Improving productivity by implementing the MiR100 has also seen new jobs created within the company for assembly, R&D, and administration.

Elos Medtech Pinol in Gørløse, Denmark, is one of Europe’s leading development and production partners for medical technology products and components. In recent years, increasing demands for quality, process documentation, and product consistency have forced customers to use fewer suppliers. Customers have selected Elos Medtech Pinol largely due to targeted optimization, standardization, and automation in the last decade.

The automated factory – a mantra used within the company that impacts all employees – includes ambitious investments in user-friendly and flexible production equipment and the latest automation technology, including an MiR100 robot from Mobile Industrial Robots (MiR).

In 2011, Danish robot scientist Niels Jul Jacobsen came up with a new product idea that a few years later was transformed into a product that handles internal transport logistics.

“For 20 years, it has been predicted that mobile robots would be as widely used as industrial robots. Yet robots for logistics didn’t really catch on. It dawned on me that it was about pure price-to-earnings. The key was developing a flexible, robust, affordable, and user-friendly solution that every employee can operate. With this revelation in mind, I started developing MiR100,” says Jacobsen, founder and CTO of MiR. Jacobsen has researched and developed robotics and related software since 1989.

MiR engineers spent two years testing the mobile robot on Danish jobs, collecting user feedback while continuously tweaking technology and functionality.

The MiR100 runs nonstop on fixed routes through Elos Medtech Pinol’s manufacturing facility.

“Robotic vacuum cleaners, lawn mowers, and cars have already paved the way for us. That’s why nobody bats an eye when MiR100 runs in quiet operation in between patients and staff at a hospital,” Jacobsen says.

In 2014, the mobile robot was thoroughly tested and market ready. It attracted both private investors and an experienced executive from the robot industry, Thomas Visti, who came on board as CEO after having played a major role in the success of Universal Robots, a company that also emerged from the robot research cluster in Odense, Denmark’s robotic valley.

Puzzled employees

The true tests came when the MiR100 entered into the workplace.

“When we first got our mobile robot it was fun, but also a little weird,” says Majbritt Breiling, quality control employee at Elos Medtech Pinol. “What is this thing doing here? And how will it do it? But as it started moving around the factory from A to Z, it enabled a much better and faster flow in our material delivery. Before, we tended to collect things in big piles, but now we get a steady stream of deliveries.”

MiR100 runs continuously in a fixed route within the company. On an annual basis, the robot logs more than 1,000 miles. Those operation hours amount to half a full-time employee position.

“Staff members who normally had to transport goods for further processing in other departments can now place them on MiR100 when it passes on its route. This means they can avoid downtime and interruptions and continue processing the goods in their own department,” says Per Hansen, a developer at Elos.

A wave of automation has flown into the industry worldwide in recent years, even in countries with lower labor costs than Denmark. This is a challenge that Elos is now ready for, although automating work processes in a company that produces more than 3,000 different item numbers in batches down to 100 units is not always simple. However, Elos’ results speak for themselves: the order book is growing, earnings have increased, and growth continues. The company has almost halved its average order lead time, requiring only 16 days from production start to delivery compared to 30 days in 2012.

Elos has grown beyond the risk of terminating employees as a result of automation, with staff growth from 116 to 145 in two years. Along with automation to improve productivity, new jobs have been created within the highly specialized manual assembly, in R&D, and in administration.

“We want to grow without adding more people than what is actually dictated by growth, says head of R&D Henrik Andersen. “Automation is a strategic focus area and our investment budget is increasingly allocated to more automation and not just machinery. Whenever we invest in new equipment, it is now a requirement that it is a more automated solution than the one we already have. The objective is to reduce the amount of repetitive work and to strengthen the quality assurance of our products.”

Mobile Industrial Robots (MiR)

Elos Medtech Pinol