Quebec, a little anthill of robotics

Véronique Proulx, CEO, Manufacturers and Exporters in Quebec (Photo: MEQ)

PRODUCTION. The countries that come to mind when you think of robot manufacturing are almost always the same: Japan, China, Germany and the United States. However, smaller players join this world that we usually imagine is inhabited by giants. This is the case for Denmark, but also for Quebec.

“In Canada and Quebec in particular, we are very strong in research and advancements in robotics compared to our demographic weight in the world,” said Clément Gosselin, professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and director of the Center for Robotics. , precision and machine intelligence from Université Laval. “We have companies like Mécadémic, Kinova and RobotiQ making robots or robotic systems whose technology can be found almost anywhere in the world,” adds the researcher, who clearly dreams of more recognition of the local genius.

“What you need to understand, and maybe entrepreneurs don’t always realize, is that these are companies that are truly leaders in their field,” he continues. It is not without reason that they sell all over the world and are recognized.

leaders

RobotiQ is one of the leaders identified by Clément Gosselin. The SME designs, develops and produces “hands” for robotic arms in its buildings in the Sint-Niklaas sector, in Lévis. “A robot is a machine that repeats movements and movements in space,” explains Samuel Bouchard, CEO of RobotiQ, which he founded with Jean-Philippe Jobin and Vincent Duchesne, all three from Clément Gosselin’s university lab. “What we are trying to do is solve the labor problem, but with a simple solution so that the workers in the factory can operate the technology,” he says, pointing to a robotic arm made in Denmark equipped with a “hand” with suction cup fingers intended for palletizing cardboard boxes. “What we do are the tools, sensors and then the applications that we add to the operating system.”

According to RobotiQ and other robotic solution developers in Quebec for whom? Offers said, local market penetration has more to do with cultural factors than international competition. For example, what the Lévis company offers costs about $100,000, for a return on investment of “one to two years,” depending on the industry it operates in.

“There is still a lot to learn,” notes Jean-François Dupont, CEO of AV&R, of Saint-Bruno-de-Montarville, which produces robots specializing in the finishing and inspection of parts. “The challenge is to show that it works, that you don’t need a specialist to operate the robot and that these technologies are easy to integrate into production.”

“The great Quebec company, known internationally, invests year after year to automate, robotize and digitize,” emphasizes Véronique Proulx, CEO of Manufacturiers et exportation du Québec (MEQ). “When we ask SMEs why they invest less in integrating new technologies, we notice that they often make ‘tailor-made’ products, but also a wide variety of products, but in small batches,” she says.

This is exactly the case of Ventimétal, of Laval. The SME with 15 employees makes custom ventilation ducts, a challenge when considering robotization of production. “We don’t make a similar product”, explains Jean-Paul Lizotte, founder of the family business that has existed for 44 years. “It complicates robotization because robots like repetitive tasks. But we’ve opened doors and we realized we can find ways to do things that might have to do with robotics.”

These doors are those of the Group of Industrial Automation Companies (REAI). With its ‘blue’ factory concept, the organization wants to convince more manufacturers to automate their production, ideally with robots made here. “We are here to support SMEs working on their first, second or third automation project, including robotics,” explains the CEO, Carl Fugère. We are making a preliminary project book in which we analyze the company’s challenge. We organize ourselves to crystallize the entrepreneur’s idea and to answer all the questions he asks himself upstream of a project.

REAI sees strong growth in demand for robots from Quebec manufacturers. The organization says it has seen sales of robot manufacturers and integrators of the same technologies in companies increase by 25% to 30%.

In numbers…

RobotiQ

Number of employees: 130

Last year of production: 5,000 units sold

Estimated price of the robot: $100,000

Average return on investment: 18 to 24 months

Markets: United States (40%); Europe (40%); Asia, Canada and the rest of the world (20%)

April

Number of employees: 70

Starting price of the robot: $200,000

Expected number of robots sold: 30

Production time: 8 to 12 weeks

Manufacturing sales cycle: 6 to 8 months


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