Powerful Electric Vacuum Gripper for Heavy-Duty Palletizing Applications

What news I receive that isn’t related to software or networking seems to be about collaborative robots. Every time I think that there can’t be anything new in grippers, here comes another announcement. Check this from OnRobot.

Large, unwieldy bags of dog food, non-airtight clothing or consumer goods packages, and bulky, porous cardboard boxes. These are just some examples of demanding packaging and palletizing applications that OnRobot’s new VGP20 gripper can address. VGP20 is the world’s most-powerful electric vacuum gripper. Compatible with all leading robot brands, the gripper can handle payloads of 20kg (44.09lbs), making it a great fit for a wide range of applications in industries from cosmetics and electronics to pharmaceuticals and food and beverage. 

“Our customers asked for a cost-effective, easy-to-deploy vacuum gripper that can pick up bulky, heavy-duty payloads while being intelligent enough to handle a wide range of items, including those with irregular shapes and porous surfaces,” says Enrico Krog Iversen, CEO at OnRobot. “The VGP20 combines power, intelligence and ease-of-use that competes with expensive, complex pneumatic grippers.” 

End-of-line operations such as palletizing are labor-intensive and costly. Researchers estimate that, on average, labor costs account for 65% of warehouse facility operating budgets, dwarfing the costs associated with utilities, taxes, distribution and rent combined. 

On this basis alone, automation is a compelling proposition for companies of all sizes. According to researchers, adoption of automated palletizing solutions in the food and beverage sector is estimated to have increased at a CAGR of more than 13% since 2017 and is set to reach USD390 million by 2022. 

OnRobot’s new VGP20 electric vacuum gripper can take on applications that have traditionally been handled by powerful pneumatic grippers–at a fraction of the cost and complexity.

While pneumatic grippers require compressed air to operate, the VGP20 is all-electric and ready to go out of the box, enabling companies to save up to 90% on operating and maintenance costs compared to traditional pneumatic gripper deployments.

The VGP20 provides unlimited cup and airflow customization and multichannel functionality, allowing it to be deployed on multiple items of different shapes and sizes.

Additionally, the VGP20 gripper’s built-in intelligence, combined with its easy-to-use software, provides precise air flow control functionality that is beyond the capabilities of traditional pneumatic grippers. This functionality allows users to vary the type of grip used in different applications, such as the soft grip used to handle delicate items to the hard grip required for handling bulky, heavy cardboard boxes with porous surfaces. 

The costs of carboard for packaging has risen by nearly 40% from 2010-2020. And with continued strong growth of e-commerce demands, estimates of further increases lead shippers to look for lower-cost options for packaging materials. Thinner, more porous cardboard and lightweight shipping bags present challenges for traditional automated packaging and palletizing, however. The powerful, customizable OnRobot VGP20 easily handles these thinner and less expensive packaging materials, allowing shippers to save considerably on both automation and shipping costs. 

OnRobot’s VGP20 gripper also provides an option to enable continuous monitoring of the gripper’s air flow. If this option is selected, and the vacuum is interrupted for any reason, the robot will come to an immediate halt and an alert pop-up window will be displayed in the gripper software. 

“Efficient packaging and palletizing performance is crucial to success for manufacturers, e-commerce and logistics companies. However, labor shortages present an ongoing challenge and performing these jobs by hand is both monotonous and unergonomic,” says Iversen. “The powerful and versatile VGP20 gripper enables companies to automate these tasks, providing relief to workers while improving overall productivity and quality.”

$30M Financing To Scale AI-powered Robotic Programming

The superlatives and hyperbole in this press release masked a good idea—bringing robotic programming into the 21stCentury. “Pioneering the next frontier of manufacturing through a combination of artificial intelligence (AI) and industrial robotics,” proclaims the press release. The meat of the announcement—Symbio Robotics announced its official company launch armed with $30M and a goal of modernizing industrial manufacturing by breathing new life into existing industrial robots — making them faster, more capable and more flexible.

At the heart of Symbio’s strategy is the introduction of SymbioDCS, an industrial robotics middleware and python programming framework that radically simplifies the programming of industrial robots to make them far more intelligent. SymbioDCS enables robot programmers to leverage real-time sensor information and feedback from existing automation sensors in combination with advanced control software. As a result, industrial robots that are programmed and managed with SymbioDCS quickly learn and execute tasks — increasing efficiency, improving quality and reducing ergonomic hazards.

