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Germany

Robots Steal the Show In Munich

Mechanical engineering in Germany has been through hard times lately. But industrial robotics and the automation industry have been in anything but a slump.

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Two robots install a car seat at Automatica


There are beer-pouring robots, ladder-climbing robots, and juggling robots, but these are more attention getting gags than anything else.

The real business of robotics -- and Automatica, an international trade fair in Munich specifically for robotics and automation -- lies in various aspects of industrial manufacturing. Components for assembly line and factory automation, industrial image processing, and press automation are a few of the products on view at the fair that opened for the first time this week.

"Automatica is really the first showplace we've had just for robotics. That means, we are expecting support from people within the industry. Robot makers can get an idea of what is going on with the competition, and clients can get optimum advice, and check out alternative solutions," said Gerald Mies, the head of the German branch of Japanese market leader Fanuc Robotics.

"The Robot Show in Tokyo is the only comparable trade fair in terms of putting robotics so strongly at the center of the product offer," Mies added.

Unlike the industrial machinery business at large, the robotics industry is expecting an increase in turnover this year, of up to 6 percent. Last year the field grew as well -- mostly on investment by the automobile industry. Turnover in 2003 reached €6.5 billion ($7.8 billion), up 7 percent from the previous year. This year, the industry expects sales to reach €6.9 billion.

Good for a gag

Fair organizers and industry insiders hope that Automatica, which runs from June 15-18, will do its part to pump energy into the robotics field in Europe. The 565 exhibitors from 22 countries displaying their wares in Munich are naturally anxious to attract visitors.

"There is something for everyone here. Whether they are from the automobile industry, the food industry, the drinks market, or in metals," said Michael Otto, the head of marketing at Augsburg, Germany based KUKA Robots GmbH, the third-largest robotics firm worldwide.

But most of the robots at Automatica are anything but spectacular to look at: Hollywood figures like the Robo-Cop and Terminator "machine-as-man," robots are nowhere to be found.

"Sometimes we do things as a gag here at the fair, that are the kind of things you see in science fiction films. We'll put a robot in a bar, mixing drinks," Fanuc's Mies said. "But that wouldn't be a realistic usage. A barmaid will always be more attractive than a machine."



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