collaborative robot market. In business just since 2008,
the company’s slick gray robotic arms have already be-
come a common sight in factories and research facilities
around the world. They perform an absurdly broad range
of applications that stretch all the way from tending ma-
chines to landing planes.
UR’s entrance into the robotics market was a rare
kind of pure disruption that took everyone by surprise.
“We created a market that no one else could see,”
recalls Esben Østergaard, co-founder and CTO of Univer-
sal Robots, which is now owned by U.S.-based Teradyne.
“It’s a new market for robots, a new wave of automation,”
he says. “It’s a whole new way to look at manufacturing.”
And that sounds pretty hyperbolic. But, looking back
at the impact the company has had in its short history,
it seems rather accurate. Prior to Universal Robots’
launch—and that of competitor Rethink Robotics the
same year—the automation market was ruled exclusively
by gigantic, head-smashing, purely industrial robots. They
were complex and cold machines; they were super-pow-
erful and super dangerous, surrounded always by fences
and gates and lockouts and light curtains to make sure
they never made any kind of contact with their human
operators. They were also some of the most expensive
assets in most plants, particularly once you factored
in the heavy programming and integration costs they
required for every job.
But Universal Robots ignored basically that entire para-
digm. By focusing on safety and simplicity over speed and
power, it brought robots out from behind the guards and
onto the line next to human colleagues. It also completely
re-envisioned the programming system, creating a “
teaching” system that allowed anyone on the floor to program
movements in minutes. And, to top it off, compared to the
traditional systems, these were downright cheap.
It also sought to automate an entirely new segment
of the manufacturing workload. While the traditional
machines took on the heavy-duty jobs, building cars
and tossing tons of materials across factory floors, the
cobot targeted what had always been considered human
jobs—pick and place operations, machine tending; simple, repetitive tasks. And, because most setups don’t
require fencing, integrators, or the high investments of
the traditional systems, it could offer this new automation to small and mid-sized shops that could never fit or
afford them before.
It was a mix that, though few perceived ahead of time,
fit a giant hole in the market. According to Østergaard,
the company has already put well over 18,000 of these
machines into the market, contributing to a bustling new
collaborative robot market that is estimated to be worth
nearly $4.3 billion in the next five years.
In that sense, Allford, watching the tide shift from his
booth, read the waters correctly: this is where the market
is going, and now is the time to get in.
It is, however an odd mix. A giant welding robot maker
suddenly making tiny welding robots? A light-duty robot maker going heavy-duty? It was a stretch, but it
worked in a way.
“Welding is a new twist here,” Østergaard says. “But
we see all kinds of applications for our robots appearing
in so many industries all around the world, so I’m not
And, he says, it adds a kind of symmetry to automation
history that really makes a lot of sense.
“It’s kind of making a full circle,” he says. “Robots
came from welding, that’s where it all began. Now these
collaborative robots are going into that again, but from a
whole new way. There’s a lot of value in that.”
The match between these two companies began at a
tradeshow, so it only made sense to release the result
of it at another. And so last month at FABTECH—after
a shockingly quick development cycle—Universal Robots and ARC Specialties introduced Snap Weld, which
merges the user-friendly versatility of cobots with the
calculated precision of automated welding.
The system equally balances the assets of each company. From ARC Specialties, it brings a Profax wire feeder
and water-cooled torch for welds up to 600 amps—with
torch bracket, cables, and hose packages included. From
Universal Robots, there is, of course, the robotic arm, which
comes equipped with its simplified Universal Robots+ platform that allows users to set vital process aspects—wire
feed speed, burn back time, gas flow time, crater fill time,
volts, amps, etc—directly on the teach pendant.
This set-up does change the fence-free nature of the
robots, though. We’re talking arc welding, after all, not
machine tending, so operators need to be protected
from light and heat just like in any other automated
But, Allford says, the collaborative nature of the bots
remains a key element to the system.
“When you’re programming the machine, the operator
is right in there with it, teaching it what to do without any
safety concerns,” he says. “That’s when the collaborative
aspect really shines.”
The result of all this is an interactive, easy-to-use weld-
ing system that allows operators even in small fabrication
shops can setup, manage, and deploy wherever they are
needed—a system that would have been unimaginable
just a few years ago
“[Snap Weld] fills a niche that the industry needs right
“Replacing humans with robots is a bad idea—you are just
throwing away the core knowledge of your product.”
- Esben Østergaard, co-founder and CTO of Universal Robots