As demand for mobile robots continues to increase across supply chains and industries, the developers and suppliers of these robots are also maturing. Last month, Søren E. Nielsen became president of Mobile Industrial Robots A/S, or MiR.
MiR said that Nielsen, who had served as chief technology officer, would succeed CEO Thomas Visti Jensen, who departed the company to return to his roots as an entrepreneur. North Reading, Mass.-based Teradyne Inc. owns MiR.
The global market for autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) will experience a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 15.9%, growing from $356.3 million in 2020 to $1 billion in 2026, according to 360 Research Reports.
Nielsen responded to these exclusive questions from Collaborative Robotics Trends, sharing his thoughts on the AMR space and the direction of MiR.
How did you come to MiR? How has your prior experience at Siemens and Danfoss helped you with robotics?
Nielsen: Throughout my professional career, I have been involved with mechatronic products. A robot is not that different, as it also encompasses the combination of mechanics, electronics, and software.
When I was approached about joining MiR as chief technology officer a few years ago, the only thing new to me was the applications, which are very diverse. The myriad ways in which organizations of all sizes and within numerous vertical markets can benefit from the implementation of autonomous mobile robots within their facilities interests me very much. We seem to recognize more ways they can be used each day.
The robotics industry is still quite new and ripe for growth and innovation. I have been involved in managing companies in similar phases, as well as others in more mature and defined markets. Consequently, as a president with decades of international experience business, I can contribute with knowledge about what MiR needs to do to sustain our growth and continue to mature as a global organization along with the industry.
What priorities do you plan to set for MiR as you take on the role of president?
Nielsen: There is a tremendous opportunity for transforming the way the world works by optimizing logistics within organizations worldwide. MiR and our collaborative and autonomous mobile robots have already played a substantial and innovative role in this initiative.
As president, I plan to continue the path MiR has been on as both a technology and market leader, which means helping to educate the market on the increased productivity, efficiency, and safety benefits AMRs can offer. We’ll also place a renewed focus on the quality of our expanding product line, a critical component for ongoing success.
As you’ve noted, Thomas Visti was a high-profile president. What do you expect to do differently?
Nielsen: Everyone is different with different management styles, but I actually don’t expect to change much or manage much differently than Thomas did, at least not in the daily work.
MiR is still on the same path, but since we have grown exponentially over the last few years, the organizational structure looks different and now requires another management style. We’ll determine what this looks like in the coming months.
Related content: The Robot Report Podcast Ep. 13 — Thomas Visti’s next chapter, and Waypoint Robotics’ Jason Walker on mobile robots
How do you see the robotics community around Odense, Denmark, continuing to grow?
Nielsen: As you’re aware, Odense is the home to more than 130 robot companies, and more seem to be launched nearly every month. This means new job opportunities for the ecosystem of talent we’ve found in the area.
We aspire to create an attractive environment for further industry here in Odense. In fact, together with Teradyne and Universal Robots, we have acquired a more than 500,000-sq.-ft. building site in Odense, where we are building the world’s largest collaborative robot hub. This will result in more jobs and more innovation from the area.
Which enabling technologies would you like to advance more?
Nielsen: In robotics, there are many new enabling technologies in various stages of development. We are naturally interested in those that will help advance our AMRs, including new sensor technologies, machine learning, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, and 5G.
What trends do you see in the mobile robotics industry?
Nielsen: During the current pandemic situation, we’ve seen increased interest across multiple markets for automating applications with mobile robots. We expect the interest to continue as companies realize how these robots can help make their workplaces more efficient and actually safer for employees in their “new normal.”
In addition to improving traditional material-handling tasks within manufacturing and logistics environments, our flexible AMRs are being transformed into disinfectant robots for use in commercial environments like airports, hotels, fitness centers, supermarkets, and even prisons. It’s exciting to see yet another innovative way in which AMRs can be used.
Other trends we’re seeing have to do with implementing AI within robotics. In fact, we’ve just released our AI camera with the latest software update to help improve the navigation capabilities of our AMRs.
Demand and competition for mobile robots in supply chains has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic — do you expect that to continue past the crisis?
Nielsen: It’s no surprise that both demand and competition has been growing in the past few months, but so has the market potential, especially when it comes to automating material handling.
We welcome the increased competition, as it expands the knowledge of what the AMR technology can do. We have a strong brand and mature products, and we continuously develop our innovative technology, which helps keep our position strong.
We definitely expect the demand and competition for this technology to continue, as it’s needed to maintain the new required restrictions we see throughout the world.
MiR recently released a heavy-duty model — and a smaller, more agile model — as well as new accessories with its partners. Can you give us a hint of what’s coming later in 2020?
Nielsen: I wish that I could say something more specific, but as for now, stay tuned.
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