Symbio currently is working with Nissan Motor Corporation and Toyota in addition to other major companies.

The recent investment was led by ACMECapital, with participation from existing investors including Andreessen Horowitz, Eclipse Ventures and The House Fund. 

“Symbio is doing for manufacturing what Windows did for DOS. Existing industrial manufacturing robots run proprietary programming languages making them slow and cumbersome. Not only do these robots lack dexterity, they lack the intelligence to make them do what they need to do,” said Max Reynolds, Symbio CEO and co-founder. “Our technology is designed to fundamentally reframe these existing manufacturing pain points by utilizing the best practices of AI and human robot interaction. That’s what we believe will drive success.” 

Symbio is focused on a different problem: building automation that enables the best of human-machine collaboration. Its framework is designed to support the programmers that are already working in these environments. 

“Developers are humans too, so the human-machine collaboration paradigm should apply to them as well!” said Anca Dragan, Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering & Computer Sciences (EECS), at UC Berkeley. “Instead of exclusively providing automation solutions, Symbio is also designing the tools that enable the developers and domain experts working in manufacturing to create their own automation solutions and easily adapt them to new tasks. To do this, they are building products that leverage AI strengths and human insight in a symbiotic way.”

Symbio’s focus is on providing generalized solutions that enable companies to adopt AI as a core competency, as opposed to the traditional automation approach, which is to provide a custom solution to a specific problem. This means that AI solutions will look very different because it’s not just about creating the automation, it’s about creating and providing the tools that empower teams to design their own solutions through the use of AI, and easily adapt to the task at hand. 

“We’ve seen cars become much more complex and customized in the decades since the onset of industrial automation. Today’s automakers need more nimble and nuanced robotics to perform increasingly sophisticated assemblies,” said Greg Reichow, Partner at Eclipse Ventures and the former head of global manufacturing and automation engineering at Tesla. “Symbio provides the exact solution for forward-thinking manufacturers, through an AI-powered platform that combines advanced compute, sensing and precision-control software.”

The company’s framework runs on edge computing infrastructure through industrial networks to inform and instruct current factory systems to make final assembly tasks available that were never automated before. This allows, for the first time, the development of new sets of applications and programs that can inform and instruct current factory systems to perform more complex and dexterous tasks, in addition to improving automation that already exists like door, wheel and windshield assembly, fastening, welding and painting.

“We believe that tech-enabled automation is defining the modern economy. Symbio is on the leading edge of the shift toward an era of software-defined manufacturing where

intelligent, self-aware devices will be capable of automating even the most complex tasks like assembly. The company is taking a thoughtful approach and has proven that their technology works with some of the toughest customers possible, Automotive OEMs. We are excited to partner with the Symbio team as they scale across the automotive sector and beyond.” Hany Nada, Co-founder and Partner, ACME Capital.

AFTER A TOUGH TWO YEARS, INDUSTRIAL ROBOTS ARE BACK ON TRACK

  • 2019-20: unprecedented events caused continuous negative growth for the first time for the industrial robotics sector
  • Swift recovery predicted: 9%+ growth forecast for 2021; CAGR of 4.6% predicted for 21-24
  • Uneven recovery for different regions and classes of robot – China to lead global revival
  • Semi-conductors, chemicals, and food & beverage industries to be major drivers of sector

We’ve seen the market report on robot sales from the trade association. Here is an independent analysis from London-based Interact Analysis. This new report on industrial robotics shows that the industrial robots sector is on track to deliver a swift recovery after a recent unprecedented two-year downturn.

During the economic slow-down in 2019 the industrial robotics sector saw shipments fall by 5.4%. The pandemic of 2020 saw a further fall of 5.9% as 80,000 fewer units were shipped than previously forecast. This was a difficult time for the sector, and it will take time to recover. Interact Analysis acknowledges that pre-COVID estimates of growth up to 2024 have now gone out of the window, but it has identified strong drivers for growth as economies emerge from the pandemic. The company’s in-depth research has concluded that new industry applications for robotics and more advanced technologies coupled with reducing prices will cause an acceleration in revenues in 2021, with an increase of 9.2% in revenue terms, and 9.6% in shipment terms. This will be followed by sustained growth up to 2024. 

