Strong robot investors become co-owners of disruptor company for excavators

Two of Denmark’s most successful robot investors are now investing millions in a start-up which has found the key to automating processes in the construction industry. Thomas Visti and Lasse Kieffer have become co-owners of Unicontrol in Odense, which is helping digger drivers to work up to 30 per cent more efficiently.

Normally, a driver has to wait for both a surveyor and a ground worker in order to be sure of digging accurately with a small excavator. Now, a driver can handle the whole process themselves with a flexible machine control system developed by Unicontrol for excavators under 15 tonnes with a swivel arm. Learning to use the new tool, which displays all the necessary information and data on a screen in the cab, takes 20 minutes of training in the cab.

This revolutionary product from Unicontrol addresses an urgent need in the construction industry, where Unicontrol 3D has become an established tool for many digger drivers. Unicontrol made more than EUR 670,000 in its first six months. This steep growth is continuing in 2020 despite the corona crisis.

Clear scaling potential
More than 60,000 new excavators in the under-15-tonne weight class are sold each year in Europe alone, and Unicontrol is the sole supplier of a machine control system for these machines.

It works with all makes of machine and can be cost-effectively added to existing machinery. This makes the global market potential very attractive to investors, too.

Robot investor Thomas Visti has put millions into Unicontrol and taken a seat on its board. He is the key person behind several of Denmark’s largest robot successes, including Mobile Industrial Robots, where he is currently CEO.

“I decided to join the owners of Unicontrol, who have the right mix of technical skills and commercial understanding. They have a deep professionalism and great energy, and their product has produced impressive sales and earnings in record time. Unicontrol is a company with a huge global scaling potential,” says Visti.

Dream team to boost growth
The CEO of Unicontrol, Ehsanullah Ekhlas, refers to his new investors as a dream team to have as sparring partners on the growth journey.

“This will lift Unicontrol to the next level. Thomas Visti and Lasse Kieffer have both been through a global growth journey in the robot industry. With their experience, they can help us grow and avoid mistakes,” says Ekhlas, who founded Unicontrol with Zbigniew Niemczyk and Kasper Hartvig Andersen, both former colleagues at Leica Geosystems. The company now has 13 employees, ranging from quantum physicists to smiths and software developers, and they work very closely with end-users in the construction industry and the dealer network.

Ease of use is the new gold
Unicontrol’s other external investor is Lasse Kieffer, who has just invested millions in Unicontrol and joined the company’s board. He helped develop the world’s first cobot at Universal Robots. He created another success with Purple Robotics before leaving to join OnRobot, which laid yet another Danish golden egg.

“I have been following Unicontrol for about a year, and the founders have done a great job. In the old days, people dug for gold. Then they switched to drilling for black gold (oil). Ease of use and accessibility are the new gold. Unicontrol’s product is user-friendliness itself. Unicontrol’s product makes life easy and uncomplicated for the man behind the grab,” says Lasse Kieffer.

Easy and affordable
On construction sites, there are demanding expectations for speed, precision and documentation. Unicontrol meets this challenge with digitised and automated workflows.

“We use Unicontrol’s system to see how much soil our machines are digging up, and it makes our drivers’ work easier by providing automatic survey data to our quality assurance system. It is an inexpensive and rational product which is not too technical to use,” says Dion Munksgaard, construction manager at CG Jensen.

Besides CG Jensen, Unicontrol’s customers include many other players in the construction industry and in equipment rental, including Per Aarsleff, Gorm Hansen, Harry Andersen & Søn, Chr. Johannsen Entreprenør, Holbæk Lift & Materieludlejning, MM Brolægning & Entreprise and Betonentreprenør Jacob Jensen.

Facts about Unicontrol 3D

  • Sensors are mounted on the bucket, boom and swivel arm of the excavator.
  • Can be fitted to all types and makes of excavator.
  • Training takes 30 minutes on site.
  • The precise GPS-controlled excavation work can be done without any physical drawings, marking out, or survey poles.
  • Costs about half as much as other solutions on the market.
  • Pays for itself in under a year.