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Kuka: all-inclusive for robots

Orange-colored allrounder: Kuka robots are in demand the world over, which is why the company is continually boosting its production rates

Photos: Michael Neuhaus

On-site visit in the paint shop of a truck plant: grippers hold a matte, silver-colored driver’s cab high above the factory floor, while another gripper arm equipped with an appropriate tool seals the seams and metal flanges on the driver’s cab with a thick layer of PVC. The grippers are all finished in orange, the official corporate color of Kuka, the global leader in robots for the automotive industry. The company based in the German city of Augsburg has also become a trailblazer in intelligent automation solutions in medical technology and the healthcare industry, for example.


For many people, the terms Kuka and robots are synonymous. At its corporate headquarters in Bavaria, the company has almost tripled its annual production within just a few years: from around 6,000 robots in the year 2008 to 17,000 in 2015. Furthermore, the manufacturer has now become well-positioned on an international level; in 2013, for example, it opened a new plant in China.

Photo: DB Schenker
Photo: DB Schenker

“When the robot arrives, it is connected to the control panel and then the completed robot is dispatched to the customer. Our cooperation works extremely well”

Andreas Ostermann von Roth, Executive Vice President Operations, Kuka Roboter GmbH 

The robotics corporation has relied on the logistics services provided by DB Schenker for the past ten years. The company delivers up to 80 finished robots a day to customers on behalf of Kuka, a pioneer in what is known as “Industry 4.0” (see info box, “Kuka in a nutshell” below), meaning manufacturing with the help of intelligent, digitally networked systems.


What is more, DB Schenker also handles numerous tasks that precede the manufacturing process, a kind of all-inclusive service for robots. This includes procurement logistics for the Augsburg plant: production material is picked up from the suppliers by truck; a shuttle service then transports the robots, their accompanying control panels as well as peripheral equipment to the distribution warehouse in DB Schenker’s Shared Logistics Center based in Augsburg’s Freight Terminal.


Once there, DB Schenker employees also take on assembly tasks. “When the robot arrives, it is connected to the control panel and then the completed robot is dispatched to the customer,” says Andreas Ostermann von Roth, Executive Vice President Operations at Kuka Roboter GmbH, adding: “Our cooperation works extremely well.” Other services provided by DB Schenker include separating and synchronizing the gearbox and operating a non-bonded customs warehouse.

 Want to see industrial robots being put to other good uses? View the amusing video clip that was produced on behalf of the German daily newspaper “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung”

The transport services provided by DB Schenker consist of groupage consignments as well as part and full loads that are dispatched from the distribution warehouse to Kuka locations throughout Europe. Aside from land transport specialists, these shipments are also handled by air and ocean freight experts. Spare parts logistics falls within the remit of DB Schenker’s airfreight team.


The Shared Logistics Center in Augsburg serves as a hub for DB Schenker’s services. Officially opened in 2011, the facility has since been expanded. In 2016, the area devoted to contract logistics was extended and the facility went live again with a total of 38,000 square meters of logistics space. “In doing so, we created the capacities necessary for Kuka and a host of other companies to grow their business,” says Martin Thum, head of DB Schenker’s Augsburg logistics branch.


As business grows, so do the demands and requirements Kuka places on logistics. “We have undertaken quite a few restructuring measures,” says Andreas Ostermann von Roth. “The production line here in Augsburg, for example, is where all robot types are manufactured. As that leaves us very little space, we depend on the reliable supply of even the smallest number of units.” The delivery of production materials needs to be extremely fast and sequenced correctly.


DB Schenker is also responsible for transporting production materials from Augsburg to the company’s plants in China. Summarizing the challenge, Andreas Ostermann von Roth says: “Handling all of the logistics demands an extremely accomplished partner capable of continuous improvement in terms of cost, flexibility and reliability so that we can concentrate on our core business.”



Increased capacities: the logistics center in Augsburg, which reopened in 2016 after extending its logistics space, provides Kuka with excellent conditions – after all, the manufacturer’s logistics needs are growing steadily. Seen in the portrait picture is Martin Thum, head of DB Schenker’s logistics branch in Augsburg

Photos: Michael Neuhaus

Kuka in a nutshell

Kuka is a specialist company in the field of robotics and automation solutions and a leading manufacturer of industrial robots, covering all payload categories. Although there is a particularly high demand for robots in the automotive industry, they are also employed in other sectors like the aerospace and metalworking industry and in medical technology. The name “Kuka” is an acronym of “Keller und Knappich Augsburg” and refers to the surnames of the two founders who established the company’s forerunner in 1898. Kuka laid the foundation for what is now known as “Industry 4.0” more than 40 years ago by developing “Famulus,” the world’s first industrial robot. In 1996, the company launched the first PC-based controller for an industrial robot. By the end of 2016, Kuka employed a workforce of more than 13,000 on all continents. Annual sales in 2016 amounted to just under three billion euros (almost 3.2 billion dollars).

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