Exclusive: Comau has eyes on massive Asian market

September 16, 2016

Exclusive interview with Maurizio Cremonini, head of marketing at Comau

September 09, 2016 Abdul Montaqim
[original article]

As many readers of Robotics and Automation News will know, Comau (Consorzio Macchine Utensili) is the Italian manufacturer of industrial robotic arms utilized by all the leading automakers in the world.

One of those automakers is the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Group, which happens to own Comau, as well as the famous Ferrari brand of supercars.

So, in a way, Comau could claim to be the Ferrari of industrial robot makers. If I were the company’s marketing boss, I would certainly make more of the Ferrari connection. Having said that, Comau robots do echo the beauty of Ferrari cars, both in their color and their shapes, using a similar red to the classic body paint on a Ferrari such as the one pictured above, and lately using a silver/grey/brushed steel and black combination with curves perhaps borrowed from Ferrari cars.

Maurizio Cremonini is head of marketing at Comau, and he has made time to give Robotics and Automation News this exclusive, extensive and deep insight into Comau.

Robotics and Automation News: What, in your opinion, were one or two of the important milestones in your company’s history? Perhaps a technical achievement, or an important contract, or something else.

Maurizio Cremonini: Our history is full of important milestones that have marked the development of the company worldwide. Having to choose only some of those, it is important to mention the acquisition of the Pico company in 1999, which gave us the opportunity to establish ourselves within the NAFTA market.

In a global perspective, another crucial step is represented with the 2000 settlement of Comau in China and the subsequent expansion, which is taking place still today. A strong presence in China has allowed us to open up the road to the whole APAC region.

The different moments that have marked more than forty years of Comau history are fundamental for us. However, for an innovation-oriented company like Comau, the future is represented by the continued development of new products, solutions, and technologies.

R&AN: Italian companies are famous for their design style. Can you give us an insight into how Comau’s design process works?

MC: We develop new products through a “platform organization”. For this reason, the product manager – who is interested in the market and competitive analysis, engineers – who deal with the design, manufacturing and purchasing work together.

In this team, from the beginning, the designer has the ability to express their own style concepts that are technically and functionally applicable to an industrial product.

With regard to software, product development is followed by a PLM (product lifecycle management) software that tracks the entire process.

At the EMO Milano fair held in October 2015, we presented our robots with the new colors. We’ve gone from red to silver/black. This is an aesthetic choice because with the new look our robots seem more beautiful, but there are two important reasons that led us to make this decision.

The first is that the silver/black color scheme better reflects the high technological content of our robots. The second is that the new color best expresses our vision of the future of robotics, which we are already living. Red implies a danger and people understand to stay away from the robot.

During the Automatica exhibition held in June 2016, Comau presented its collaborative robots, which are able to work together safely with people in the industrial environment.

R&AN: How many robots does Comau have installed around the world?

MC: We have produced and installed around 30,000 robots all over the world so far.

R&AN: Are collaborative robots just hype or is it an important trend?

MC: Collaborative robots represent for us a potential and interesting market trend. We think this trend will have a huge development, as part of the cooperation “man-machine” paradigm.

Our range of industrial robots is very wide. We are mainly focused on the anthropomorphic robot with 6 axes, but we are also focusing on SCARA, which we presented at the Automatica fair.

R&AN: Can you explain a little bit about how your robots are integrated into a factory? Are you utilizing open systems or is it all proprietary?

MC: Our hardware and software architecture is very much linked to Comau. However, today this architecture is built in and integrated with the most important controls suppliers.

In the logic of the Internet of Things we are in fact developing more open architectures to give to all those who want to develop their solutions with seamless integration of our robots.

R&AN: There’s a lot of talk about how factories and machinery is being connected through the IoT. What is Comau planning for this development?

MC: Within Comau, some time ago, we created a team that is developing our idea of the Internet of Things. In addition to our in-house team, on these topics we are working with leading companies in the field of cloud computing, telecommunications, and big data analysis.

Over the last few years, Comau has been working strongly on innovation and has developed an innovation plan to change the concept of automation itself, transforming it into open automation.

This means making automation easier and more accessible. It also means less time needed for training operators, and most of all, it means an improved return on investment in any sector in which manufacturing plays a significant role.

We have challenged ourselves to “keep it simple” and, in doing so, we have essentially defined the principles of open automation. We applied it to our own robots first, and in bringing the user closer to the systems, we have made their use easier and more intuitive.

Effective automation may be complex to create, but it should be intuitive and easy to learn.

The principles of this new era of automation for Comau are: openness, intuitiveness, friendliness, ease of use and full connectivity, based on human-robot collaboration and continuous improvement also in the machine to machine evolution (Internet of things).

R&AN: Comau is part of FCA Group. So your robots are likely used in the manufacture of famous car brands, such as Ferrari, Maserati and so on. Can you talk a bit about that? Give us an insight into any differences between how, perhaps, such high-value cars differ in the way robotics are used in their manufacturing process, maybe only the parts are robot-made or assembled.

MC: Comau robots are applied in all the factories of the FCA Group with both applications on the major lines in the field of Body Assembly and Powertrain Machining & Assembly (in small cells for special processing). With regard to the premium brands, our robots are mainly used in the most accurate applications.

R&AN: Your robots are used by major global car manufacturers. What your global plans are going forward? Where do you see your growth markets?

MC: Our technologies are present at the majority of the main car manufacturers, either with the integration of our robots (in most cases) and also, sometimes, with the integration of robot products from different companies if this is the customer’s request.

Referring to the growth markets, for our part we are balancing robot sales 50:50 between the automotive industry and general industry.The robotics market is growing, globally, every year at about 15 per cent. As part of this continuing development of robotics, the contribution of China is more and more important.

Growth in NAFTA and Germany, as well as throughout the EMEA, though positive, does not have the growth rate of APAC.

Comau’s vision is global, but we are following with particular interest the APAC area and the general industry, without forgetting the automotive and other industries.