How robot manufacturers could benefit from the corona crisis

Munich The risk of infection is currently the big issue in factories. But not all of them are affected. “The robot does not have to adhere to distance rules,” says Helmut Schmid, head of Germany and Western Europe at Universal Robots.

Collaborative robots could work right next to a human or next to another robot. Many companies are currently happy to be able to continue producing flexibly with the help of cobots and lightweight robots. “I am sure that automation and robotics will experience a strong boom after Corona,” Schmid expects.

Of course, Corona also affects the robotics industry at short notice. With a share of around 30 percent, the auto industry is the most important customer for industrial robots. According to the latest forecast by the international association IFR, the business stagnated last year with only 421,000 robots sold due to the industry downturn. The industry had previously set one record after another for many years. Now the corona crisis is also dampening the willingness to invest in the automotive industry and other important sectors worldwide.

But there is great hope among the robotics and automation specialists that the manufacturers will be among the profiteers in the long term. Especially the so-called cobots, about which there was great euphoria a few years ago, but which have not yet established themselves on the broad market, could now possibly make a breakthrough on a broader front – even if there are still some obstacles.

Cobots have gone through the classic hypecurve, says robotics engineer Titanilla Komenda from Fraunhofer Austria. The great initial euphoria was over – but also the frustration valley afterwards. “Now we are on an ascending branch again. Many useful applications open up, ”says Komenda.

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The collaborative robots do not have to be behind the protective fence, but can do their work right next to the human colleague. The robot arms are used, for example, in the electronics industry to hand over parts to employees or to put the batteries of a mobile phone in a test station.

Most recently, industrial robot manufacturers had sales of $ 16.5 billion. 2.4 million robots are in operation in the factories. The share of collaborative robots in the robotics market was only three percent in 2018, according to the world industry association IFR. “But we can see that this proportion continues to grow, with above-average growth rates,” said IFR General Secretary Susanne Bieller the Handelsblatt.

The segment is therefore attractive for the industry. In addition to pioneers such as Universal Robots, established manufacturers such as Kuka for example with the lightweight robot LBR iisy and the Swiss competitor FIG ventured into the segment with the Yumi. Bieller emphasized that the cobots would not replace traditional robots: “They open up new markets and new applications. This makes them extremely important for the further development of the market. ”

A typical activity for the robotic arms is the “pick and place”, ie the gripping and placing of objects. While the classic industrial robots can move loads weighing several hundred tons, sometimes even tons, the load capacities of the cobots are mostly in the single-digit kilogram range.

Corona can be an initial spark for new automation applications, believes Fraunhofer expert Komenda: “We often act in old habits. Only in times of crisis are you forced to rethink. ”Given the pandemic, cobots could show their strengths. On the one hand, the robot arms could replace individual employees who are ill or who are taken out of the shift in order to comply with distance rules.

Disinfection robot for China

In addition, Corona could lead to production being brought back to Europe, for example. Automated, very flexible solutions would then be required in high-wage countries. “The human-robot collaboration has the advantage that I can automate very flexibly,” says Komenda.

The robot manufacturer has already received many inquiries from the pharmaceutical industry, from laboratories and hospitals, observes Universal Robots Germany boss Schmid. “For blood samples, for example, robots can help to analyze them safely.” Industrial companies with robots could currently also run more variable production times if shifts were divided, so that not too many people work in production at the same time.

The industry association VDMA also expects “a decent boost” for robotics and automation after the corona crisis. Patrick Schwarzkopf, Managing Director of Robotics and Automation, says that the industry cannot yet uncouple itself from the economic downturn. After all, a few days ago there was a signal that classic customers are not failing either: BMW ordered 5000 robots from Kuka over a period of several years, which are to be used primarily in body construction. However, such large orders are likely to be the exception at the moment.

In the world after Corona, says Schwarzkopf, supply chains could be reconsidered and production could be distributed to more locations. Production that was relocated to Asia could be brought back to Europe in some cases. “That then requires investments in automation technology.”

Schwarzkopf is also convinced that the topic of service robotics will get a “huge push that will have a long-term effect”. Autonomous disinfection robots are already in operation in numerous hospitals. According to the industry association IFR, Chinese hospitals have ordered 2,000 UVD disinfection robots from the Danish manufacturer Blue Ocean Robotics.

“And in times when visits are prohibited, communication robots roll through nursing homes and enable virtual visits by relatives via video conference,” says Schwarzkopf. The robot “James” was developed by the start-up RobShare, which belongs to the Hahn group. The robot visits people in quarantine and connects family members via video conference.

