Enterprise Europe Network

Guiding Spanish robotic technology towards global markets

A Spanish SME has successfully reoriented its business after recognising the potential for growth in the mobile robotics sector. The Enterprise Europe Network was instrumental in helping the business to find new collaborators and develop a global mindset.

Robotnik, Spanish engineering firm specialised in mobile robotics

A Spanish SME has successfully reoriented its business after recognising the potential for growth in the mobile robotics sector. The Enterprise Europe Network was instrumental in helping the business to find new collaborators and develop a global mindset.

Many of Europe’s most successful high-tech SMEs share a common characteristic: a flexibility to recognise and adapt to industry changes. For Spanish engineering firm Robotnik, changing its core business to focus on a specific area of robotics opened the door to international growth.

"We switched our initial focus from automated industrial processes towards mobile robotics because we recognised the potential for growth in this sector," said Rafael López, Robotnik’s R&D manager and one of the two founding partners. "After this turnaround, we signed important agreements with some major robotics companies and our business is now very much focused on this."

Making the business case

Mobile robotics tend to be developed for bespoke academic and research purposes. Such a high level of specialisation also brings challenges. "In the beginning, without funding or investor capital, cash flow was the biggest challenge," said López. "Since then, our challenge has been to extend our business worldwide and create a huge network of partners."

Robotnik’s cooperation with the Enterprise Europe Network came at the right time. "We were busy thinking about cool mobile robotic applications that were not on the market, but did not always have the resources to undertake certain projects," López added. "The Network helped us to find new collaborators and partners, and linked us with companies and institutions that need the kind of applications we specialise in." The Network also directed the firm towards R&D grants and encouraged the business to look abroad for business opportunities.

"One of my colleagues in the Enterprise Europe Network from the University of Alicante got in contact with Robotnik because they found several potential R&D partners that they thought would suit them," said Paula Rico, from Generalitat Valenciana, the Enterprise Europe Network coordinator in the region. "One of the strengths of the Network is that it gathers the main actors of the regional innovation ecosystem which allows us to offer Robotnik serveral types of support. It is hard for a business like Robotnik to get started in Valencia without support on the ground, so we put them in touch with partners and potential end users and also focused on internationalising the business."

Keep on innovating

The Network’s assistance in EU funding applications has enabled the firm to build up its experience. "We have been involved in around 30 European projects since 2004 and currently have six ongoing Horizon 2020 projects, and four scheduled to start in January 2018," said López. A big breakthrough came in 2015 when the company received EU funding under Horizon 2020's SME Instrument to develop a mobile robot platform that performs autonomous protection of critical infrastructures. The Network also assisted Robotnik in finding a suitable business coach.

Since then, with the Network’s help, the company has developed contacts both across the region and abroad, enabling it to develop an entire system of logistics and robotic indoor transport as well as a mobile robot that performs tasks on nuclear power plant tubes.

Robotnik currently operates worldwide, with local distributors in Japan, Singapore, China, South Korea, USA and Australia. With 32 employees and a growth rate of 40% per year, the focus is on continuing to grow and adapting the organisation’s structure and culture to future challenges. The aim now is to consolidate the firm’s global brand as a reference in mobile platforms and mobile manipulators and to expand further. "The lesson we’ve taken away from this experience is that tech companies like us, that want to keep researching and innovating, should absolutely make use of the Enterprise Europe Network," López said.

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