Robotics industry in Slovenia
Robotic technology has a long tradition in Slovenia. The history of robotics in the country begins with the early models Goro and Roki and leads to a great number of contemporary development platforms and industrial applications. The sector began its dynamic advancement back in the late 1970s with the development of industrial robot manipulators. Many enterprises in Slovenia today are manufacturing components used in robots, robot work cells, as well as automated production lines, both for domestic industry and for export.
Ranking among the well-industrialized countries, Slovenia plays an important part in the development of European robotics with its ability to assume the leading role in setting up a network of “innovation hubs” and its domestic expertise attracting foreign investments.
euRobotics AISBL (Association Internationale Sans But Lucratif) – the Brussels based international non-profit association for all stakeholders in European robotics, defines three main characteristics of the robotics industry in Slovenia: interconnection, combining different types of technologies and internationalization. Nowadays the country is focusing on four main aspects of robotics: research, robot manufacturing, networking and end user applications.
According to a recent report by the Luxembourg Slovenian Business Club (LSBC), citing Invest Slovenia, the country has played a crucial role in the development of European robotics. Despite being considerably small, Slovenia hosts local operations of many of the biggest players in the global robotics industry.
“Keep in mind that although success is measured by performance (and robots are good at it), much of the human value lies in our expert knowledge of our traditional skills such as emotional intelligence; cooperation and collaboration; conflict resolution and there, still artificial intelligence cannot compete”, LSBC further states.
The rise of robotics in Slovakia and Slovenia
According to the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), Slovakia and Slovenia are currently leading robotic innovation in Central and Eastern Europe, being well above the European and US average number of robots per workers. Statistics show the numbers of robots per 10 000 workers in Slovakia are 151 and in Slovenia – 144. The European average is 106 robots per 10 000 workers, in the US it is just 91.
“In 2016 the eastern European countries Slovenia (137 units, ranking 16th in the world) and Slovakia (135 units, ranking 17th worldwide), both have a robot density that is above Switzerland’s (128 units, ranking 19th in the world). The European average is 82 industrial robots per 10 000 employees. The average global density is 66.
Slovenia is the most successful among the Balkan countries with 60 percent of the total robot supply used mainly for the automotive industry (387 units, 33 percent more than in 2015)”, IFR’s report says.
The Federation also believes that the two countries have played an important part in the development of European robotics and have assumed a leading role in setting up a network of innovation hubs. Many of the major players in global robotics are active on the both markets, despite their relatively small size. “For example, there are many educational robotics initiatives in Slovakia.
On the other hand, Slovenia ranks 7th in the world when it comes to the share of robots in the auto industry.
In the near future robotic solutions will become more present in other areas as well, including agriculture, security, maintenance and logistics. The automobile industry plays a very important role: Slovenia is the seventh country in the world in terms of the share of robots in the automobile industry”, IFR further elaborates.
Developing a successful robotics community
The dynamic development of the robotics industry in Slovenia helped the country earn the right to host the European Robotics Forum 2016. The event was organized in partnership with the Faculty of Electrical Engineering at the University of Ljubljana, the Jozef Stefan Institute, and the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts (SAZU).
The most important European event in the field of robotics was held from 21 to 23 March 2016 under the aegis of euRobotics AISBL and was attended by 700 European robotics specialists. The aim of the forum, which is the annual meeting point for eminent experts in robotics, researchers and economists from all over Europe, is to provide an overview of the past, current and future developments in robotics.
The major global forum which took place in the capital Ljubljana, emphasized that Europe should not be divided into regions with high-tech industries, high employment rates and wealth, and those with mostly manual labor, low wages, and high unemployment. “The European Union needs a strategy to develop a successful robotics industry and its academic partners at the periphery of Europe as well. There is a gap in relation to robotics activities in the Western Balkans in comparison to the EU, which should not widen. It is important that regional competencies are kept and integrated into robotics”, the speakers of ERF 2016 stressed.
The ERF 2016 stated clearly that Europe needs a strategy to develop a successful robotics industry and the necessary competencies also at the periphery of Europe, the event official report says. The workshop on the robotics activities in the Western Balkans highlighted a gap in relation to robotics activities in the Western Balkans in comparison to the EU.
During the official opening of the event representatives of European institutions and the Slovenian Government outlined the importance of the digitized industry, the smart specialization strategy, research investment and innovation in robotics. “Namely, robotics has a tremendous impact on the economy and society. From today’s EUR 22 bln. worldwide revenues, robotics industries are set to achieve annual sales of between EUR 50 bln. and EUR 62 bln. by 2020", the event official report further adds.
