark and at the same time demonstrate that we are a modern company, we have decided to invest in technology that gives us the best return. We have invested a lot in our CNC machines, and with collaborative robots, especially the OnRobot gripper, we can, in a very cost-effective way, automate them. Therefore, in 2015, we invested in our first OnRobot gripper and had a return on investment in less than three months,” explains Christian Viereck of Osvald Jensen. Enrico Iversen stands next to him proudly, delighted that his technology is changing and improving industrial processes. That’s what motivates him.