Published 11-11-2021

Redefining automation: a global and regional outlook: A recap of November’s Collaborate APAC keynote address


Universal Robots hosted the largest virtual collaborative robot (cobot) exhibition in the Asia Pacific (APAC) region on 9-10 November 2021. Cobots can work safely alongside operators and have seen a significant uptick in demand over the years.

Collaborate APAC - Cobot Expo featured some of the company’s prominent global spokespersons as part of an informative panel discussion. Addressing visitors to the show were keynote speakers from Universal Robots: President, Kim Povlsen, and Regional Director for Asia Pacific, James McKew. The panel was hosted by Senior Technical Support Specialist, Ian Choo.

Povlsen joined Universal Robots earlier this year and commended the company’s dynamic growth trajectory - largely underpinned by its unique and powerful partnership approach to the market. Addressing visitors to the expo, Mr Povlsen said: “There is a real sense of excitement in the industry as we help companies move towards collaborative automation.”

Universal Robots’ mission is to change the way in which work is done in companies all over the world. Addressing misconceptions around cobots, Povlsen allayed fears saying that Universal Robots is creating a unique shift from “people working like robots” to “people working with robots.”

Looking back on the past year, Mr McKew’s key takeout from 2021 is that of “resilience”. “I have incredible admiration for our partners, integrators, end users and our team who have shown resilience in a year of extreme challenges. The pandemic has out shed challenges through innovation” he said.

Automation solves problems 

 The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need for greater resilience to combat supply chain challenges. Manufacturers are now encouraged to analyse their production processes and rethink their supply chain.

 “There is certainly an appetite for automation locally. As we move out of COVID-19, companies in the APAC region are realising that they can now compete with the likes of China thanks to a stable electricity grid combined with the small footprint and flexibility of cobots in the face of migrant labour shortages,” Mr McKew said. “Take Singapore for example – one of the highest users of robots in the world and a country on a mission to become self-sufficient. Previously reliant on migrant workers, Singapore soon realised the need to innovate or risk collapsing.”

Today, the proof is in the data. “We’ve sold around 50,000 cobots globally but there is still a lot of potential in the market. We understand the challenges that manufacturers face, and we also know that there are millions of automatable tasks that are currently being done by humans,” Mr Povlsen said.

Another challenge that automation can solve is that of aging labour and labour shortages. “An aging workforce and a change in career choices by the younger generations has influenced the sector as we know it. People are questioning the kind of work that should be done by humans; they no longer want to perform dull, dirty and dangerous jobs such as the offloading of boxes and putting parts into machines,” Mr Povlsen said.

“We now have the opportunity to entice workers through automation. Employees are looking for opportunities to be creative and problem solve, and this can be done by working alongside cobots. It creates attractive employment positions within manufacturing.”

Challenges driving trends

Mr Choo posed a pressing question: “Over the last couple of years, we have seen trade tensions causing a shift of manufacturing in this region. Similarly, a lot of manufacturers through the logistics slow-down have initiated projects to restore their local manufacturing. Do you see these as sustained trends moving forward?”

Mr McKew replied: “Good question! When we look at our own business for instance, we can no longer rely on our ability to fly people around. Today, we need people on the ground to ensure customer service and intimacy.”.

Mr Povlsen added that remote working, safety, and employee engagement are driving automation trends currently and these factors are expected to keep doing so.

Speaking to the deployment of cobots on local shores,  Mr McKew believes that by understanding its customers, Universal Robots can deliver the best experience possible. “Deploying successfully, solving problems, and unlocking increased output and quality are some of tangible benefits that help drive success in our region.”

Demand = more competitors

Mr Povlsen highlights the move by long-time industrial automation players into the cobot space as a “great validation to the legitimacy and demand for such technologies.”

As the inventors of cobots, Povlsen says Universal Robots’ desire (and achievement) to be technology pioneers defines the next step in collaborative automation. “We continue to push the boundaries and ask the question of ‘how can we make it easier?’.” 

He adds that established partnerships within its ecosystem have made the UR offering unique and attractive to the market. He foresees selling more complete ready-to-use packages in future with the collaboration of the UR partners.

In closing

To realise the true potential of automation, Mr Povlsen urges members of industry to undertake in three tasks:

  • Spread awareness: “Around the capabilities of cobot technology - its ease of use, return on investment and versatility across an array of applications. Today, even the smallest companies can benefit from these technologies.”
  • Listen: “Our business is built on listening to our customers and finding solutions. We constantly work to understand the hearts and minds of manufacturers and we look at their challenges so we can create technology that solves the problems that matter most.”
  • Collaborate: “Finally, we must collaborate with our partners. This is engrained in our company’s DNA and offer our customers a better ultimate solution.”

Want to learn more? There’s still time!

Collaborate APAC - Cobot Expo will be available on-demand until 31 December 2021. This year’s theme is entitled “Collaborate” and features some of the company’s prominent global spokespersons as part of an informative panel discussion.

Key takeaways include:

  1. Learning about the main challenges facing the manufacturing industry in our region and elsewhere.
  2. Understand Universal Robots’ approach to engineering to drive innovation and customer success.
  3. Knowing why the approach of a collaborative platform is key to the future of automation.

Find out more:



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