Why robots don’t kill jobs – economy

Franka likes to be taken by the hand. Or rather: If you want to start something with Frank, must take her hand. I have to show her exactly what to do. Without much resistance, her arm can move here and there, grabbing something or working with a tool. Teaching her is not at all difficult, and she has neither eyes nor ears. Franka Emika 3, her full name is a robot. Learned movements are then saved – the program is finished.

When you think about robots, you might think of Arnold Schwarzenegger in his role as “Terminator”. Or giant machines that hammer extremely heavy engines into car bodies, paint sheet metal and spot welds – all 24/7. In car factories, they have long been the norm. But there has long been a new category between fairly stupid big robots that always only do their job dully, and the human-machine of the future. The robotic arms, about twice the size of the human arm, are just as resistant as their larger counterparts. However, they are much more flexible and can be trained by people who have little or no knowledge of the intricacies of robot programming.

This category is called cobots. What in the name means that these machines should not work in place of people, but with them. The industry hopes that this will eventually open the door to many small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) – a multi-billion dollar market. But there is still a long way to go. It is true that SMEs carry out many activities in their production facilities that a robot could easily perform. But they often do not dare to approach the topic. It was the same with Frank Reinauer. An experienced production specialist leads the production and innovation departments of Leibinger, a manufacturer of medical technology in Stuttgart. Previously, he used large welding robots, but they were extremely expensive. And their programming requires the manufacturer’s experts. Change something quickly, put another product in between – no refund.

But then Reinauer walked past the Constance Fruitcore Robotics start-up booth at the show. And he was surprised: “I was able to program a complex process myself at the booth,” he says. That was also the goal of the Greens by Jens Riegger and Patrick Heimburger. The robot, says Riegger, must be as easy to use as the iPhone, but still suitable for industrial use.

Medium-sized companies are the “Holy Grail” for designers

In any event, Reinauer was convinced. As part of the master’s thesis, the student integrated the robotic arm of the start-up called “Horst” into the production process at Leibinger. The aim was to put the prosthetic joints through a stress test. “After six months, we achieved an excellent result,” enthuses Reinauer. And for a fraction of the money it would have spent on a standard industrial robot. It would cost him almost 200,000. euro, while “Horst” burdened the budget with less than 30 thousand. euro – the production manager is pleased.

Other manufacturers’ robots are also on the same level. They are all competing for the SME market, the “Holy Grail” as Andrea Alboni calls it. The Italian manages the activities of the Danish manufacturer Universal Robots in Western Europe. Until now, SMEs have avoided using robots, he says. They don’t have the skills to program robots, unlike car or electronics manufacturers. And the robots commonly used in industry are expensive. Which is worth it anyway, because it is about producing large quantities, vulgo: mass production.

It is different in the craft business or other smaller companies. A carpenter, for example, builds this piece of furniture in a week, windows in the next, and something else a week later. A robot system that can only be reprogrammed by experts and with great effort will not help him. This is where producers such as Universal Robots, Franka Emika and Fruitcore Robotics come in. They all come with software which also enables layman robots to quickly and easily teach an automatic assistant what to do.

“Lots of people could benefit from robots,” says Andrea Alboni of Universal Robots, “no company is too small.” At first glance, this does not seem surprising to someone who ultimately wants to sell their products. But he has very good arguments: “It’s often about moving parts from A to B.” It’s boring and boring. “You always think about a movie with Charlie Chaplin.” People should be different than in “Modern Times” FROM work on a job, no How robot. Some things are also physically challenging. For example, the drilling machine manufacturer Hilti has developed a system with Universal Robots that drills holes in ceilings.

The robot takes over the monotonous work, the creative worker

Or welding. Work is not only exhausting and harmful to health due to air pollution by pollutants. There are also thousands of welders missing in Germany. This job is on the list of scarce jobs – like many other skilled workers. The use of robots can not only help as the devices perform repetitive and boring tasks and thus replace staff that are already hard to come by. At Leibinger, a medical technology manufacturer, says production manager Reinauer, job losses have never been a problem either. “It was more like it was welcome because it shows that we are up to date.” And human workers can concentrate more on what’s fun in their job, on things that require human intuition and manual dexterity.

In the latter, the robots are getting better. Alwin Mahler, head of the Munich-based robot start-up Frank Emik, prefers to call his company’s devices tactile robots and not just boring cobots. An advanced, multi-stage system of sensors and motor control enables the Munich robotic arm to perform even difficult tasks with the necessary sensitivity. The company is a spin-off of the German Space Aviation Center (DLR), one of the founders is Sami Haddadin, a professor at the Technical University of Munich and recognized as one of the best robotics scientists in the world. The fact that he returned to Germany from the States a few years ago was celebrated as a little sensation.

The step was not illogical, after all, Germany has long been at the forefront when it comes to production technology. Alwin Mahler, a manager with a background in the tech industry, says this also applies to robotics, which ultimately takes production methods to a new level. A level that could also allow some products to be re-manufactured domestically, says Andrea Alboni – at lower cost and without the logistical problems that have recently challenged the concept of globalization.

In the case of Franka Emiki’s robots, this works to a large extent. In addition to the electronic components, they are manufactured by a medium-sized company in the Allgäu. And mostly by robots. Mahler: “They basically build themselves.”

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