In the front line of the robotics industry, Industrial PRIME finds ABB Robotics and its Head of Marketing and Sales, Steven J. Wyatt.
PRIME meets Wyatt at the Robotics Finland event in the Finnish capital of Helsinki. The Scot has flown over from ABB’s headquarters in Switzerland to see what’s new and to meet interesting people connected with the industry. We are definitely interested in Wyatt and his employer. So let us have a few words, shall we?
Just how fast is the robotics industry developing at the moment?
“Let’s put it this way: ABB Robotics turned forty in 2014. I have a couple of guys in my team who are close to retiring and they have been working for us for more than thirty of those forty years. They all tell me that today the speed with which the business is developing and changing is… they don’t recognize it. It’s just so much faster and so much quicker than ever before.”
How far into the future is it possible to predict where things are going?
“I would say that today we have a very clear view through towards the 2020s, so let’s say next five to seven years. Beyond that, we also have some ideas through the various contacts we have with our long-term research associations and other collaborations. But it is challenging to predict the future, as changes can occur depending on the market and our customers.”
Is there an ace up ABB’s sleeve that you can share with PRIME?
“For quite some time we have been developing Yumi, our collaborative robot that can work together with humans in a safe environment. The name of the robot, of course, stands for “you and me”. We will start to commercialize Yumi in April of this year, and I think it will be one in a series of robots which will define the next five to ten years of robotics.”
What kind of demand is there for improved robots now and in the near future?
“Different customers have different needs, but I would say the major talking point today is how robots and humans can work together and how robots can support people. Perhaps robots can take over some of the more mundane tasks that us humans do not find so appealing. In countries like Germany, changing demographics are also going to be an issue. Mercedes, for instance, has been very open about the fact that in ten years’ time fifty percent of their staff will be more than fifty years old. It is not going to be easy for them to find enough qualified people to take over these duties.”
What are the directions towards which robots are now developing?
“Robots are becoming more developed and sophisticated but at the same time also simpler to use. Thanks to this, in the future you can have a robot but you don’t need significant engineering resources to support it. Take bakeries as an example. There are a lot of people out there that are making bread and that want to be able to use robots for certain tasks. However, they don’t have people to program the robots or to operate them, they only have people that know about how to make great bread. Humans have their strengths, robots have their strengths, and what we want to achieve is to find a way to get the best out of both, and to do it safely. This is where we as an industry can step in and make things more simple for a lot of people.”
Is robotics a growing business?
“Yes, it is. Last year ABB sold four times more robots than in 2009. One of the fastest growing areas for robot suppliers is the electrical industry – computers, tablets, smart phones, peripherals – which has grown about eightfold in this same period. In the next five to ten years that business will become almost as big as the traditional automotive business, which has always been the biggest for robot suppliers. In addition, areas such as the food and beverage industry are starting to move forward quite quickly as well.”
It seems you are quite confident about the future.
“Yes. I think that we are at a sort of new start here, and the future is very promising.”
Text and image by Industrial PRIME.
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