Articulated robots are predicted to be the slowest to recover to 2019 levels, given that the industry where they are predominantly used – automotive – has been hit so badly by the pandemic. Sales of SCARA robots, used in light duty pick and place and assembly operations are predicted to recover as their potential for use in different applications is recognised. The collaborative robot market, which saw negative growth for the first time in 2020, is forecast to bounce back with an impressive 15-20% year-on-year growth rate up to 2028. 

The expected pattern of regional recovery for the industrial robot sector is familiar. The virus started in Asia, and then moved to Europe and North America, and the infection continues to spread. As a result, normal business operations will resume earlier in Asia, and this will impact on robot shipments in those areas, most notably in China, where the virus was brought under control by May 2020. The Chinese market is the only one forecast to surpass 2019 levels by 2021. This is in the main due to the large domestic demand coming from China itself, rather than an increase in China’s export markets which are, of course, still badly hit by COVID. 

Jan Zhang, senior director at Interact Analysis says: “The downturn of 2019 and the shock of the pandemic tripped up the industrial robotics market, but it only stumbled. Factors such as staff shortages, social distancing, the ever-pressing need for efficiency and speed, and the realisation of the need to build in resilience in the face of world shocks such as COVID-19 mean that now more than ever, industries across the globe recognise the value of robotics. We believe the next few years will see the sector recover its footing and thrive.”  

About the report

During the process of compiling this report, the Interact Analysis team conducted over 30 hours of interviews with 30 key industry personnel at leading robot companies and end-users. These were conducted face-to-face or by phone. Banks of data were collected and analysed, some direct from companies and held confidentially, some, such as company reports, from public sources. It must be emphasised that this report, more than any other, is an organic and evolving tool, offering a newly introduced product tracking service, ensuring users of the report have the latest data.

About Interact Analysis

Interact Analysis is an international provider of market research for the Intelligent Automation sector. Our team of experienced industry analysts delivers research into three core sectors: industrial automation, robotics and warehouse automation, and commercial vehicles. Intelligent Automation – which is the integration of artificial intelligence and automation – will change virtually every industry imaginable. This combination enables greater efficiencies, productivity, convenience, and scale. It has the potential to drastically alter the outlook for many traditional industries such as manufacturing, healthcare and automotive as well as to lead to the emergence of entirely new industries.

Automate Forward Keynote Speakers, Agenda Announced

This announcement for Automate Forward, the conference and trade show of the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), popped into my inbox this morning. The conference part of pandemic-era events draws many excellent speakers. The technology has greatly improved over the years to at least not getting in the way, if not improving the experience. Networking and trade show visiting still lag, but I’ve seen strides in the booth visitation area. 

A personal observation from an old guy. I remember past lives where each of the areas of this trade show were large events in themselves. Industry and technology consolidation have reduced the size, but the importance to manufacturing remains.

In the spring of 2021, the Robotic Industries Association (RIA),  AIA – Advancing Vision + Imaging, Motion Control & Motor Association (MCMA), and A3 Mexico  will become the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), the global advocate for the benefits of automating. A3 promotes automation technologies and ideas that transform the way business is done. Combined, these associations represent over 1,100 automation manufacturers, component suppliers, system integrators, end users, research groups and consulting firms from throughout the world that drive automation forward.

A3 hosts a number of industry-leading events, including the new virtual Automate Forward (March 22-26, 2021) and the Automate Show & Conference (June 6-9, 2022, in Detroit, MI).

More than 80 global experts will speak at Automate Forward, the world’s premier virtual automation trade show and conference set for March 22-26, 2021.  The event also features more than 250 leading companies in an expanded exhibit area, enhanced networking opportunities, and a look at innovative automation startups.

Speakers include senior executives from companies such as 3M, General Motors, Intel, Microsoft, UPS, IBM, GE, FedEx, Siemens, and Proctor & Gamble.

“With the adoption of automation accelerating, and the impossibility of holding large in-person shows in the US at the moment, Automate Forward will play a critical role in educating companies about how robotics, AI, machine vision, motion control, and related automation technologies can immediately help improve product quality, productivity, competitiveness, and worker safety,” said Jeff Burnstein, President of the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), the event’s host.