Virtual trade fair instead of automatica

However, it remains to be seen whether the hopes of a boom are really fulfilled. Cobots – like the service robots – have been talked about a lot in recent years, for example at the Hanover Fair.

But one-armed helpers are rarely seen in the factory halls. At the start, the new machines were often quite expensive. In addition, the correct application places had to be found. “According to initial estimates, the cobots’ share of industrial robotics is still well below ten percent,” says VDMA Managing Director Schwarzkopf, “but the potential is enormous.” According to the experts at Interact Analysis, the cobot market could change by 2027 almost tenfold compared to 2018 to $ 5.6 billion.

However, there are still various factors that brake. The big challenges – security, certification and simple programming – have not yet been overcome, says Fraunhofer expert Komenda. The lightweight robots are much easier to program today than they were a few years ago. “But ideally, a cobot should be a tool like a cordless screwdriver that anyone can use without instruction.”

The cobot manufacturers have opened up a wide customer field with the small and medium-sized companies from different industries, says IFR Managing Director Bieller. “However, manufacturers and integrators first have to develop a certain level of process know-how.” In the early days of the cobots, the impression was created that they could do without any system integration. “However, this is only the case for very simple applications,” says Bieller.

Risk assessment in complex applications requires a lot of experience, says Bieller. “It is also a misconception that cobots are the all-round answer to all questions.” Especially when high speeds, precision or high payloads are required, traditional industrial robots in combination with a sensor skin or corresponding cameras could make more sense. Nevertheless, all experts expect further high growth rates – albeit at a comparatively low level.

The market leader in cobots is still the pioneer Universal Robots from Denmark, which Esben Østergaard founded in 2005. Last year, the company, which now belongs to Teradyne, had sales of $ 248 million. The robot manufacturer actually wanted to present its latest models at the Automatica trade fair in Munich. But that had to be postponed because of Corona. Universal Robots is inviting you to a virtual in-house exhibition these days.

No specialists needed

The response from potential customers is positive, says their Germany and Western Europe boss Schmid. He also admits: “The big hype is over.” But now comes the “phase of correct application”. Completely new areas have opened up for the market, for example in logistics, in the food industry and in medical technology.

A cobot is also economically very attractive for small and medium-sized companies, says Schmid. “A robot arm usually pays for itself after six to nine months.” The problem is rather that many medium-sized companies are not aware that solutions are available from as little as EUR 60,000 and that no robotics specialists are necessary for the implementation. As a result, providers have only reached three to five percent of potential customers. The market potential is therefore huge.

For Universal Robots, Schmid is therefore still confident in the long term. “There was a very positive mood on the market before Corona,” he says. The company is currently benefiting from its affiliation with Teradyne. Thanks to the financially strong partner, there has so far been no short-time work. As the global market leader in cobots, it would then benefit greatly from the expected boom after the crisis.

At least VDMA Managing Director Schwarzkopf does not believe that the robots will completely replace the workers in the factories in the future: “Humans and the specifically human skills are still indispensable in modern production.”

But some robots can step in if necessary. For example, the sales force of Universal Robots is no longer allowed to visit customers in factories in many countries. The Danish company therefore wants to make a virtue of necessity: after its virtual in-house exhibition, it wants to send a robot to customers. The aim of the demonstration is to show what it can do – and also to take on initial tasks for customers. Control is done remotely. “This is our first sales robot,” says Schmid.

More: BMW orders 5,000 robots from Kuka

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Dax closes almost four percent in the red

Dusseldorf The German Leading index Dax ended trading on Wednesday with a minus of 3.9 percent at 10,279 points. After an increase of 14 percent in just five trading days on Wednesday, the German stock market started to reverse again.

Sold today Wednesday apparently many foreign investors bought German shares. Because the Dax increased its minus significantly from midday trading to the opening of the US stock exchange, at the same time the euro slipped to $ 1.0918 during this period. Almost all Dax values ​​went out of the market with a minus.

Weak economic data in the US unsettled investors and also weighed on Wall Street prices. The Dow Jones already opened 2.2 percent in the red and then fell even further.

Investors were in the mood for news that the US industry cut production more in March than it had in 1946. The companies produced 6.3 percent less goods than in the previous month, as the central bank (Fed) announced in Washington on Wednesday. Overall production – to which utilities and mining also contribute – shrank by 5.4 percent.

US retailers’ sales also fell 8.7 percent in March from the previous month due to the corona crisis, the Department of Commerce said in Washington on Wednesday.

And last but not least, the US banks are suffering from the corona crisis: Due to provisions in the billions due to bad loans, the profits of Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and Citigroup almost halved.

