EK AUTOMATION, one of the leading manufacturers of Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs), develops intelligent, efficient and cost-optimised solutions for intra-mobility and transport robotics. Based on its 40 years of know-how, EK AUTOMATION configures customised AGVs with system components that have been tried and tested in the industry and which sustainably increase the productivity of its customers. Supported by worldwide sales and service partners, around 250 employees are currently working at the company’s locations in Germany, the Czech Republic, Italy and Great Britain.

Interview with Andreas. J. Boettner, CEO E&K AUTOMATION GMBH.

Easy Engineering: What are the main areas of activity of the company?

AB: EK AUTOMATION develops complex, turnkey AGVs for flexible transport, storage and retrieval, order picking and assembly. The transport robotics solutions are used in almost all industries: Automotive, food and beverage, printing and paper, hospital, aerospace, engineering, plastics, packaging, chemicals, wood, retail, etc.

E.E: What’s the news for 2021 about new products?

A.B: The market launch of the VARIO MOVE will continue to be a focus this year. In addition, we continue to research and develop new areas of application with the integration of 3D cameras and sensors. These enable the use of AGVs for transporting and stacking loads where this was previously not possible. Thanks to the new technology, the loads can be precisely detected in real time, distinguished and positioned. Other exciting topics are the areas of simulation and digital factory planning – keyword “digital twin”.

E.E: What are the ranges of traded products?

A.B: Our product and service portfolio includes the planning, development, manufacturing, integration, turnkey delivery and support of Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) throughout their entire life cycle. Our transport solutions are based on automated series industrial trucks (SMART MOVE), our own AGV standard robots (VARIO MOVE, FAST MOVE, HEAVY MOVE, COMPACT MOVE) as well as customised transport robots (VARIO MOVE) to meet a very wide range of customer requirements. In addition, the training of our customers and partners through our EK ACADEMY is another very important service provided by our company.

E.E: At what stage is the market where you are currently active?

A.B: Due to rapid industrial developments in robotics and automation, the manufacturing sector has seen the increased adoption of robotics engineering and technology into its production process for quite some time. AGVs deliver a wide range of benefits, such as reduced running costs, improved workforce protection, and a decrease in production time. The AGV-enabled automation of industrial facilities also helps to meet requirements related to material handling capability, to reduce the risk of human error, ensure high output volumes, and to improve accuracy and repeatability. We observe a persistently high excess demand due to the still very low market penetration of AGV technology in global terms and a simultaneously limited number of really competent AGV suppliers. We expect the AGV and AMR industry to continue to grow at a very fast pace.

E.E: What can you tell us about market trends?

A.B: We have been noticing an increasing interest in „Robots as a Service” for some time.

We observe increasing standardisation activities of AGV manufacturers.

The automotive industry in particular is increasingly putting pressure on manufacturers to deliver „open technologies” that enable mobile robots from different manufacturers to be operated in a customer system (i.e. VDA 5050 interface). It can also be observed that activities around the topic of “human-robot collaborative applications” are increasing.

We see an unbroken strong growth of G2P applications in the e-commerce sector.

A major challenge that all industry participants are working on at full speed is the significant reduction of system integration efforts (keyword “plug-and-play”).

Away from the technology and areas of application, we see that the willingness and interest of investors to allocate a tremendous amount of money in the area of autonomous mobile robots (AGV/AMR) is continuing.

E.E: What are the most innovative products marketed?

A.B: We really like the Boston Dynamics robots, even if efficient and cost-effective large-scale industrial use still seems a bit distant…

E.E: What estimations do you have for 2021?

A.B: We assume that we will certainly have to live with the current restrictions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic until the end of the year. However, our business activities are only affected to a minor extent. On the contrary, we expect the AGV/AMR industry to continue to grow strongly, and so will our company. In fact, we expect to be able to increase our market share in our core market Europe. In addition, we have significantly increased our research and development budget to further accelerate our technological progress. Finally, we expect to further expand our service network and thus continue to improve our service quality and shorten response times.