Robots are no longer fiction. They are far from just toys, but they are also no human-created super humans. What are they then? They are self-driven machines that perform certain tasks, almost always using electronic hardware and programmed instructions. They are usually used for the performance of tasks that are too monotonous and routine, hard or dangerous to man; they enter places where they are faster and more efficient.
Now and in the Future
The time for the initial accumulation of knowledge about how robots are made is already behind our backs. Today, collaborative robots, also called cobots, are not a scenario of the future, but are already here to make our lives easier. Industry 4.0 is, in short, an automation and optimisation of processes. From a small business to international corporative networks – robotization ensures growth and return on investment, as well as save working conditions.
About 30 years ago, Bulgaria ranked sixth in the world in the production and exploitation of industrial robots, which was a great recognition for our scientists and the national industry. However, during the Transition period, the situation took a negative turn, but for several years now, a revival can be felt since the new technological wave is already on the horizon where robots start “taking over” a huge part of human activity.
“We cannot compare ourselves to countries, such as France, Germany, the US, South Korea, Japan. They have traditions in robotics and they have had no interruption in the research and technological process, innovation and inventions. While in Bulgaria, there was a pause, which had its impact during the Transition. Still, now we can see a revival. Humanity is on the verge of making an evolutionary step with the elements of artificial intelligence,” says Academician Chavdar Rumenin, Director of the Institute of Robotics at the Bulgarian Academy of Science.
Fast and Efficient
The industry doesn’t stop developing and the industrial automation is a fact in many companies in Bulgaria. According to PARA, the Tesy plant in Shumen produces two 100-litre boilers each minute. In the Liebherr plant in the village of Ravadinovo, around 4,000 refrigerating appliances are produced every day, the Festo plant in Sofia produces 18,000 sensors, and in the Watts Industries plants in Plovdiv, 120,000 manometers are ready to take on their way to the market each day. The business sector is expanding capacities through investments in automation: Coca-Cola HBC has invested more than BGN 40 million in the most up-to-date bottling line for PET bottles, while in Mondelez Bulgaria operates an automated line that produces up to 6,600 candies per minute and is considered the fastest of its class.
The scene of thousands of workers arriving in the plant to take their place at the production line where, just like well-oiled machines, they will perform the same movements again and again, will remain more and more in the past. Created in a new way, the production lines don’t need so many people any more. Automation is increasing its pace. Are we ready for it in Bulgaria...
Kristiyan Mihaylov, Co-founder of the Professional Association of Robotics and Automation (PARA):
Bulgaria has a good environment for innovative projects
Mr. Mihaylov, what are your thoughts in relation to the news about the first Bulgarian smart plant of Ataro Clima in Plovdiv?
This is very positive news that gives impetus for the positioning of further productions of this type, especially when there is a lack of personnel. At a local level, the production plants around Ataro Clima will have the opportunity to learn more about the processes in the smart plant. With this example, we see how Bulgaria can look in the next five to seven years.
Smart plants with robots and artificial intelligence are the future. But do we have any competitive advantage in Bulgaria that will attract foreign investors with such know-how? Do we have our own resource for plants with almost no humans?
For countries like Bulgaria, big opportunities exist in the development of specialised niches in the sector. At the end of September 2019, the Medical University in Pleven hosted the 11th European Congress of Robotic Surgery, and a special demonstration was made of a 3D robot-assisted live surgery. Since 2018, Pleven has been attracting the attention as an innovator in robotic surgery by using the Da Vinci robotic system and by the training of staff in medical technology. Another niche in the energy industry was developed by the Bulgarian IPS that won the world ees AWARD in Germany for the best system for autonomous power supply and storage. It implemented a project of Saudi Aramco for the electrification of gas wells, with such a technology being applied for the first time in the world.
How can Bulgaria become a factor in creating robots with real application?
By developing the State-Education-Business ecosystem. Even in the most faraway places in Bulgaria, the generation growing up should not be left behind. We urgently need trained personnel. At the Innovation Club in Harmanli, children are already learning how to work with 3D printers, and innovative companies tell them about their development.
Industry 5.0 projections are already underway, are we in danger of having to catch up on the developments?
The adaptation of Industry 4.0 is needed in as many industries as possible. This will allow us to attract more R&D centres of foreign companies to develop here and, thus, we will turn into a technological leader on the Balkans. Their symbiosis with the Bulgarian businesses and the transfer of technology is a key factor in keeping up with technological trends.
What will happen to humans at the advance of robots?
I will quote my colleagues from FANUC, the world leader in the automation of production: Robotisation frees human hands, but it gives food for the human mind.
What will be the role of PARA in the process of rapid industrial evolution?
The association is turning into a consolidator of the ecosystem by following emerging technological trends, organizing hackathons and scientific events. We assist with the constant communication among the different production companies. We want to attract the world’s best to come here, so we show that Bulgaria offers suitable ground for innovative projects.