Lithuanian Robotics DIH

Photo Credits: Lithuanian Robotics DIH

For the DIH of November, meet the Lithuanian Robotics DIH! Established in 2016, the hub focuses on robotics for the industrial (mainly manufacturing) sector. The DIH is fully operational and is coordinated by the Lithuanian Robotics Association, and also includes two competence centres – Centre for Physical Sciences and Technology (FTMC) in Vilnius and Panevėžys Mechatronics Centre (PMC) in Panevėžys – as well as the 6 company members of the LRA, namely Elinta RoboticsFactoboticsRubedo SistemosUAB RobotexFANUC Nordic and newest AI algorithm company Neurotechnology. Internationally, the Lithuanian Robotics DIH cooperates with DTI in Denmark and is part of 2 H2020 projects – DIH2and L4MS.

The main objective of the hub is to provide a one-stop-shop to everything robotics in Lithuania. Read below the interview with Daumantas Simėnas, who is leading the Lithuanian Robotics DIH. See what he has to say about the hub’s path and success stories!

How did the story of your Digital Innovation Hub (DIH) get started?

The idea of the Lithuanian Robotics Hub was born in 2016, shortly after its coordinator – the Lithuanian Robotics Association (LRA) – was also established. LRA had the vision to represent all robotics stakeholders in Lithuania and connect them to industry. With this vision in mind, the Lithuanian Robotics DIH was launched as an opportunity to offer a one-stop-shop for everything robotics-related in Lithuania. The DIH was seen as a tool to engage with different stakeholders – from industry, to educational institutions and local policy. Since then, the Lithuanian Robotics DIH has been quite successful in organizing demonstration events on robotics with high industrial participation, attracting like-minded companies aiming to grow the robotics ecosystem in Lithuania and creating additional value to industry.

In the beginning, the team spoke with different sectors to understand the main obstacles faced by these industries. The results showed that many companies do not know much about robotics and a lot of miscommunication and unsuccessful stories prevented companies from engaging with robotics. The DIH, therefore, needed to apply a holistic approach to increase robotics awareness and answer to the needs of various industrial partners. The DIH provides a 360⁰ degree support – connecting robotics developers and integrator, scientific institutes, research, consulting, infrastructure, sales, and even legal experts in the field – to provide the right expertise to the particular company.

Could you describe your DIH ecosystem and its development policy?

Currently, the DIH ecosystem is expanding, with more companies connecting to the hub and with the further growing partnerships and competences within and outside Lithuania. More robotics companies are emerging and connecting to the DIH and the LRA, and we also see expansion of topics – with AI, lasers, robotic gripper manufacturers and companies from other fields joining us. The industry is also getting more and more familiar with the opportunities that robotics can offer and more companies are starting to express interest in robotics solutions. The COVID-19 situation has also contributed to this popularity and this is an opportunity to further grow the robotics sector.

The DIH and LRA are however focused on providing value to the ecosystem, as well as offering quality services with the available resources. The focus is therefore not on expansion but rather on a controlled growth, offering quality services.

What specific services does your DIH offer?

The Lithuanian Robotics DIH decided to focus on industrial and manufacturing sector in particular, providing 4 main clusters of services:

  1. Technology audit and roadmap services: in many cases, the connection with the clients starts with a comprehensive innovation and technology audit, evaluating how the company’s technology and data flow processes are organized, what bottlenecks are interrupting the flow. This analysis results in technology and process recommendations accompanied by technical specifications as well as business support (e.g. returns on investment estimations). Companies can then use these audits to find funding for possible investments. The DIH also then follows up with the client and offers an automation road mapping services – focusing on solutions to invest in, and outlining what would be the impact and when to expect it. The innovation audits are offered for free as part of a national project. The more in-depth technology audits are offered on commission as these involve particular experts. So far, we have performed more than 30 audits. This service also acts as a sales tool for the DIH, as we find out what companies are looking for and can accordingly follow up with other services.
  2. Brokerage services: based on the audit results, we also help with matching the needs of the companies with available expertise and connect companies with the relevant robotics developers, integrators, RTO or other experts in the ecosystem. We try to follow a market pull approach, where we respond to the needs of the stakeholders in each project and follow up on how the partnership is further developing.
  3. Access to funding: to provide a full one-stop-shop experience, the Lithuanian Robotics DIH also partners with experts who can help companies find relevant funding for their identified projects – either via European programmes, national funding opportunities or private financing.
  4. National policy making: as robotics sector is largely underrepresented in the world (with few exceptions), the LRA and the DIH help the Government, namely the Ministry of Economy and Innovation, Ministry of Science and education and other institutions to address national policy challenges. We try to define and promote why robotics and AI are important technologies for Lithuania’s economy and its competitiveness. So far, we have been successful in integrating this vision and influencing strategic national policies. For instance, we co-prepared the Lithuanian Industry Digitization Roadmap 2021-2030 which defines the main areas of industry digitization.
Can you please provide a practical example of a case you supported?

