ICME West Midlands, Birmingham and Coventry Branch. Technical Meeting  held on Monday 4th February 2019.


Presenter: Henk Leerink – Area Sales Manager – KUKA Robotics UK Ltd.

Branch President Darren Pritchard Prof MICME, welcomed members and guests and introduced Henk Leerink of KUKA Robotics, and his subject “How robots can enlighten smart production”.

Henk opened with an introduction to KUKA Robotics which he joined in 2014. KUKA is a company that began in Germany in 1898 producing acetylene lighting, developing later into gas welding which quickly became its core business. By the mid 1950’s it had developed the first automatic welding process and followed this in 1971 with Europe’s first robotic welding transfer line for Daimler-Benz. In 1973 it built the world’s first 6 axis industrial robot. Robotics development continued until in 2004 robot technology became the core business.

In 2007 it moved its headquarters to Augsberg, Germany where it remains to this day. The headquarters hosts the manufacturing and development facility but is supported by approximately 100 subsidiary companies’ worldwide including the local facilities in Wednesbury, Halesowen and Redditch.

The turnover of the company is around €3.6Bn of which approximately half is for the automotive sector, and the balance includes aerospace, electronics, healthcare, metals industries, consumer goods and many more.

KUKA is one of the big four global robot suppliers and last year the company produced around 35,000 units. KUKA Robotics is the largest robot supplier in Europe and has manufacturing facilities in Germany and China. The Asia Pacific region has the largest robot population and represents the best opportunities for continued growth, in particular in the consumer electronics sector. The range of robots offered varies from the smallest with a load capacity of 3kg and a reach of 0.5 metre, to the largest with a 1000kg load capacity and a reach of 3.2 metre.

Covering such a wide variety of sectors, it would not be practical for KUKA Robotics to have application expertise in every one and therefore it has built a network of partner companies with industry specific know-how. This strategy ensures, that the end user receives a smooth integration of the robotic solution.

With large complex installations KUKA has competence centres in key positions around the globe. These centres will consult with prospective customers to analyse the project, carry out engineering studies, propose solutions and validate the process.

Henk spoke of the special requirements for robots in a foundry environment. Dust, heat and moisture have are common problems to be overcome. To prevent dust ingress the robots are pressurised internally to 1bar. Special coatings and grippers are supplied where heat is an issue such as pouring stations or removal of casting from dies or knockout units. Tackling moisture is dependent upon application as a robot may have steam from a knockout system to tackle or, at the extreme, be in a water jet cleaning environment. KUKA has experience in these areas and therefore the technology to deal with it effectively.

Before demonstrating the versatility and effectiveness of robotic installations with a series of videos, Henk listed a few of the many benefits a robot can bring to an organisation:-

  • Increased productivity
  • Consistency – once the process is proved it is repeatable
  • The operation does not have to stop for breaks
  • Health and safety benefits for employees
  • Increased competitiveness
  • Increased profitability

Steve Smith FICME, gave a vote of thanks for a well presented and well-received lecture.

Following the presentation the Branch President presented a £1500 cheque to Steve Bull, former Wolves and England footballer, for his charity, the Steve Bull Foundation. The charity provides support to organisations primarily in the Black Country and the West Midlands which specialise in assisting young people, the disabled, the homeless, the sick and the disadvantaged.

Members and guests then enjoyed and excellent buffet sponsored by KUKA Robotics UK Ltd.