In Germany, in addition to the weak US data, speculation that the German government was not in such a hurry to relax contact restrictions in the virus crisis caused the Dax to slide ever deeper into the red. And after having won almost 30 percent since the corona crash low in mid-March.

Just yesterday, the prices of some stocks had made investors forget that the world was in the middle of an economic crisis. So the course of the Tesla-Share more than doubled since mid-March. The Dax 30 values ​​could be about Wirecard have increased by around 35 percent in the past four weeks.

“The current crisis is like an accelerator of trends that have worked before,” says Jochen Stanzl from online broker CMC Markets. It was used as an excuse and pretext by companies that had previously had problems to carry out restructuring that was long overdue. And it is the reason for the crisis winners to expand even faster.

However, there are many crisis losers. For example, the engine manufacturer MTU, which was down 6.9 percent on Wednesday at the Frankfurt trading venue at the close of the stock exchange. The growing number of canceled orders from the US rival Boeing does too airbus– investors nervous. The shares of the European aircraft manufacturer lost around 8.7 percent.

After all: The new infections with the Covid 19 virus appear to be stabilizing or decrease. That is why there is talk in many, but not all, countries of easing contact barriers. Governments and central banks are throwing huge support packages on the market and pledging to do more when in doubt. So are you okay?

“I’m afraid the real reality check could still come,” says CommerzbankForeign exchange analyst Antje Praefcke. The market had put up with the previous “shockers” like the US labor market figures relatively well. So far, however, they would not have reflected the full extent of the effects of the “century recession”.

Many questions would remain unanswered: Are the production and supply chains really recovering quickly? Does consumer behavior change permanently? What about the recovery of the economy? “The big end could still come and give the market another cold shower,” says the analyst.

Investor sentiment also expects a sell-off on the German market, even if this may no longer push the Dax towards the 8200 point mark. “Investors should not run after the rising prices,” advises Stephan Heibel after evaluating the Handelsblatt survey Dax-Sentiment.

Meanwhile, there are increasing voices that the stock market lows from the end of March will be tested again. Should such a correction set in, there is a risk of a loss of 20 percent or more, depending on the market.

The problem with such forecasts: If a unanimous opinion has formed, it usually turns out differently. As a result, a full-fledged bear market is threatened with new lows, or the bear market is already behind us.

Look at the individual values

Varta: The battery manufacturer’s share, which traded almost nine percent lower on Wednesday at the close of trading, is moving into the focus of hedge funds that are betting on falling prices. The five participating funds have increased this speculation to 6.31 percent of all freely tradable shares in the past few days – a comparatively high ratio.

Such a short sale, as it is called in the technical language, consists of two different trading activities. For one thing, a hedge fund borrows from you Varta-Shareholder (for example, a mutual fund) share certificates and sells the papers.

Apparently that has happened in the past. On March 31 and April 8, for example, the Varta price fell in the meantime by a double-digit percentage – and this with a high trading volume. Last month, the average volume was around 272,000 pieces per day. On March 31, however, almost 750,000 Varta papers were traded, and on April 8, more than 484,000 pieces.

On April 9, the hedge fund Maplelane Capital reported that it had reached a short sale rate of 0.5 percent. Quotas below 0.5 percent do not have to be reported to the Bafin financial regulator.

But now the second trading activity is pending. The hedge funds must buy back the shares as cheaply as possible and return them to the lender. Not an easy task, as a small calculation example shows.

Because a short sale rate of 6.31 percent means: 2.55 million shares have to be bought back. With an average daily volume of 272,000 shares, this buy-back must be carefully dosed so that the Varta price does not rise rapidly and puts the hedge funds under pressure. Because they want to buy back cheaply.

Adidas: The addition of a billion dollar government loan does not help the share either. Although the paper had been 1.3 percent higher in pre-exchange trading, the shares dropped 4.7 percent from regular trading. The sporting goods group raised three billion euros from the development bank and major banks. Two-thirds of the remuneration of the Board of Management is deleted, and the dividend is also canceled.

Adidas suffers from the fact that practically all of its own stores in the western world have been closed for four weeks – including those of independent sports retailers. The stock had lost almost 50 percent since mid-February, but has risen by around 25 percent in the course of the stock market recovery in four weeks.

Fraport: The travel restrictions to curb the corona pandemic have at the Frankfurt airport operator Fraport led to a slump in business. The number of passengers fell by 62 percent to 2.1 million in March alone. The development continued in April: In the first two weeks, the passenger volume fell by over 95 percent. At the close of trading on Wednesday, the paper was down 4.8 percent.

