SCIENCE fiction writers have dreamed of an age when man and robot will work side by side to make the world a better place.
One Yorkshire company - Olympus Technologies - is doing its bit to turn that dream into reality.
The Huddersfield-based firm is a leader in the field of robotic integration and is using its expertise to help other enterprises operate more efficiently.
The company has enjoyed significant growth after undergoing a management buyout (MBO) led by Adam Swallow, Gavin Jamieson and Peter Smith in 2015.
Its success has been driven by the development of collaborative robots - or cobots - which could soon become man’s best friend.
Mr Swallow said: “We have grown from eight to 14 members of staff in four years, and our plans are to grow further.
“Our expansion has been focused on recruiting software development skills in addition to our engineering skills.
“We launched a robot welding system using the new cobots last year and this is selling really well,’’ Mr Swallow said. “Welding manufacturers are approaching us to get their kit on our system, so it is very promising.
“Next month, we will launch a cobot palletising system, enabling full end of line automation for manufacturers.”
To achieve this, the firm joined forces with Bosch Rexroth to create an interface between the robot and a linear slide.
“They are now advertising this as a new solution which would come to us for implementation,’’ said Mr Swallow.
“Octopuz, a Canadian company who create off-line robot programming software, have selected us to be their first UK partner.
“Our strategy is to continue developing off the shelf solutions in response to market demands, while representing complimentary products within the UK and Europe.”
The company, which was founded in 1987, has always been the UK & Ireland partner for Dinse Gmbh, a German welding products company.
Mr Swallow added: “In 1990, the company moved into robotics in order to be able to support customers by automating their repetitive welding processes.
“From there, we used our new robotic skills to automate a number of different processes – handling, injection moulding, plasma cutting and laser cutting, alongside our niche skill of industrial robotic welding.
“This continued for 20 years. In 2012 collaborative robots were introduced to the UK, and offered a different price point for SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) to get into robotic automation.
“Collaborative robots do not require the traditional guarding of industrial robots, and under the right conditions, can work alongside humans.
Mr Swallow added: “Olympus became one of first companies to take on the collaborative market, and customers asked us to automate new types of processes – gluing, drilling, painting, assembly, machine tending, pick and place, and quality inspection.
“This is across a huge range of manufacturing sectors, including food and drink, electronics, pharma and automotive.”
When customers approach Olympus, the company identifies the most appropriate equipment to pair with the robot.
This could, for example, be the end of arm tool to deliver the process, bespoke grippers or force torque sensors.
“We then deliver the turnkey project, leaving the customer trained and ready to move straight into production,’’ said Mr Swallow.
Anybody who questions whether technology can be a force for good ought to watch robots working in harmony with humans in Huddersfield.