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ABB buys Gomtec to boost its collaborative robotics drive

17 April, 2015

ABB has acquired the German robotics specialist Gomtec to expand its offering in the field of collaborative robots. The financial terms of the deal have not been disclosed.

Privately owned Gomtec, based near Munich, has 25 employees and develops mechatronic systems that integrate mechanical, electrical, telecommunications, control and computer engineering. At last year’s Automatica show in Munich, it unveiled a family of modular, collaborative six-axis robots, called Roberta, with prices starting at around €28,000.

Although ABB has more than 250,000 robots installed worldwide, it has so far lagged behind rivals such as Kuka and newer entrants including Denmark’s Universal Robots and Rethink Robotics in the US, in offering robots that can collaborate safely with human co-workers without needing protective cages or fencing.

But at this week’s Hannover Fair, ABB formally launched its two-armed collaborative robot called YuMi, which it has previewed at several other events. While YuMi is aimed at small-parts assembly tasks, the Gomtec robots will add larger lifting capacities.

Speaking at Hannover, ABB’s CEO Ulrich Spiesshofer said: "We stand at the threshold of an enormous expansion opportunity in robotics. Not every robot that works outside of a cage must be a dual-arm robot. There are many applications where just one arm is enough. Gomtec has experience here.

“We also have experience with a certain payload with YuMi, while Gomtec has a different technology which has a larger payload,” he added. “The fact is, Gomtec fits ABB like a glove.”

Spiesshofer predicted that dramatically expanding applications for robots will mean that global sales will skyrocket beyond today’s figure of about 150,000 robots a year. “YuMi makes collaboration between humans and robots a reality,” he says. “It is the result of years of research and development, and will change the way humans and robots interact.”

German chancellor Angela Merkel, ABB CEO Ulrich Spiesshofer, Hans-Georg Krabbe, head of ABB in Germany, and Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, get to know the YuMi collaborative robot at the Hannover Fair

Spiesshofer demonstrated YuMi to the German chancellor Angela Merkel and the Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, who visited ABB’s stand after opening the Fair. “When you touch it, it comes to a halt,” he explained. “What's more, this robot learns on its own. It has cameras, the robot can be led, and can be programmed very quickly and intuitively.”

YuMi has a light, but rigid, magnesium skeleton covered with a floating plastic casing wrapped in soft padding to absorb impacts. Its compact size and human-like movements are said to make humans co-workers feel safe working alongside it.

If the robot senses an unexpected impact, it can pause its motion within milliseconds. It can be restarted as easily as pressing "play" on a remote control. There are no pinch points, so nothing can be harmed as the axes open and close. The robot can be taught tasks simply by operators moving its arms. It is claimed to be precise enough to manoeuvre a thread through the eye of a needle.




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