Despite dire headlines about the debt crises in Greece, Ireland and Portugal, investment in manufacturing technology remains strong throughout Europe.

Indeed, according to VDMA Robotics and Automation, the German machine tool builders association, sales of robots and other manufacturing automation in Europe actually grew 37 percent last year, to approximately 10.3 billion euros ($13.5 billion), a record high.

Similarly, the International Federation of Robotics (IFR) announced that sales of robots in Europe rose by 13 percent in 2011. Worldwide, robot sales increased 18 percent last year, and the IFR predicts a continued average annual increase of 6 percent through 2014.

This upward trend in manufacturing investment is also reflected in the figures for Automatica, the biennial international trade fair for automation and mechatronics, which will take place May 22-25 at the New Munich Trade Fair Centre in Germany. The number of exhibition halls was recently increased from four to five, and more people have registered to attend the 2012 show than the 2010 event. In particular, the number of registrants from outside Germany is up 15 percent.

Some 340 companies, including almost every key player in robotics and automation, will be displaying their products and services at Automatica, which boasts more than 590,000 square feet of exhibition space.

Although German and Swiss technology suppliers will certainly be well-represented at Automatica, the show truly is international, says Norbert Bargmann, deputy chief executive officer of Messe München, which organizes the show with the VDMA. In fact, the amount of space booked by non-German exhibitors for this year’s show is currently 40 percent higher than for the 2010 event.

“Many exhibitors, who had to refrain from taking part in Automatica 2010 for economic reasons, are going to take part in this year’s show,” says Bargmann. “In addition, approximately 10 percent of exhibitors are participating in Automatica for the first time.”

A Trade Fair for Automation

Some 30,642 manufacturing engineers and managers from 113 countries attended the Automatica show in 2010.

Held every two years, Automatica brings together suppliers of robotics, mechatronics and automation under one roof. The 2010 show brought together 708 exhibitors from 42 countries across 473,000 square feet of exhibition space.

“Automatica is the perfect answer to the production challenges of our time,” says Thilo Brodtmann, managing director of the VDMA. “Whoever wants to increase his international competitiveness using intelligent automation will there.”

“Automatica...will be the focal point of our trade fair year,” says Wilfried Eberhardt, managing director for sales and marketing at KUKA Robotics GmbH. “Robot manufacturers are not represented so completely at any other trade fair.”

Robot Safety

It’s hard to imagine industry without robots. They lend strength, speed and stamina to many manufacturing applications. However, for safety reasons, robots are typically isolated behind safety barriers.

Visitors to Automatica will get a glimpse of the future—people and robots working hand in hand. Modern technology is providing such a high degree of safety that barriers between robots and human workers may no longer be necessary.

Development of safe robots would enable manufacturers to save precious floor space and open the door to new applications involving people and robots.

“Man-robot cooperation makes it possible to combine the strengths of people and robots and consequently to automate processes that were previously not economically feasible,” says Martin Hägele, head of the robot systems department at the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology and Automation in Stuttgart, Germany. “People have high cognitive skills, are creative and can adapt quickly to complex situations. On the other hand, robots have untiring repetitive accuracy, even when handling heavy loads. With technology for man-robot cooperation, workplaces can be designed ergonomically and overall costs can be reduced through higher degrees of automation.”

The German Center for Air and Space Travel is conducting pioneering research on safe collaboration between people and robots. For example, the center has developed a special assembly robot in conjunction with KUKA. The robot is made from lightweight materials and equipped with a variety of force and torque sensors. The robot is being evaluated in a pilot application, mounting axle gears at a Mercedes-Benz plant.

Technical Conferences

A variety of technical conferences and programs will be held in conjunction with Automatica.

One technical program will focus on service robotics. Leading robot manufacturers and research organizations, such as the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation in Stuttgart, Germany, and the Karlsruhe Institute for Technology in Karlsruhe, Germany, will present the latest developments in service robotics.

Robotik 2012, the seventh German conference on robotics, will also be held in conjunction with Automatica. Speakers from research, science and industry will present papers covering technological challenges and new developments in robotics and automation. For more information, visit

Finally, a free forum will cover topics such as medical device manufacturing, automotive manufacturing and e-mobility. Advance registration is not required.

For more information, visit