New Collaborative Robot App Store Helps Users Find Solutions to Automation Problems

Manufacturing Engineering: Your company has grown quickly and recently was acquired by Teradyne; how will that affect Universal Robots’ direction?

Esben Østergaard: Teradyne is investing ambitiously in maintaining Universal Robots’ lead in collaborative robots. With the employment of another 20 robot developers in 2015, the staff at our development division at the headquarters in Odense has almost doubled. In the coming years, we expect the market for collaborative robots to grow by at least 50% annually, not least due to the short payback period, which is typically around six months.

Universal Robots currently holds a nearly 60% share of the cobot market, a percentage that Teradyne’s sales channel strength will help increase. Collaborative robotics are a natural extension of Teradyne’s offerings of automatic test equipment, as Teradyne can now up-sell machine-tending solutions that complement its testers to customers faced with rapid product changeovers. Now, instead of recommending a third-party integrator, Teradyne can offer an in-house solution.

ME: What drew your management to recently establish its new Americas headquarters in the Ann Arbor, MI, area?

Østergaard: If you’re looking for a place to launch an automation product in North America, Ann Arbor is absolutely the place to be. Southeast Michigan is going through its fourth generation of manufacturing and automation is a key part of that. The area has come through some tough times in 2008-2009, but if you look at on-shoring and automation, many business activities are coming back home. This is a great destination to come to and with the close access to the DTW airport, our clients and partners will be flying in from all over the Americas for on-site training.

ME: How has the new Universal Robots+ app store and developer portal helped in spurring software development for UR collaborative robots?

Østergaard: Universal Robots+ is what I call a ‘dating service for problems and solutions’ where we facilitate access to software, end-effectors, and accessories tested and verified to work flawlessly with UR robots. At UR we constantly work on optimizing the software for our robot arms, releasing free software updates twice a year. With Universal Robots+ we wanted to create an online showroom for third-party developers that are developing more specific, application-based solutions that other integrators, distributors and ultimately end users can benefit from.

When it comes to software, the Universal Robots+ showroom now features solutions such as metrology scanning, and offline simulation. These are great enhancements of our robot arms’ capabilities that we would not develop in-house but see the benefit in making available to benefit all stakeholders. With the developer portal +YOU we provide a unique, free-of-charge developer program, offering a powerful marketing and support platform through Universal Robots+ for the flourishing ecosystem of UR-robot application developers.

The Universal Robots+ app store, dubbed a “dating service for problems and solutions,” offers access to software, end-effectors and accessories tested and verified to work with UR robots. Image courtesy Universal Robots

The Universal Robots+ app store, dubbed a “dating service for problems and solutions,” offers access to software, end-effectors and accessories tested and verified to work with UR robots.
Image courtesy Universal Robots

A key feature of the Universal Robots+ platform is the ability for developers to now offer solutions that interface seamlessly with the UR software. Until now, the software enabling communication between developer applications and the UR robot arms had to be implemented by using relatively complex script code, which is time-consuming and a difficult task for the majority of end users to handle. As the latest UR software update Version 3.3 now consists in parts of open-source software, the developers can implement their software as an add-on.

A recent example of successful software integration is Robotiq’s new Plug & Play Vision System for UR robots. Instead of having vision data displayed on a separate screen, the camera interface is now integrated directly in the UR touchscreen teach pendant.

ME: What technical advantages does your company have with the UR programming environment?

Østergaard: At Universal Robots, we maintain our frontrunner position by constantly raising the bar for what the term ‘collaborative’ truly entails; the label not only means humans can collaborate directly with the robots potentially with no safety guarding between them—safety is ‘the cost of entry’ in the cobot market. The way we see it, the term also addresses the ease of use; a robot is not truly collaborative if it’s not affordable and easy to work with. Our R&D team constantly works on improving what is already the most intuitive and accessible robotics user interface on the market today.

ME: What makes programming for UR robots so easy?

Østergaard: As one of our end users at Scott Fetzer Electrical Group put it: ‘If you can work a smartphone you can program this robot.’ Our mission has always been to put the control of robots back into the hands of the operator. There’s no need to enter complex lines of codes to interact with the UR robot; a robot move is easily mastered by using the arrow keys on the touchscreen or by simply grabbing the robot arm, ‘teaching’ it the waypoints you want it to move through.