Automate Forward will include a robust virtual exhibit hall and networking center where attendees can connect directly with companies and experts to solve their automation solutions and get immediate answers. The trade show will be open daily from 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM ET for attendees to learn about products and systems that can help with unique challenges.

A3 will share a sneak peek of the association’s new brand identity at 9:30 am ET on Monday, March 22 exclusively for Automate Forward attendees. Join live to learn about how its four current brands – RIA, AIA, MCMA, and A3 Mexico – are combing to create the new A3 representing over 1100 global companies and organizations active in automation.

Automate Forward Keynote Sessions

Monday, March 22

10 AM ET PANEL: The New Industries Driving The Growth of Automation and Robotics
Robert Little, CEO, ATI Industrial Automation
Mark Lewandowski, Director – Robotics Innovation, Procter & Gamble
John Dulchinos, Vice President, Jabil
Ted Dengel, Managing Director, Operations Technology and Innovation, FedEx Ground
John Bubnikovich, Chief Regional Officer – North America, KUKA Robotics

11 AM ET: The Competitive Advantage is Here and It’s All About Digital
Raj Batra, President, Digital Industries, Siemens

1:30 PM ET: Moving Automation Forward: What is required?

Greg Brown, Vice President of Strategy and R&D, UPS

Tuesday, March 23

10 AM ET PANEL: The 2021 State of the Automation Industry Executive Roundtable
Mike Cicco, President & CEO, FANUC AMERICA
Patrick McDermott, President North America, B&R Automation
Dr. Thomas Evans, CTO Robotics, Honeywell Intelligrated
Christine Boles, Vice President, Internet of Things Group – General Manager, Industrial Solutions Division, Intel
Sebastien Schmitt, North American Robotics Division Manager, Stäubli

11 AM ET: Human Aware Robot Software and Tools for Delivering it
Rodney Brooks, Co-Founder and CTO, Robust.AI

1:30 PM ET: 3M’s Automation Journey: Driving Growth & Productivity
Debarati Sen, Vice President & General Manager Abrasive Systems Division Safety & Industrial Business Group, 3M

Wednesday, March 24

10 AM ET PANEL: The Rise of Smart Automation
Rashmi Misra, GM AI Platforms, Business Development, Microsoft
Jorge Ramirez, Global Director Automation and Chief Mfg. Cybersecurity Officer, General Motors
Rishi Vaish, CTO and VP, IBM AI Applications, IBM
John Lizzi, Executive Leader – Robotics, GE

Tom Panzarella, Senior Director of Perception, Seegrid

11 AM ET: Using Deep Learning and Simulation to Teach Robots Manipulation in Complex Environments
Dieter Fox, Senior Director of Robotics Research, NVIDIA

1:30 PM ET: Automation and the Future of Manufacturing
Indranil Sircar, CTO, Manufacturing Industry, Microsoft

Thursday, March 25

10 AM ET PANEL: How Collaborative Automation is Driving Productivity
Co-sponsored by the International Federation of Robotics
Milton Guerry, President, Schunk USA
Joe Gemma, Global Vice President of Sales & Marketing, Calvary Robotics
Greg Smith, President of the Industrial Automation Group at Teredyne
David Robers, Robotics Sales Manager – Americas, Denso Robotics

11 AM ET: Value Chain Integration and Optimization Through Robotics in Consumer segments and Retail
Marc Segura, Executive Global Business Line Leader – Consumer Segment Service Robotics, ABB Robotics and Machine Automation

Friday, March 26

10 AM ET PANEL: Autonomous Mobile Robots: How to Get Started
Karen Leavitt, Chief Marketing Officer, Locus Robotics

Søren E. Nielsen, President, Mobile Industrial Robots
Matt Rendall, CEO and Co-Founder, OTTO Motors
Rob Sullivan, President, AutoGuide Mobile Robots
Melonee Wise, CEO and Founder, Fetch Robotics

11 AM ET: Using an End-to-End Workflow to Build, Iterate, and Operationalize Deep Learning-Powered Visual Inspection Projects

Andrew Ng, CEO & Founder, Landing AI

For First Time Yearly Non-Automotive Robotic Orders Higher Than Automotive Orders

I have noticed over the past several years that the share of sales of automation vendors from the automotive sector has been declining. If nothing else points to that trend, it would be sales of that automotive technology mainstay—robots. Welding robots populating automotive assembly lines were synonyms for automation. If you looked at sales by industry and application, those have led the list for a long time.

