Interview with Jörg Rommelfanger, President of ABB Robotics Germany

In an interview with Automationspraxis, Jörg Rommelfanger reveals where he wants to set priorities as the new head of ABB Robotics Germany, why ABB isn’t just simplifying the use of robots with cobots and how he wants to score points with robotics in logistics.

Interview: Armin Barnitzky

What are your plans as the new president of ABB Robotics Germany? Where do you want to locate the dialects?

Rommelfanger: It is very important to me that robots were once as popular in the workplace as laptops and smartphones are today. It certainly won’t happen overnight, but more and more small and medium-sized businesses in Germany are realizing the opportunities offered by robot-based automation. In addition to the small space requirements, the simple programming and quick installation of our robots, which can be set up intuitively, are crucial in this matter.

How does ABB Robotics specifically approach robotics beginners?

Rommelfanger: We realized early on what solutions a robotics beginner would need. Yumi was the world’s first true collaborative robot in 2015. We recently expanded our portfolio of collaborative robots with Gofa and Swifti cobot families. In addition, simple programming opens the way for bots for users – from small and medium businesses to businesses. Therefore, we strive to make programming as intuitive as possible. This applies not only to robotics, but also to classic industrial robots.

So, are bots in particular a door opener in mid-sized businesses?

Rommelfanger: Cobots are a tool that opens doors for automation in small and medium businesses, but it’s not the only one. Both robots and classic industrial robots perform physically demanding, monotonous, and repetitive tasks and relax employees. This is also important in connection with the shortage of skilled workers.

What does this concretely simple intuitive programming look like?

Rommelfanger: Anyone who can use a tablet or smartphone can easily program a large number of our robots and cobots. So employees can reprogram ABB robots at short notice if other requirements are placed on the robots. Above all, industries with a low degree of automation and companies without expertise in robotics can benefit greatly from simple programming.

Should this simple programming also come to your industrial robots?

Rommelfanger: Yeah. We are working to simplify the programming of industrial robots even more. Wizard Easy Programming is already available for IRB 1100 and IRB 1300 industrial robots. The program is based on simple graphic blocks that represent actions such as “moving into a position”, “picking something” or “repeating movements”. Many children are already learning this programming principle at school.

Do you want to expand your cobot wallet?

Rommelfanger: Yes, we will continue to expand Kubot’s portfolio. We will communicate with more details in due course. We have cobots Swifti, Gofa and Yumi currently available. Swifti is a fast and accurate kobot that bridges the gap between collaborative and standard industrial robots. Gofa is a bot designed for higher payloads. Yumi is a robot with one or two weapons, compact and agile. And with our Safemove certified security software, traditional industrial robots can be integrated into collaborative applications.

How do you deal specifically with medium-sized companies?

Rommelfanger: We focus on automating medium-sized businesses on an online platform. We are particularly focused on the potential of collaborative robotics solutions. By investing in sustainable production technology, medium-sized companies can remain competitive, produce economically at small batch sizes, meet growing customer requirements, and meet the shortage of skilled workers.

When you took office at the beginning of 2022, you said that you would also focus on opening new business sectors and areas. who are they?

Rommelfanger: We already have many years of experience in many sectors: ABB robots are used in the automotive, electronics and manufacturing industries as well as in packaging technology, beverage, food and e-commerce industries. Now we would like to focus more on the logistics, healthcare and retail industry. We have set ourselves organizationally in such a way that we can support clients from the mentioned sectors with complete systems that can be integrated or precisely the right application equipment.

What solutions do you offer specifically for logistics?

Rommelfanger: Our robotic automation solutions cover a variety of applications in four main areas: order picking, palletizing, storage and retrieval, and sorting and sorting. Our latest innovation is Flexbuffer, an automated storage and retrieval system for logistics. FlexBuffer consists of an ABB industrial robot with assorted handles, software package, storage racks and conveyor systems for moving goods in and out. The system can be used flexibly for different applications, for example in the field of inland logistics, the food and beverage industry or retail.

Are you also interested in internal logistics in industrial companies?

Rommelfanger: Our robots can be used by logistics companies as well as in the field of inland logistics. In many companies, production is automated, while logistics still have some catching up to do when it comes to robot support. Additionally, trends such as multi-channel sales, robust e-commerce, and same-day delivery require fast and efficient sorting, routing, aggregation and packaging from businesses small and large alike. In order to enhance our portfolio and our efficiencies in logistics automation, we have received, among others, Asti Mobile Robotics, an experienced manufacturer of mobile robotics.

What role does the acquisition of Asti Mobile Robotics play in your logistics attack?

Rommelfanger: With Asti, we are expanding our automation offerings with a company that has achieved nearly 30 percent annual growth since 2015. Asti’s product portfolio spans from autonomous towing vehicles, freight transport and general cargo carriers to pickup trucks. This enables us to deliver a complete suite of the next generation of flexible automation.

Do you have an example of these synergies?

Rommelfanger: The use of mobile robots makes storage, retrieval, sorting of goods and production flexible and scalable. On the other hand, stationary robots with AI vision take care of picking and learning how to handle different things, while other robots are responsible for packaging and palletizing.

Is the acquisition of Asti also aimed at new and flexible production concepts?

Rommelfanger: correctly. With the acquisition, we are expanding our offer of logistics, but also automobile production. Driverless transport systems are needed in both areas to implement smart concepts that allow flexibility on the one hand and are easily scalable on the other. Today, different driving concepts often share a product line, from combustion engines to hybrids to purely electric vehicles. Mobile robots will play an important role in this.

What will the flexible car factory look like in the future? Should there be matrix production of modular robot cells connected by AMR?

Rommelfanger: This is exactly the direction the flight will take. Our revolutionary Flexprod concept for bodybuilding combines modular production cells with an intelligent logistics concept. This gives customers complete flexibility and scalability across model types and sizes. In addition, the logistical steps between warehousing and production are greatly reduced.

Is it just a body shell?

Rommelfanger: ABB technologies are also not used, for example, in the production of batteries – from the production of cells to the final assembly of a high-voltage battery. The battery accounts for about 40 percent of the added value of an e-car, and thus is the most important component. In order to ensure the success of electric mobility in the future, battery production must meet huge requirements in terms of efficiency, dynamics, flexibility and scalability. In addition, sustainability and exclusivity will play a major role in the future. For example, our customers can use PixelPaint to draw. With PixelPaint, Precision Painting eliminates paint waste and allows vehicles to be painted on demand.

Are there synergies between the automotive business (for which you are still responsible) and the rest of the robotics market? Aren’t midsize businesses and the automotive world very different from construction sites?

Rommelfanger: In my view, many industries can take an example from the automotive industry when it comes to automation. Here I would like to mention the construction industry, for example. Both sectors share many key similarities. Either way, these are products that require the assembly of a basic framework, which is then expanded and expanded by applying many components to get the final product. Other industries with small, medium and large enterprises also have similar processes, which are still done manually in many places.

ABB AG Department of Robotics; Automatically B5.231

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