How robotics can help to power up Switzerland and boost its competitiveness

Switzerland’s automation readiness and robot density are key to power up its attractiveness and competitiveness in robotics

Marina Bill, Global Head of Marketing and Sales at ABB Robotics and Discrete Automation, and Harald Lumetzberger, Local Business Line Manager Robotics at ABB Switzerland, talk about Switzerland as a business location for industrial robotics.

This video is part of our ongoing series on emerging technologies. See the other innovation trends that are shaping the future of Switzerland.

Marina, ABB is one of the world’s leading manufacturer of industrial robots. What does ABB Robotics do exactly?

Marina Bill: We are a leader in industrial robotics, everything from single robots to complete systems, and we have delivered over half a million robots since 1974. We are active in many different segments: automotive, electronics, food and beverages, logistics, healthcare. And we are a one-stop shop. So, you get the robots, the application, the application cells, a complete system, but also the digital tools that support it. And together with that, you also get our knowledge. We are very active in all the segments we work in and this means we have acquired a lot of application and segment knowledge that we also offer to our customers. The latest part of our portfolio is collaborative robots. Today we have the broadest offering of collaborative robots available and they work side by side with people.

How can ABB Robotics help companies become more efficient and sustainable?

Marina Bill: Sustainability also means optimisation and improved productivity. Let me give you one example. Cars are being painted by robots and we have a solution called pixel paint. It enables 30 percent less paint to be used and greatly increases the safety for people in the surrounding area. We are seeing right now, with the use Industry 4.0 and the need for more flexibility, you need to be much more agile in production. To address these needs digitalisation is required. Digitalisation gives you the opportunity to see your whole production process and act on it.

Let me give you another example from a company here in Switzerland called Preci-Dip. They are producing very high-quality contacts and had increased their workforce by over 40 percent over three years. But then a really big order came in. And in order to handle it they bought some of our collaborative robots, called YuMis. That enabled them to handle this big order and keep their production here in Switzerland.

Harald, ABB Robotics has well-known customers and works with companies globally. Could you give some examples of recent projects?

Harald Lumetzberger: In Switzerland we have projects that demonstrate our ability to help local customers serve a global market. Schindler, one of the world's leading providers of elevators and escalators, has introduced a system that features an automated, independently operating robotic installation system for elevators. The company selected an industrial robot made by ABB for this global innovation and the Swiss engineering team supported Schindler with robotic knowledge during the project phase. We also support WILCO AG, a Swiss solution-provider of leading inspection systems, serving well-known brands in the pharmaceutical, biotech, diagnostic, medical device and packaging industry worldwide. A further great example is Andritz Soutec, the leader in the area of high quality laser-welding systems for flat and round parts, where our robots are part of the equipment producing tailored blanks, tubular blanks, steel fuel tanks and exhaust systems, supplied globally to the automotive industry.

Marina Bill: Taking a global view, a Nestlé factory in Brazil needed a compact robotic cell that would accurately load products, reducing the need for reworking while also allowing staff to work safely around the robot. For Nestlé it was very important to work with another global company because they maintain production sites around the world and want service and support around the world.

Last year, ABB announced an expansion of its largest Swiss location in Turgi, Aargau, by investing 40 million Swiss Francs in new offices and space for research and development (R&D). What makes Switzerland an attractive location for ABB?

Marina Bill: ABB has a long and great history in Switzerland and consequently a large number of highly skilled people and really well-equipped facilities here. The country’s location in the centre of Europe is a huge advantage. And Switzerland offers a highly qualified workforce and a great network of leading universities. We are also partnering with several of them, such as ETH.

What would you say needs to be done to power up Switzerland’s attractiveness and competitiveness further as a leading location for R&D in industrial robotics?

Harald Lumetzberger: First and foremost, we believe that Switzerland's own automation readiness and robot density is key to its attractiveness and competitiveness in the field of robotics. Switzerland ranks number 11 in Europe with a robot density of around 160 robots per ten thousand employees, which might not seem overly impressive. But we do see steady growth and upward development. In fact, the robot density has more than doubled within the last decade. But it should probably be increased in order to stay competitive.

In a global survey in January 2021 of 1,650 large and small businesses in Europe, the United States and China, 84 percent of businesses said they will introduce or increase the use of robotics and automation in the next decade. In Switzerland the figure was 92 percent. Besides the classic factors such as clusters, research agreements, etc., it is important to further develop an environment which supports start-up companies. These small firms can move fast and take risks and are willing to try out new, leading-edge technologies. We have a strong relationship with such companies and with vocational schools. Close partnerships are essential to be successful these days.

Let us look into the future. What are the trends you see in industrial robotics and what role will other emerging technologies like AI play in this context?

Marina Bill: Let me focus on three megatrends: simplification, collaboration and digitalisation. Simplification is becoming increasingly important as automation and robotics spread into new areas and to a new type of customer and particularly SMEs. There are now customers who do not have people who have studied two years of robot programming but want to take the robots directly out of the box and incorporate them immediately in their production. For that ease of use is essential.

And with that comes the collaborative robot. These are the cobots: collaborative robots who work hand in hand and side by side by people, without the need of putting the robot behind a fence, in order to increase productivity.

The final trend is the whole area of digitalisation, which started a long time ago but has been accelerated by Covid-19. One example of this is that we now do virtual commissioning, meaning we get the robots started with our customer virtually. We also have remote monitoring whereby we connect the robots and make sure we can help to do predictive maintenance and have an overview of what is happening with them. Finally, with digitalisation we have the whole area of artificial intelligence and in particular machine learning, which in a lot of new ways can make the robots even more useful in production and continue to develop how we produce things. So, in the end the trend we see is a simpler way of using robots, with more collaborative robots, taking full advantage of the digitalised world.

About Marina Bill

Marina Bill is the Global Head of Marketing and Sales for ABB’s Robotics and Discrete Automation business. She has held this role since 2019. As of 2020, Marina is a member of the IFR (International Federation of Robotics) Executive Board, currently serving as Chair of the IFR Robotic Suppliers Committee. Marina holds a master’s degree in industrial engineering and management, specializing in thermodynamics from the Royal institute of Technology in Stockholm. She is a graduate of the International Institute for Management Development’s (IMD) Senior Leadership Development Program in Lausanne, Switzerland.

About Harald Lumetzberger

Harald Lumetzberger is the Local Business Division Manager Robotics for Switzerland and took over this role from May 1, 2020. He joined ABB in 2019 and previously held the position of Head of Sales and Marketing for the local business line Robotics Switzerland. Harald holds a degree in electrical engineering from the University of Applied Sciences in Hollabrunn, Austria, and continued his education in Switzerland in business engineering. He also holds an EMBA degree in Entrepreneurship from UAS Kaleidos Zurich.

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