In the last 4 years, the Hub has supported quite a few companies. For example, over 30 audits have been performed so far, connecting companies from different manufacturing industries to the robotics world. Two interesting examples come from two very different fields – the metal processing sector and the textile area.

In the metal sector, the DIH facilitated the development of a Flexible Welding CellThe DIH performed a technology audit for the Lithuanian metal processing company LT Technologies. As part of their metal welding process, where the company deals with over 200 different products, LT Technologies still used a lot of human involvement requiring high-labour input for welding. Based on this challenge, the DIH, largely with the help from their member robotic company Factobotics, found a Danish partner FlexHex to help develop a flexible, robotics based welding solution. The DIH acted as a broker, consultant and later on supported them in the application for funding via the H2020 DIH2project, where a prototype could be developed. The application was successful and, as an outcome of the the DIH2 Open Call, a flexible hexapod-based welding cell, together with the robot arm and software to program the holding tool were developed, allowing for quicker and more flexible system which automatically adjusts the parts to be welded. For more information, read about the solution on DIH here.

For the textile manufacturer Devold in Lithuania, the Lithuanian Robotics DIH also facilitated brokerage between Devold, Factobotics and Panevėžys Mechatronics Centre to develop an automated solution to deliver the needed supplies to the 60-70 human operators on the production floor. The partners looked at different solutions – facilitated by the hub – and in the end developed a unique overhead robotics solution to deliver the needed goods at the appropriate time. The solution will be implemented in the factory this autumn or early 2021 and presents a new product for the industry. Read more about their success story on the website of an L4MS network here.

What is your vision of DIHs development in Europe?

The future of the DIHs is very bright! DIHs will become a key part of the digital transformation in Europe. We see this also with the general direction of the Commission and the upcoming Digital Europe Programme and Horizon Europe. DIHs are a way to transform all sectors in our daily life – from health to manufacturing and culture – and act as a catalyst. And the upcoming EDIH program – for which the Lithuanian Robotics DIH has been pre-selected in Lithuania – is an opportunity to further grow the hub, its network and links in Europe.

For the future, what is needed is to put further trust in non-profit organizations like DIHs and further increase the resources to the already existing activities – e.g. by providing funding or tools on national levels to support experiments. Further, we need to focus on what each Member State wants and can do and invest accordingly, focusing the resources to achieve scale.

What could be the added value of Pan-European collaboration?

We are already participating in EU projects where we explore pan-EU collaboration. Of course, this participation offers access to funds. But the bigger incentive for the Hub is to become part of the network – where we can learn from other DIHs and also conduct activities together. This institutional experience adds value to the hub itself.

Secondly, the pan-EU networks in which Lithuanian Robotics DIH participates – DIH2and L4MS – have a strong industry focus – a key objective of the hub! This collaboration in pan-EU networks allows us all to jointly promote and demystify robotics. It also gives us a chance to work on solutions for SMEs and smaller batches, making robotics more accessible.

Thirdly, pan-EU collaboration provides visibility – both for the hub and Lithuanian companies. It is a way to be recognised for our competences across Europe, grow, and also find new partners and lessons from abroad. In the end, by working together, we can increase the demand for robotics and digital technologies, benefiting all parties.

Did you receive any EU funds and, if so, how did you employ them?

We have been part of some big EU projects. For instance, we are currently proudly participating in the DIH2and L4MS projects that further accelerate cooperation, exchange of ideas and development of unique solutions. The Hub also participated in the Reconcell project, where a feasibility study, ecosystem analysis
and business plan for the DIH were developed.

Besides, we are part of a national project to provide services for the industry with state-supported activities. This national project covers the costs for 2 FTEs who offer the innovation audit services (currently for free to industry).

Did COVID affect you? In which way?

The demand for robotics solutions has increased since the COVID-19 pandemic. Since its beginning, there have been requests for information, analysis of operations and brokerage coming towards both the DIH and LRA. For example, industry stakeholders were looking for ways to automate their processes with the help of robotics companies. The DIH also started looking at what will happen next. With a key goal to find success cases and give them visibility, the team looked for companies impacted by COVID-19 but continuing their operations thanks to robotics solutions. And we managed to find some good examples such as Elinta Robotics – one of the largest robotics companies in Lithuania, our proud founding member – who helped the IoT technology manufacturers at Teltonika automate their assembly line for a small electronic product. This helped Teltonika to keep their production levels during the COVID-19 pandemic and even increase the company’s business. That is only one example, but it already shows that automation solutions provided by robotics companies are needed for industries to increase their agility, flexibility and efficiency of operations. This is the future!

For more information, visit the Lithuanian Robotics DIH link here: https://www.ltrobotics.eu/digital-innovation-hub/

Interview by Kristina Karanikolova, DIHNET