"Mobile robotics, along with 'robots as a service', is the future”

"Mobile robotics, along with 'robots as a service', is the future”

Álex Salvador, Managing Director at AER Automation.

AutoRevista.- What trends in connectivity, artificial intelligence and Industry 4.0 and even 5.0, are marking the evolution of automotive robotics?

Álex Salvador.- Recently the International Federation of Robotics (IFR), of which AER Automation has been the official representative in Spain since its foundation in 1987, has published the five global robotics trends for 2023: energy efficiency, relocation, ease of use; artificial intelligence and digitisation; and reuse (circular economy).

At AER Automation we believe that all of them are applicable/useful as far as the automotive sector is concerned, which, let us not forget, is still the leading user of industrial robots in Spain, with 30% of the installations.

AR.- How does the evolution of the automobile towards electrification specifically influence the interaction of the world of robotics with batteries?

A.S.- A generational change in end users -much more prone to pay-per-use or car-sharing than to purchase- has been added to the -necessary- trend towards eco-mobility, which is going to cause a real shake-up throughout the value chain, starting with the much smaller number of components of an electric vehicle compared to a combustion one. The circular economy also plays a key role, and the robotics and automation industry knows a lot about it. Remember here that sustainability, along with automation of SMEs and talent are the 3 vectors of action of AER Automation. 

We believe that greater agility in the deployment of the PERTEs is necessary for practical purposes, the automotive sector has been the traditional mainstay of Spanish industrialisation, managing robotisation figures that have placed us among the world TOP10, and there are already voices that point out that the automotive vertical itself is going to become a subsector of a higher transactional “mobility”. It is difficult to point out more detail on the subject at a time when the brands themselves (manufacturers) are redesigning their entire business strategy to be able to comply with regulations such as the European one that will ban gasoline and diesel cars from 2035. Let's not forget that the bargaining power of the robotics industry as a service provider to the automotive market is limited.

AR.- What is the impact of mobile robotics (AMRs)?

A.S.- Mobile robotics, along with the rest of what we think of as "robots as a service", is the future. This is repeatedly pointed out by the IFR in its studies of annual trends, with high double-digit growth. Spain has traditionally been a world leader in the manufacture of mobile and social robotics. Just point out that the AER Automation Service Robotics Commission, which brings together this vertical, already has 20 members, among the 120 current associates of the association, bringing together 90% of the sector. Although in recent times we are witnessing an M&A process -predictable in any case- that is making it possible for foreign capital to enter some of our leading brands (ABB in ASTI or United Robotics at Robotnik, to cite two examples). Although at the moment this is not meaning a process of "consolidation" of the sector traditionally understood, since it is about takeovers by "complementary" partners, not directly competitors, who seek complementarity in the offerings of services.

In this newly disruptive and constantly changing environment, the possibilities for developing a type of robotics that is enormously flexible by definition, such as mobile, in a radically changing sector such as the automobile industry are enormous, from logistics fields to the necessary flexibility of the production chain, with collaborative robotic-mobile robotic hybridisation models inserted in the chain itself, for example.

AR.- How can robotics contribute to vectors such as sustainability and circular economy?

A.S.- Enormously. The IFR detected in 2022 that no less than 12 SDGs out of the 17 total in which robotics can have a positive impact, and we are reporting this via the AER Automation website. From the foreseeable SDG#9 (Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure) to SDG#11 of "Sustainable Cities and Communities", through to "Economic Growth" (SDG#8) and "Responsible Production and Consumption" (SDG #12).

AR.- How are you acting in the collection of European funds and in the participation in PERTEs?

A.S.- AER Automation is very aware of the evolution of these PERTEs as indicated. The Association's intervention is twofold: on the one hand, with its own project called "Robot Start PYME" already presented to the Ministry of Industry and about which we have high hopes. The project aims to ensure that part of these European funds actually reach Spanish SMEs in the form of acquiring their first robot or their first automation. Only by automating will we achieve a competitive and resilient SME network.

On the other hand, AER Automation is the sole representative of the robotics and automation sectors in CEOE since 2022. From its work commissions for "Industry and Ecological Transition" and "Digital Society", in which we actively intervene, we also we are influencing the correct application of these programs. Only with the necessary public-private collaboration will we be able to empower ourselves on an industry level.

AR.- How do you continue to address the generation and recruitment of new talent?

A.S.- (The lack of) qualified talent is one of the great concerns of the Spanish Association of Robotics and Automation. This is what our associates point out to us repeatedly. AER Automation is deploying numerous initiatives to try to reverse this situation, since our adhesion in 2021 to the "STEAM Alliance for female talent. Girls on a science footing” of the Ministry of Education to the recent launch of the AER Job Bank. Without forgetting, our "Educational Robotics" working group, made up in equal parts of members of Industry 4.0 and Academia, which aims to introduce robotics in primary and secondary education, in order to capture early vocations there. Or our adhesion in 2016 to the Alliance for Dual Vocational Training.

AR.- On the way to four decades as a benchmark for the sector in Spain, what are the objectives that AER Automation sets itself in the short and medium term, and especially in its relationship with the automotive and mobility industry in Spain?

A.S.- The Association is also in a disruptive moment. Created in 1985, and a founding member of the IFR in 1987, in the last 3 years we have doubled its size and tripled the number of associates, exceeding the historical record of 100 in 2022 and geographically diversified to 15 Spanish Autonomous Communities.

With 80% of the Spanish robotics and artificial vision market in our midst, the field of natural growth for AER is automation. In 2022 we joined CEOE; and the forecast of associates in 2023 is to exceed 130. The percentage of participation in the 4 AER working groups remains at 70%, with more than 140 Industry 4.0 executives supporting our work on a daily basis, from CEOs/DGs to directors of Innovation and Technology Transfer, going through the Marketing and HR directors of our associates. The current loyalty percentage is 99%.

Automation of SMEs, talent and sustainability constitute our triple mission. And the challenges for this year will be eminently strategic, seeking to reinforce inorganic growth, strategic alliances and our lobbying role against administrations. Precisely to give greater value and service to the mobility industry, in 2022 we created the Service Robotics Commission.

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Interview published in AutoRevista 2.377


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