Prof. Marko Munih, Head of the Laboratory of Robotics (Robolab) at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering, University of Ljubljana, said that Slovenia had been selected to host the event on the grounds of its committed involvement in the international research area and based on references of Slovenian scientists. “By attracting the participation of internationally recognized authorities in the field of robotics, it is undoubtedly an important opportunity for Slovenian research partners and domestic industry”, he added.
Prof. Tadej Bajd, President of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts stated that: “Biorobotics is an important field that also receives a great deal of attention in Slovenian research, especially the Department of Robotics automation, Biocybernetics and Robotics at the Jozef Stefan Institute. Humanoid robots, which resemble humans and are thus adapted to our environment, have already outgrown their childhood years and lessons in stable biped walking.
The latest research in humanoid robots focuses on robotic vision, environment recognition and learning to move in an unknown environment. However, current robot developers not only imitate humans but also search for inspiration in the animal world. He added: “Although it might seem like science fiction today, future robots will find their place not only in industry but in our homes as well.”
Prof. Matjaz Mihelj from the Laboratory of Robotics (Robolab) at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering, University of Ljubljana further elaborated: “Robots are devices that represent a link between the digital and the physical world or rather machines that replace and upgrade human physical abilities. The aim of the robots is not to replace humans but to work with them in physical, social and cognitive interaction. Cooperation between man and the robot generates exciting new applications”.
A success story
Robotics in Slovenia are already specialized and diversified. Slovenia represents a bridge between the Western Balkans and Europe. At the same time the young nation could be described as a success story in regard to the development of robotics, the local invest agency states. Robotisation in the country’s Smart Specialization Strategy is identified as one of the key enabling technologies, with robotics being related to the factories of the future.
The Jozef Stefan Institute (IJS), the University of Ljubljana and the University of Maribor play a leading role in the development of the research activities in the field of robotics. The first Slovenian robotics textbook was published in 1985.
Robotics is a fast-growing market in the country offering solutions for a number of sectors including industry, medicine, agriculture, transport, etc. Automation generates competitiveness, economic development, new jobs and foreign investment opportunities in Slovenia, market analysts explain.
The most robotized sector by far is the automotive industry with 636 robots per 10 000 workers, according to Invest Slovenia. Robotisation in the automotive industry is relatively high compared to the rest of the EU, while the robot density in all other sectors in Slovenia is 48. A great number of global and local industrial manufacturing companies as well as research and development centers in the field of robotics and other industries have operations in Slovenia.
Among them are Gorenje GAIO, INTECH-LES, Kolektor Vision, Pontess, Revoz, RLS, Yaskawa Slovenia, etc. RLS is providing custom and mass production absolute magnetic encoder sensors for robotics. Kolektor Orodjarna has a track of numerous quality control and adaptive industry vision systems. Yaskawa Slovenia is a specialist in the manufacture of robotics, in particular for welding. Revoz, a Renault car production facility, uses the biggest number of robots in Slovenia (398 working robots in 2016).
Gorenje GAIO provides simple solutions for automated equipment, distribution equipment, storage and transportation equipment, robotised process and offer advisory services, design and construction. The company employs 86 workers of various profiles, levels of education and 35 years of cumulative experience within the Gorenje Group.
Gorenje GAIO has 7000 m2 of covered working area equipped with the latest manufacturing machines and computer technology. The company claims it provides customers with state of the art quality solutions at highly competitive terms. Its claim is supported by numerous references from manufacturers of household appliances and the automotive industry, which represents the company’s main market.
INTECH-LES is the result of an intention to involve leading companies from the Notranjsko-kraska region who wish to establish an important development center through the synergy of projects.
The pooling and upgrading of knowledge, development and research infrastructures will makes it possible for companies to enter, exist and strengthen their presence in the fast-evolving market. The main activities of the development center include: the search for new challenges in the product, technological and organizational field of development and research in the field of wood processing industry and related industries; production support; carrying out the activity of the holding company as the owner of potential spin-offs; educational activity.
In its operation, the development center provides support in the creation of various products and services, technologies and support solutions. Especially for smaller companies in the industry, it also acts as a support organization for the introduction of modern technological solutions such as CAE (computer aided engineering), the introduction of robotics, mechatronics, the use of modern materials, consulting in introducing unified IT solutions and connectivity.
The company has more than 20 years of experience in the field of machine vision and claims to be the first provider of solutions for optical control in the region. It has implemented more than 1000 machine vision systems in different industries.
The company’s main goal is to solve complex problems in the field of automated quality control. Its activities and strategic objectives include: design and manufacture of optical measuring equipment; development of special algorithms for image processing; production of applications to solve specific problems; development of own software; cooperation with leading companies in the field of machine vision and automation, ensuring long-term support for its clients.