Kuka: The Augsburg-based supplier has a large order for 5,000 robots for the car manufacturer BMW pulled ashore. This news initially caused the share to rise by 1.4 percent, but by the close of the stock market it had slipped significantly again and was 3.9 percent weaker from trading.

The systems and other technologies for the automation of production are to be delivered to BMW plants worldwide in the next few years, where they will be used primarily in body construction Kuka With. The two groups did not comment on the order value and the delivery period.

Oil prices are slipping

Brent oil from the North Sea is heading for its 18-year low from late March ($ 21.65): It fell 6.6 percent to $ 27.62 a barrel. The prices had already dropped significantly yesterday.

After all, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), global oil demand will be weaker in April than it has been in a quarter of a century. It will drop by an average of 29 million barrels (159 liters each) a day, the IEA predicted in its monthly report on Wednesday.

“April could be the worst month – it could go down in history as black April,” said IEA chief Fatih Birol. A drop in demand of 9.3 million barrels a day is forecast for 2020. Such a sharp drop in demand cannot be compensated for by a reduction in the oil supply, the organization emphasized.

What the chart technique says

Even if the chart technique gives the Dax potential up to 11,030 points: In the short term, the indicators signal falling prices. Because the leading German index is considered overbought after an increase of 14 percent in the last five trading days before Wednesday alone, so it rose too quickly too quickly.

“At least in the short term, the downward risk seems to be higher than the upward chance, especially since the steep, almost four-month upward trend should not last too long,” say the chart technicians at Düsseldorfer Bank HSBC.

The structural picture of the individual Dax 30 values ​​has not yet brightened. All shares are listed below the 200-day line, which signals the long-term trend and underscores the still dominating, overall downward trend.

“When planning wealth, the rule is: never get out completely!”

Here is the page with the DAX course, here is the current tops & flops in the Dax. Current Short sales of investors can be found in our Short sales database.

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Dax slips significantly – shortsellers target Varta stock

Dax curve

View of the Dax curve in the Frankfurt trading hall.


(Photo: dpa)

Dusseldorf The German stock market continues to widen its losses in the course of trading: listed in the afternoon the Dax 3.4 percent minus 10,331 points.

On Tuesday, the index rose 1.3 percent to 10,696 points after a four-hour technical downtime in Xetra trading. At the same time, the leading index reached a new monthly high of 10,820.

Sell ​​today apparently many foreign investors bought German shares. Because the Dax has increased its minus significantly since noon until the opening of the US stock exchange, at the same time the euro slipped significantly during this period by one percent to $ 1.0874.

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BMW orders 5000 Kuka robots

Kuka robots at the VW plant in Emden

The automotive industry has traditionally been the most important customer for large industrial robots.


(Photo: dpa)

Munich The robot builder Kuka things weren’t going particularly well before the corona crisis. Sales dropped slightly to 3.2 billion euros last year, and the operating return was just 1.5 percent. Now, in many places in the auto industry, which is the most important industry for Kuka, the factories are standing still.

But the Augsburg-based company can rely on a major customer: BMW has ordered more than 5000 robots for new production lines and plants in a framework contract over several years. The machines are to be used primarily in body construction.

Kuka did a good job – the order volume in euros was not mentioned. Because last year, the company felt the doldrums in the automotive industry. Orders in the Robotics division fell by more than 13 percent to a good billion euros.

Competitors like FIG had felt the end of the robotics boom. However, Kuka believes that there has also been a backlog of innovations in industry circles. The group now wants to make up for this with new models.

Kuka boss Peter Mohnen does not want to make a forecast for 2020 due to the uncertainty in Corona times. “The pandemic hits us and affects us,” he said. The challenge now was to master the challenges and “be prepared for the time after Corona”.

Crisis is also an opportunity for robot builders

BMW has been using Kuka robots for more than 40 years. The large order that has now been agreed also includes other Kuka products such as energy supply technology. Most of the factories in Europe and the USA are currently at a standstill for the white-blue car manufacturer.

Robot builders are also experiencing the economic consequences of the corona crisis. But the impact has not yet been quantified, said Milton Guerry, President of the IFR industry association. However, the industry is well prepared to withstand the storm.

The situation is also an opportunity for the robot builder. Automation technology can help secure local production and thus reduce dependence on local supply chains, said Guerry. Collaborative robots could also step in if there were staff shortages due to illnesses or quarantine measures, for example.

More: The next few weeks will be decisive for the automotive industry, says Handelsblatt reporter Stefan Menzel.

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