Turnkey cobot solutions are booming in Benelux

More and more companies in Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg – together also known as Benelux - are discovering the benefits of collaborative robots.

Turnkey cobot solutions are booming in Benelux
Turnkey cobot solutions are booming in Benelux

This is evident looking at the development of Universal Robots and the cobot market in general in the last decade. Back in 2010, when Universal Robots participated in a Dutch trade fair for the first time, the big robot brands were laughing. They regarded the cobot as a mere toy and paid little further attention to it. 
Now, cobots have become a fully integrated part of Benelux industry, continuously growing market share compared to compared to conventional industrial robots with thousands of cobots in daily operation in Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.

Preference for turnkey solutions

When it comes to automation, the Netherlands is some way ahead of its neighboring countries as its ranked 21st in global stock of robotics in 2021 while Belgium and Luxembourg combined are ranked 28th. But there are several similarities in the three countries when it comes to automation trends.  
For instance, when SMEs in Benelux are automating with cobots they often opt for a complete turnkey solution provided by an integrator, who already has the expertise and experience of cobot implementation. In some other countries, you see more 'DIY projects' where companies take on the implementation and programming themselves. Something that is definitely do-able but requires some in-house expertise and cobot training. 
The demand for full solutions in Benelux means that Universal Robots has developed a very strong partner ecosystem in this region, working together with several distributors and almost sixty integrators – a high number compared to the 30 million people living in the region. 
This trend in Benelux is a clear indicator of how the cobot market has developed. At first, the average customer was a tech-interested first mover who wanted to try the latest new thing. Now, most customers are manufacturers who don’t automate because they are tech afficionados. Instead, focus is on what advantages the cobot can bring to the company, e.g. higher productivity and better working environments for employees.

Cobots to fill the labor gap

As in many other countries, a key driver of automation in Benelux is labor shortages. At its peak in 2022, for instance, there were almost 480,000 vacancies in the Netherlands and in Belgium there were almost 214,000 vacancies in the second quarter last year. 
And this trend will continue in the years ahead. Between 2023 and 2043, the potential workforce will decrease by 711,000 people in the Netherlands and 269,000 in Belgium (Source: UN World Population Prospects). 
Cobots are an ideal solution to this problem, and with cobots taking over the repetitive tasks, it means that existing employees will be free to focus on tasks that are not only more valuable to the company, but also more interesting and giving on a personal level. 
Automating the physically demanding tasks can also allow experienced workers to stay in their jobs for longer allowing them to utilize their years of experience without having to perform the heavy physical work. At the same time, investing in robotics and technology in general will help attract the younger generation of talent who enjoy working with cobots instead of having to do the dull, dirty and dangerous tasks. In other words: A clear win-win situation at a time where skilled labor is scarce.

Popular industries and applications in Benelux

Major industries in the Benelux deploying cobots include the food, manufacturing and metal industries. These have traditionally deployed cobots mainly for applications such as palletizing, welding and machine tending. These industries and applications are still growing but there are some other interesting uses. For example, the wood industry is growing and here cobots can be used for sanding, among other things, and we see lots of growth potential in pharmaceutical and laboratory uses.

An example of this is Sakura Finetek Europe. Based in Alphen aan den Rijn in The Netherlands the European branch of Japanese company Sakura develops full automation solutions for pathology labs used in Benelux and the rest of the world. The automation solutions built here includes cobots from Universal Robots and are for example used to process pathology requests and diagnose skin cancer. By automating the process of transferring cassettes by using cobots, the highly skilled lab employees can spend less time on manual tasks and more time applying their expertise. The solutions from Sakura Finetek Europe also help create a more efficient workflow and diagnoses become available faster, which of course benefits patients.

Christian JanseSales Manager Benelux, Universal Robots

Christian Janse is the Sales Manager in Benelux for Universal Robots

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