Things have changed. For the first time, yearly orders of robots from non-automotive sectors surpassed automotive robot orders, as sales of robotic units in North America increased 3.5% in 2020 from 2019. This growth was driven by a strong Q4 that was the second-best quarter ever for North American robotic sales with a 63.6% increase over Q4 2019.

So say Industry statistics – released recently by the Robotic Industries Association (RIA), part of the Association for Advancing Automation (A3) – show that North American companies ordered 31,044 robotic units, valued at $1.572 billion in 2020. In Q4, companies ordered 9,972 units valued at $479 million. 

“The surge in robot orders that we’re seeing, despite the pandemic, demonstrates the growing interest in robotic and automation solutions,” said Jeff Burnstein, A3 President. “It’s promising to see the growth of robotics in new applications and reaching a wider group of users than ever before.”

Year-over-year orders in life sciences increased by 69%, food and consumer goods grew by 56%, and plastics and rubber saw a 51% increase. Automotive orders increased 39% in 2020.

“In 2020, we saw two trends in particular that propelled growth in non-automotive orders for robotics technology,” said John Bubnikovich, Chief Regional Officer – North America, KUKA Robotics. “First, the automation competence level in general industry has grown, and that matured into greater demand for the technology. Second, consumer behavior shifted significantly and the expectations created by this shift were tough to satisfy without automation.”

At the same time, Bubnikovich said, supply chain disruptions and instability in the workforce made industries accelerate automation strategies.

The same trends are being noticed by other major robot manufacturers.

“With the changes in people’s personal buying behavior caused by COVID, robots have been utilized in record numbers to allow for the fulfillment of orders in the e-commerce space while allowing for correct social distancing practices,” said Dean Elkins, Segment Leader – Handling, Yaskawa Motoman. “In addition, robots largely aided in the production of personal protection and testing equipment and the medical devices needed to keep our society healthy and safe.”

“We have seen a substantial increase in activity in non-automotive sectors, as customers focus on making their production lines more flexible and better able to efficiently achieve high mix, lower volume production in response to constantly evolving customer demands,” says Mark Joppru, Vice President – Consumer Segment & Service Robotics, US ABB Robotics and Machine Automation.  “In food applications, for example, where robots were traditionally used to automate simpler processes like case loading, they are increasingly being commissioned for higher value processes, like directly preparing food, resulting in improvements to food safety and hygiene.  While these trends have existed for several years, COVID has changed perceptions and priorities for customers, accelerating the adoption of robotic automation.”

In August of 2020, A3 reported on the strain to supply chains and economic uncertainty due to COVID-19. Alex Shikany, A3 Vice President, Membership & Business Intelligence, noted that despite a drop in orders, industry leaders showed optimism about the remainder of 2020, and accurately predicted the strong finish to 2020.

“The pandemic has created a sense of urgency for manufacturing companies to invest in automation like never before,” said Mike Cicco, President and CEO of FANUC America. “Traditionally, companies have implemented automation to reduce cost, increase output, and improve quality.  However, the pandemic has added an additional factor that is driving manufacturers to re-examine their supply chain to increase flexibility, minimize disruptions, and move it closer to their customers. With this mindset, there are more opportunities for scaling robotic applications across multiple facilities, especially for larger companies. The untapped potential for automation is a promising sign for our industry; the opportunities for automation today are truly limitless.”

To help educate users and potential users about how to successfully apply robotics and automation, A3 will hold Automate Forward, the premier virtual automation trade show and conference. Register free and join industry peers March 22-26 to hear from more than 80 speakers and see the latest technologies from more than 160 leading automation suppliers.

About Association for Advancing Automation (A3)

In the spring of 2021, the Robotic Industries Association (RIA) will become the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), the global advocate for the benefits of automating. A3 promotes automation technologies and ideas that transform the way business is done. RIA is one of four allied associations, including AIA – Advancing Vision + Imaging, Motion Control & Motor Association (MCMA), and A3 Mexico, that will transform into A3. Combined, these associations represent over 1,100 automation manufacturers, component suppliers, system integrators, end users, research groups and consulting firms from throughout the world that drive automation forward.