Kolektor plans to gradually expand to Central Europe. The company is upgrading its activities with standardized solutions for solving generic problems. It claims its systems are an integral part of the Industry 4.0 concept.
The company’s business activities began in 1998, when it still operated within FDS Research. In 2012 FDS Research, the iDrium group from Kolektor Group and the department for machine vision of Kolektor Orodjarnan merged. With the merger the Kolektor Vision profit center became the largest provider of machine vision systems in the region.
The company also offers after-sales services, customer service, preventive maintenance, etc.
Pontess is a Slovenian company that sells press brakes, laser cutters, punch brakes, plasma cutters and robot automation units for custom needs of customers in different fields. Its represents and sells machinery manufactured by some of the world’s biggest manufacturers and industry leading companies such as LVD, Frascio Group, Starmatik, Teseo and Ferrari tools.
Revoz, the only manufacturer of passenger cars in Slovenia, boasts over 60-year-old tradition in the automotive industry. In all these years, the company has made an impressive progress from a small repair shop to one of the most efficient factories within the international Renault group, and delivered over 4 million vehicles to its customers.
The automotive industry is a pioneer in the field of development and state-of-the-art technologies. In Revoz more than 3 000 highly-skilled and committed collaborators are involved in the production process in which they invest a lot of knowledge and introduce latest technologies in the field of automation and robotics.
The company shares its achievements with the local and broader environment, which reflects positively in the development of suppliers, business partners as well as the educational system. Also, the company strives to cooperate very closely with educational institutions, the company website states.
Its production capacity of 220 000 vehicles per year makes Revoz one of the largest companies in Slovenia having a decisive influence on the national economy indicators, especially export, since 99% of its turnover is generated by exports, mostly in the European Union. “With tradition and pride on the one hand, and focus and commitment for the future on the other, Revoz operates not only on the principles of a “smart factory,” but is already creating the foundation of the “factory of the future”, which will be able to offer its customers the most up-to-date products for enabling mobility”, the corporate website of Revoz further says.
RLS stands for “Rotary and Linear Motion Sensors”. The company was founded in December 1989 in Ljubljana. In the beginning it was focused on providing solutions for a wide field of motion control and metrology applications.
From 2000 the company began to specialize in the design and manufacture of magnetic encoders and components for supply to industrial clients and distributors worldwide.
It currently designs, produces and supplies advanced rotary and linear motion sensors to meet growing global market demands.
“Our experience and knowledge combined with innovative ideas enable us to offer custom product solutions to match customer’s needs. The development of a customized solution usually begins with selecting the appropriate standard product and defining the extent of desired changes.
A wide variety of adjustments is possible including physical size and shape, communication protocols, connectors, the degree of environmental protection etc. During the whole process, our engineers are able to advise on what solutions worked well for similar applications in the past and how cost reductions can be achieved.
Depending on the agreed final specification, this approach enables us to significantly reduce the development time while at the same time offering an extremely competitive solution to our customers”, the company says.
Over the last few decades RLS has worked closely with partners from a broad range of industries. From heavy machinery, advanced surgical and colaborative robots, aerospace and submarine applications to one of the largest solar power plants in the world, its encoders comply with even the toughest requirements, the company further claims.
Yaskawa is one of the largest manufacturers of industrial robots, with 400 000 robots installed worldwide. In addition to application-based variants such as welding, palletizing, painting and handling robots, the broad range includes robots designed for laboratory and clean room applications as well as top quality, turnkey automated welding systems.
The company has a total of 1900 employees in Europe, over 100 channel partners and 8 manufacturing locations, together with 23 business entities.
Through building its first European robot factory in Slovenia, in the city of Kocevje, Yaskawa increased its presence in Europe. “With this move, we are consistently implementing our strategy to offer premium customer service,” Bruno Schnekenburger, President of the Robotics Division in Europe stated.
“The new production and development capacities allow us to offer our customers in Europe the shortest delivery times possible as well as to expand our options to offer customer-specific robotic solutions. Through this, we want to continue to deepen our cooperation with them and to further expand market shares jointly with our mechanical engineering customers and our system integrators. Thanks to the expanded regional development capacities, we are getting even closer to the European market and technology trends.
Europe is the leader in many technologies, and we want to consistently demonstrate to our customers how excited we are to be here to develop even more efficient solutions with them,” Manfred Stern, President and CEO of Yaskawa Europe, added.
Recently the company opened a new robot production facility with European robotics development centre at Kocevje.
LATEST issue 3/2019