Denmark’s robot industry: From “crazy” to “global leader”

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Denmark’s robot industry: From “crazy” to “global leader”

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Editorial team
Denmark has one of the highest concentrations of robot companies in the world – some market leaders in their field – that are now looking to bring automation to new industries and applications.

Denmark is a large hub for robot and automation companies. The recently released Robot Market Report for Denmark by HowToRobot found a total of 323 robot and automation suppliers in the country, including robot manufacturers, integrators, sub-component suppliers, distributors, and advisors.

“Denmark's robotics, automation and drone industry has grown significantly in recent years and is indeed large considering the country’s size. Its global stronghold is shaped by its leading role within collaborative robots and mobile robots, as well as food automation, professional service robots and intralogistics,” says Søren Elmer Kristensen, Project Director at Odense Robotics – the national cluster for robotics, automation, and drones.

The industry can be traced back to the now-closed Odense Steel Shipyard that started developing robots to build container ships in collaboration with Odense University already in the 1980’s. From then to now, perceptions of the industry have changed radically, says Niels Jul Jacobsen, who used to work at the shipyard and later founded Mobile Industrial Robots (MiR), acquired by Teradyne for $247M in 2018. His most recent company, Capra Robotics, is now developing an outdoor mobile robot.

“20 years ago, people said that we were crazy to build robots. Today, just being part of the Danish robot industry makes people want to listen. It has built up a lot of credibility, which means a lot for the companies in it,” Niels Jul Jacobsen says.

Robot industry specialized in “ease of use”

What the Danish robotics companies have in common is that they develop solutions for a diverse range of applications, according to Søren Elmer Kristensen.

“Unlike many other automation hotspots in the world, Denmark’s robotics industry has not grown out of one particular segment,” he says.

The industry does, however, have a strong focus on collaborative and mobile robots coming from the early pioneers at Universal Robots and MiR, Søren Elmer Kristensen adds:

“This has led to a plethora of companies creating new technologies that build on collaborative and mobile platforms.”

These technologies have fueled a growing, global trend of companies attempting “do-it-yourself” robot integration, says Casper Hansen, CEO of flexible automation integrator Technicon, who was recently appointed chairman of Odense Robotics.

“More and more businesses have realized that robot integration should be a core competence within their company because it increases reliability of delivery,” Casper Hansen says and adds:

“The enabler for this trend is the growing number of modules, apps and easy-to-deploy robot technology coming out of the Danish robot industry that makes implementation easier.”

Robots take on new industries and applications

Besides the robotics industry itself, the industry with most robot and automation suppliers in Denmark is metal & machinery manufacturing (129 suppliers), followed by food & beverage (112), and logistics (103) according to the market report from HowToRobot. The robot industry is also known for its strong focus on advanced applications, driven by other local industries within wind power, healthcare, life sciences and construction, says Casper Hansen.

For example, pharma & chemistry is ranking 5th as the industry with most robot and automation suppliers in Denmark.

“It is common to see more advanced applications for robots in Denmark like wind turbine repair besides the standard application of for example CNC machine tending. It is an important growth factor for the Danish robot industry to be spearheading the development of cutting-edge technology,” Casper Hansen says.

The most common applications among robot and automation suppliers in Denmark are handling & picking (166 companies), logistics & storage (110), and assembly & dispensing (82) according to HowToRobot’s market report. But a range of niche applications are also finding their way to the list such as cleaning & disinfecting (24) and farming & groundskeeping (23). A small but dawning application is outdoor transport & delivery that is still in the early days but holds immense potential according to Niels Jul Jacobsen.

“The markets for automating inspection and surveillance, intralogistics and urban delivery are huge, but it has previously been too expensive and complicated to develop outdoor mobile robots that are reliable and robust enough to do the job,” Niels Jul Jacobsen says, suggesting that this is no longer the case.

“The cost of sensor technology has plummeted in recent years and with advances in artificial intelligence needed for navigation, I believe now is the right time for outdoor mobile robots to break through,” he adds. 

Export focus: “Born global is a necessity”

The main user of robotics and automation in Denmark is the manufacturing industry, which ranks 12th worldwide in robot adoption with 234 robots per 10,000 workers according to the International Federation of Robotics (IFR). And with just 3,640 manufacturing companies (with 10+ employees) in Denmark, export is crucial and accounts for around half of the Danish robot industry’s revenue according Søren Elmer Kristensen:

“Many robotic companies are born global, and Denmark’s robotics, automation and drone industry is no exception. For many companies, exports account for the large majority of their revenue,” he says.

For Niels Jul Jacobsen there is no doubt: While the local market for implementing robots can sustain integrator businesses, being born global is a necessity as a robot manufacturer, he says.

“Denmark is such a small country that you can’t make a scalable robot manufacturing business just selling robots here. The advantage is that it forces you to think global from the beginning,” Niels Jul Jacobsen says.

A benefit of having a large robotic cluster in a small country, he adds, is that it provides a lot of career safety and therefore makes it easy to attract and keep talent. Plus, knowledge sharing between companies comes easy.

The main limitation in his view is the lack of capital – not for starting up but for scaling robot businesses beyond the local market, typically starting from series A investments of $15M or more.

“There is a need for more investors from Denmark willing to invest in robot companies past the seed stage. Otherwise, the companies will end up moving abroad,” Niels Jul Jacobsen concludes.



For more insights on the Danish robot and automation market, read the 2023 Robot Market Report.