New President at Universal Robot plus Robot Tending Online Expo

Universal Robots, the Danish collaborative robotic company now part of Teradyne, has a couple of items of news today. First, Teradyne has announced appointment of a new president, Kim Povlsen. Also, UR will be holding a robotic machine tending online expo. Details below.

Teradyne Announces New President of Universal Robots

Teradyne Inc. announced that Kim Povlsen has been appointed President of Universal Robots. Povlsen, a Danish native, brings global executive leadership from a high-tech and commercial perspective and will lead Universal Robots’ next stage of growth and innovation. His appointment reinforces Teradyne´s commitment to Universal Robots’ Danish origin and its role in further developing the local robotics community. Kim begins his new role at Universal Robots on March 1, 2021. 

“I am delighted to introduce Kim Povlsen as the new President of Universal Robots,” said Greg Smith, President of Teradyne’s Industrial Automation Group, and acting President of Universal Robots. “Kim combines a fantastic track record as a dynamic executive with a background in and a tremendous passion for robotics. With Kim on board, Universal Robots is poised to strengthen its leadership in the global market for collaborative robotics. With Kim’s leadership, we can accelerate the growth in new applications and market growth for cobots. Universal Robots was one of the original companies at the core of the Odense innovation hub for robotics, and our global customers recognize the innovation and quality of that Danish heritage. I’m thrilled to have a Danish executive who can build on our achievements and support the further development of our robotics hub and headquarters in Odense.”    


Kim has held various executive business and technology leadership roles at Schneider Electric, a global energy management and automation company. Most recently, he served as Vice President, Strategy & Technology, responsible for the technology strategy and execution within a multi-billion dollar global organization. Kim lives in Aarhus, Denmark, and holds a master’s degree in Computer Science & Embedded Engineering from the University of Southern Denmark. The University’s graduates include many of the innovators and business leaders from the renowned Odense robotics community. 


“I have been impressed with Universal Robots for some time,” said Kim. “To me, the company represents the pinnacle of innovation and potential and I was thrilled to be approached for this unique leadership role. The company not only pioneered the category of collaborative robots, created an ecosystem of partner technology solutions and a vast global distribution network to serve customers in their varied industrial automation needs, it also has the potential to fundamentally reshape automation across the global economy. I really look forward to working with, learning from and being part of the great people at Universal Robots.”

Universal Robots Launches Virtual Expo Focused on Automating Machine Tending Tasks

The two-day Machine Tending Expo February 23-24 focuses on manufacturers looking for concrete insights on deploying cobots to tend machines such as CNC, press brakes, injection molding machines or 3D printers. In live demos, keynotes and interactive booth sessions with exhibiting partners, Universal Robots offers solutions on how to seamlessly implement cobots, tackling the labor shortage, while improving crucial machine uptime. 

It can be hard to find and retain workers for tedious and potentially dangerous jobs such as machine tending. It’s not surprising that more than half of U.S. manufacturers are redesigning their workforce architecture around automation with machine tending as one of the most sought-after applications to automate. 

“Our machine tending expo will help manufacturers address cobot questions,” says Joe Campbell,

Senior Manager of Applications Development at Universal Robots (UR). “Attendees at the Expo will be able to visit virtual booths featuring a wide range of turnkey solutions and application kits for easy deployment. In live demos and educational keynotes, they will learn all the ins and outs of machine tending with UR cobots.”

The Machine Tending Expo is free to attend with registration now open at: urrobots.com/machinetending 

Universal Robots is building a rapidly expanding network of Certified System Integrators (CSIs); many CSIs offer not only help with UR cobot deployment but also develop turnkey robot tending systems to address parts presentation and robot-machine communication. Alex Webster, owner of UR CSI SDMS Robotics, has helped machine shops of all kinds integrate UR cobots. “This is the essential technology that was needed to bring robots into widespread use for machine tending,” he says, calling Universal Robots “the most important step forward in machine shop automation since the advent of CNC, the pallet changer, and the bar feeder.”