Robotation Academy preaches the robot gospel at CeBIT

At the location of Germany's largest trade fair, 4,000 people a year learn robotic manufacturing from VW trainers who hope suppliers will improve quality.

The Robotation Academy at Hannover Messe -- site of the mammoth CeBIT trade show -- is designed to instruct potential customers in the ways of robotics. CeBIT organizer Deutsche Messe runs the center, but Volkswagen instructors staff it in an attempt to improve manufacturing quality at the auto maker's suppliers.
The Robotation Academy at Hannover Messe--site of the mammoth CeBIT trade show in Germany--is designed to instruct potential customers in the ways of robotics. CeBIT organizer Deutsche Messe runs the center, but Volkswagen instructors staff it in an attempt to improve manufacturing quality at the auto maker's suppliers. Stephen Shankland/CNET

HANOVER, Germany--Who knew an industrial robot could be so cheap?

That's one of the messages that Robotation Academy staff hope to lodge in the minds of the people who attend its training programs here at the vast trade-show fairgrounds. Deutsche Messe, which operates the gargantuan CeBIT show just now getting under way this year, also runs the academy year-round as part of a project to encourage adoption of robotics in manufacturing.

Deutsche Messe likes to drum up business for industries that might buy a booth at its trade shows, but the organization found that a "huge percentage" of manufacturing companies weren't interested in robots despite advertising and other attempts to reach them, Thomas Rilke, managing director of the academy, said during a tour of the facility yesterday. One problem is price tag, but industrial robots can cost as little as $10,000 or $20,000, he said. However, many are more expensive, and that price doesn't include the considerable costs of integrating them with a particular manufacturing process.

Now 4,000 people a year come through the academy for training from Volkswagen personnel, Rilke said. VW, headquartered about an hour's drive away in Wolfsburg, is the largest user of robotic manufacturing in Germany, he said.

Why would a large automaker want to give up a competitive advantage by training others in robotics? Because many of smaller companies are suppliers to Volkswagen, Rilke said.

"The carmakers only buy parts from the companies if you can deliver 100 percent quality," Rilke said, and automated manufacturing improves quality.

The Robotation Academy has more than a million dollars' worth of robots on hand for training purposes, he said.

 

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