How will China deal with automation

Mission 2030 and China: Why Kuka is optimistic despite the Corona dent

The coronavirus pandemic hit Kuka hard. Even slight signs of recovery in the third quarter could not offset the downturns in the first half of the year and the fourth quarter. Even Kuka's robotics and logistics showcase projects in the fight against the corona virus in hospitals, laboratories or in the production of protective equipment will not change anything. However, Kuka is giving hope to growth in China, in logistics and healthcare as well as its new, simple robot operating system (code name: Mission 2030, officially "iiQKA.OS").

In 2020, incoming orders at Kuka fell by 12.5% ​​year-on-year to € 2,792 million. Sales fell by 19.4% to € 2,573 million. After all, Kuka is "slightly better" with a sales decrease of 19% than the robotics market as a whole, which has declined by 23%, emphasizes Kuka CEO Peter Mohnen.

Special effects from savings measures together with the Corona-related decline in orders and sales led to a negative EBIT of € –113.2 million in 2020 (2019: € ​​47.8 million). Only the two Kuka segments Swisslog and Swisslog Healthcare (for intralogistics and automation in hospitals and pharmacies) were the only two Kuka divisions with slightly positive EBIT in 2020.

However, Kuka's core segments Robotics and above all Kuka Systems, whose sales fell by 22.4% and even 27.4%, were hit hard. "The automotive industry in particular is currently making massive savings because it is in a crisis regardless of Corona," says Peter Mohnen.

“Corona has influenced us globally in all areas, from manufacturing to customer service and supply chains to everyday work. Thanks to strict measures, we are still net debt-free and with a stable financial position from this financial year, ”emphasizes Kuka CEO Peter Mohnen.

Investments despite saving

"Tighter structures are necessary in order to be prepared for a market that was difficult before the pandemic and that will only recover slowly," said Mohnen. In order to stabilize the group in the long term, Kuka implemented extensive savings and efficiency measures. For example, Kuka is cutting over 200 jobs in the robotics sector in Augsburg. After all: there will probably be fewer than the 270 positions announced in autumn 2020, according to Peter Mohnen.

At the same time, Kuka invested in research and development and thus in the future viability of the group. R&D expenses rose to € 178 million in 2020 (2019: € ​​160.5 million). "The lion's share of this went to R&D in Augsburg," emphasizes Peter Mohnen, "because in Augsburg we develop controls, software and mechatronics."

Growth in China

After all, the Kuka Group's book-to-bill ratio rose to 1.08 (2019: 1.00), which indicates good capacity utilization in the medium term. The growth in the China business segment is particularly strong, with a book-to-bill ratio of 1.23 (2019: 1.00). Incoming orders in this segment also rose by 7.4% compared to the previous year and amounted to € 490.4 million.

“During the 2020 economic crisis, China was the only market that saw growth. Here we were not only able to win orders and enter into partnerships in traditional areas such as automotive, but also in newer areas such as health care and the 3C industry, ”says Peter Mohnen happily. “We expect growth in China this year and have driven specific developments such as the KR Scara and new types of small robots. Success in this important future market will advance Kuka globally. "

Kuka also expects higher sales and positive EBIT again worldwide for 2021. "Automation will be a winner in this crisis in the medium term," said Peter Mohnen. Kuka sees itself prepared for this.

Boom in e-commerce

Kuka expects further growth, for example, in booming e-commerce. With Swisslog automated warehouse solutions and robot solutions such as Item Piq, they are well positioned here. This is also shown by large projects such as the new DM drugstore market distribution center in Wustermark west of Berlin, for which Kuka-Swisslog has supplied a fully automated large system including robot picking of mixed pallets.

New scaras and deltas

With the new Scara robots developed in China and the first Kuka Delta robot, which is due to come onto the market in April, Peter Mohnen also sees himself well equipped to be a "full range provider" not only in the automotive industry score. "We can supply robots for the assembly of smartphones through to the handling of heavy SUV bodies."

Mission 2030: robotics for everyone

The topics of software and digitization are also important. And here, with Mission 2030, Kuka has taken on an ambitious project that should make robotics and automation much easier. “In the coming years, more and more people will be working with robots in ever new areas. Robots are becoming mainstream like working on laptops. People therefore have to be able to use these technologies quickly and intuitively, ”says Peter Mohnen.

Kuka creates the prerequisites for this and is developing an easy-to-use robot operating system that will also be part of an entire ecosystem and offer access to programs, apps, services or accessories. With this, Kuka is building an ecosystem similar to that of the cobot rival Universal Robots with UR +. “We want the new robot operating system to run on all of our robots, not on the cobots. That makes us unique, ”says Peter Mohnen. With the new robot operating system, the robot set-up will no longer take a day, “but only as long as a soccer game,” promises Peter Mohnen.

So that the new robot operating system is not just a niche technology like the Java-based Cobot operating system Sunrise OS, which was presented in 2013, Kuka has created an agile start-up organization internally that works closely with customers and together with customers who are inexperienced in robots General Industry is driving the new robot system. Kuka presented further details and a first preview of the “operating system of the future” on April 12, 2021 at the virtual Hanover Fair (see also “Kuka shows new operating system iiQKA.OS”). There Kuka also revealed a secret. The new robot operating system is not the “Windows of robotics” and is not based on the open source robot system ROS, but is based on a Linux kernel.

Kuka CEO Peter Mohnen is therefore optimistic that he will reach the level of 219 within 2 years at the latest: “Kuka is back on track. Robotics and automation will be the winners after the general crisis. And then Kuka is ready with the right technologies. "

Kuka AG
Zugspitzstrasse 140
86165 Augsburg

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