Aligning with Universal Robots+ is the new UR Academy, free e-learning modules that make up the basic programming training for UR robots. This includes adding end-effectors, connecting I/Os for communication with external devices, and setting up safety zones. The modules are not merely a passive transfer of information but built to deliver hands-on learning via interactive simulations to maximize user engagement.

No other robot manufacturer makes hands-on interactive teaching modules available for free like this with no licensing required. But we are facing a looming skills gap; in the US alone, two million manufacturing jobs are predicted to go unfilled by 2020. In order to bridge this gap, we need to raise robot literacy and get future operators and programmers on board now.

ME: How quickly can an integrator, or even novice users, set up UR robots in manufacturing environments?

Østergaard: With a UR robot, installation is measured in hours and days, not weeks and months as with traditional industrial robots. A UR robot arrives in two cardboard boxes, one with the controller box and one with the robot arm. You simply unpack the boxes, mount the robot with a couple of screws, plug the robot into a regular 110-V outlet and you’re ready to program your first moves. To see a video on how easy it is, see this link:


Sigma Labs Inc. (Santa Fe, NM), developer of the PrintRite3D quality assurance software, announced it has received a contract from Honeywell Aerospace (Phoenix) under the “America Makes” additive manufacturing research project with GE Aviation (Evendale, OH). The program, funded by the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NAMII), uses Sigma Labs’ In-Process Quality Assurance (IPQA) software for inspection.

Under the contract, Sigma Labs and Honeywell will further demonstrate the benefits of IPQA using Sigma Labs’ PrintRite3D software. Terms were not disclosed. Separately, Sigma Labs will participate with Honeywell on its contract with America Makes for Design of Additive Manufacturing of Laser Powder Bed Production of Aerospace Components.

Machine builder Okuma America Corp. (Charlotte, NC) announced that software developer System Insights Inc. (Emeryville, CA) has joined the Okuma Partners in Thinc program. System Insights is a developer of cloud-based and on-premise predictive analytics software for manufacturing intelligence technologies used in Smart Factory, Industry 4.0 and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) client initiatives. System Insights’ Vimana software securely connects factory assets using the MTConnect and OPC UA protocols, and enriches and analyzes machine data for real-time visibility and actionable insights.

New Releases

Dassault Systèmes (Paris) announced its release of Solidworks 2017, the latest update of the company’s widely used 3D modeling software. Powered by Dassault’s 3DExperience platform, Solidworks 2017 helps innovators design, validate, collaborate, build and manage their product development processes with integrated applications. The update features more core power and performance, as well as new capabilities to address paperless manufacturing through the support of Model-Based Definition (MBD), and printed-circuit board (PCB) design.


As part of its IoT expansion, software developer SAP SE (Walldorf, Germany) has acquired PLAT.ONE (Palo Alto, CA, and Bogliasco, Italy), an enterprise-grade IoT provider that simplifies the process of creating, deploying and managing complex IoT solutions. The company will use PLAT.ONE’s expertise and technology to accelerate the availability of key IoT capabilities in SAP HANA cloud platform such as advanced lifecycle management for IoT devices, broad device connectivity, strong IoT edge capabilities that work seamlessly with a cloud back end, end-to-end role-based security, and rapid development tools for IoT applications.

SAP also recently acquired Fedem Technology (Trondheim, Norway), developer of advanced engineering analysis and building software for multibody dynamic simulation and lifetime calculation of structures and mechanical systems under the influence of complex loads.

SAP plans to build an end-to-end IoT solution in which a digital avatar continuously represents the state of operating assets through feeds from sensors, replacing the need for physical inspection with a “digital inspection.” Additionally, the solution is intended to consider complex forces in play and detect both instantaneous consequences of one-off events and long-term health effects of cyclic loads, making possible accurate monitoring of maintenance requirements and remaining-life prediction for assets.

Software Update is edited by Senior Editor Patrick Waurzyniak;

This article was first published in the November 2016 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. Read “New Collaborative Robot App Store Helps Users Find Solutions to Automation Problems” as a PDF.


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