Robotics Challenge
The race is on to automate
Five startups are stepping up to the plate to develop a new lightweight robot for Siemens. The biggest challenge? To do the job better than a human can.

The Siemens factory in Erlangen. In the future, the work of mounting components on a motherboard – which is still done by hand today – will be handled by a robot.

next47 is building a bridge between Siemens and the startup world. The Robotics Challenge shows how both can benefit. The search is on for an automation solution for circuit board assembly that will be used in Siemens factories around the world. Instead of a development time lasting years and big budgets, the development companies have only a few months to come up with the solution – and they have to prove themselves against four other competitors. But the biggest challenge is to do the job better than a human can.

next47 gives us an opportunity not only to work with established companies but also with startups,” says Berthold Brandl of the Siemens electronics factory in Erlangen. The Siemens plant has joined forces with the next47 team to launch a competition among five startups for the development of a new automation solution. What’s special about this effort is that it will lead to an automation solution that will actually be used in the Siemens Erlangen plant and in its sister factories around the world. So the startups from the United States, China, France and Germany are competing to win Siemens as a customer.

At the heart of SINAMICS

“The idea is to solve an important problem in an electronic plant,” Berthold Brandl says. The Erlangen facility manufactures SINAMICS control units, among other things. At the heart of the SINAMICS device is the motherboard, which is fitted with electronic components such as capacitors. That work is currently being done by hand because the components are all of different sizes and types. Objects that are easy for a human hand to grasp present a challenge to a robot.


Video: Berthold Brandl explains the task

A true challenge

“We were interested in participating in the next47 startup challenge because we would be working on a real-life application,” says Andreas Köpf of Xamla. The new company, based in Münster, Germany, is participating in the competition and has already benefited from it. “We usually do not have the opportunity to get an inside look at the factories of large enterprises such as Siemens,” Köpf remarks. The competition was launched in the fall of 2016, and the winner will be selected as early as December 21. This gives the competitors only a few weeks to solve a complex problem. “It wasn’t easy to find the right calibration for the many components in such a short period of time,” Köpf confirms.


Video: On-site visit to Xamla

Even before the grand finale, which will take place on December 21 in Erlangen, next47 will bring the Challenge participants onto a big stage. At the next47 launch event on Monday, December 12, at 4:00 pm, the contestants will introduce themselves and report on their experiences. You can follow the event live on Periscope and Twitter.

Author Andreas Binner


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