The history of KUKA

The corporate history of KUKA begins in 1898 with Johann Joseph Keller and Jakob Knappich in Augsburg. For more than 100 years, KUKA has stood for ideas and innovations that have made us successful worldwide. Today, we are one of the world’s leading suppliers of robot technology and plant and systems engineering.

KUKA is created

In 1898, Johann Josef Keller and Jakob Knappich found the "Acetylenwerk für Beleuchtungen in Augsburg". The aim is to produce affordable Illumination for houses and streets.

In 1905, the Keller und Knappich GmbH extends ist production: gas fusion welding. From this Point on, KUKA keeps on setting benchamrks in welding technology. 1936, KUKA builds the first point welding gripper in Germany.

As early as in the 1920s Keller and Knappich are using a telegram abbreviation: from the first letters of "Keller und Knappich Augsburg, KUKA is created. This short form becomes a brand.

The Selecta circular knitting machine was marketed with the goal of expanding the company’s range beyond welding processes.

KUKA creates innovations in welding technology

KUKA soon begins to apply its expertise gained from welding and cutting, both for craftsmen in small trade enterprises and on an industrial scale, in other areas. The company manufactures large containers and builds vehicle superstructures – with such success that KUKA becomes European market leader for municipal vehicles in 1966.

The welding systems sector grows simultaneously. In 1956, KUKA builds the first automatic welding systems for refrigerators and washing machines and delivers the first multi-spot welding line to Volkswagen AG. For Daimler-Benz, KUKA builds Europe’s first welding transfer line with robots in 1971. This enables significantly faster and more cost-effective production.

In the course of its history, KUKA has also continuously further developed welding technologies. From 1966 onwards, KUKA establishes friction welding. This is followed by numerous innovations, such as short-cycle welding and defined-angle friction welding. The first Magnetarc welding machine is presented in 1972.

KUKA knits and types its way into new product areas

To reduce dependency on welding machines and municipal vehicles, a search is mounted for other areas of activity. In 1964, Keller & Knappich market-launches the compact “Princess” typewriter.

Merger of KUKA and IWK

In 1970, KUKA GmbH merges with Industrie-Werke Karlsruhe AG. From now on, the company is called Industrie-Werke Karlsruhe Augsburg Aktiengesellschaft, or IWKA AG for short. The headquarters is in Karlsruhe. Three divisions are formed in Augsburg:

  • Environmental technology
  • Welding technology
  • Defense technology

Additionally, the new IWKA AG is also involved in the areas of packaging machinery, textile engineering, control technology, forming, and machine tools.

Parallel to this, KUKA works on further innovations in welding technology. In 1972, the company presents the first Magnetarc welding machine. To this day, the process remains one of the fastest and most reliable for joining components which have to withstand extremely high loads.

In 1979, the different activities of IWKA AG are transformed into legally independent companies. The stock corporation becomes a holding company for the international mechanical and systems engineering business.

 In 1995, the robot technology business is hived off from KUKA Schweissanlagen + Roboter GmbH.

KUKA writes history as a robotics pioneer

In 1973, KUKA writes history as a robotics pioneer by developing FAMULUS the world’s first industrial robot with six electromechanically driven axes. In 1996, KUKA is the first robot manufacturer to introduce an open PC-based controller. In 2007, the KR titan is market-launched. With a payload capacity of 1,000 kilograms and a reach of 3,200 mm, it is the world’s largest and strongest 6-axis industrial robot. This is documented by an entry in the Guinness Book of Records. 

In 2013, KUKA heralds a new robot generation. With the LBR iiwa, KUKA presents the world’s first industrial lightweight robot (sensitive robot) with integrated sensors in every axis.

IWKA AG becomes KUKA once again

In 1999/2000, IWKA AG takes over diverse packaging activities of the Rheinmetall Group and the Anglo-American BWI Group – thereby becoming a leading supplier of packaging machinery and plants.

From 2004 onwards, IWKA AG concentrates on automation technology in the core business areas of robot technology and plant and systems engineering. Activities in the remaining business areas are gradually sold off. By 2007, KUKA has divested its activities in process technology, production technology and packaging technology for the consumer goods industry. The company is then renamed KUKA Aktiengesellschaft in 2007. The headquarters of the company is transferred to Augsburg.

KUKA is becoming a global automation powerhouse

KUKA evolves into a global enterprise. Since 1981, the company has been present with a location of its own in North America. This market presence has been continuously expanded ever since. KUKA Robotics Corporation was founded in 1997 with its headquarters in Shelby Township (Michigan). In April 2013, KUKA Systems acquired the systems engineering business of the welding technology specialist and automotive supplier Utica Companies, based in Shelby Township, Michigan. In the same year, the millionth body in white was produced for the Jeep Wrangler JK at KUKA Toledo Production Operations (KTPO) in Toledo (Ohio). KUKA Systems is now one of the leading suppliers of manufacturing systems for the automotive industry in North America.

For many years now, KUKA has been represented with numerous subsidiaries in Asia. China is the strongest growth market for automation. The headquarters for the Asian business is Shanghai. Robots for the Asian market are shipped from there. KUKA Robotics China Co., Ltd. was officially founded back in 2000. The new robot production facility was opened in Shanghai in 2014. 

In the same year, Reis GmbH & Co. KG Maschinenfabrik, with its production location in Obernburg am Main, becomes part of KUKA AG. After two years as part of the Group, the company is renamed KUKA Industries GmbH & Co. KG. Alema Automation SAS, a Bordeaux-based supplier of automation solutions for the aerospace industry, is also acquired in 2014. The company has particular application know-how in the field of automated drilling and riveting of aircraft components. 2014 also sees the merger of KUKA AG and Swisslog Holding AG. With Swisslog, KUKA is gaining access to particularly attractive growth markets, such as warehouse logistics and the healthcare industry.

Today, KUKA is one of the world’s leading suppliers of automation solutions. As a technology leader, KUKA sets standards the world over. In addition to the headquarters at the production and development site in Augsburg, the Group is internationally represented with about 100 companies.

KUKA stands for innovations in automation and is a driver of Industrie 4.0.

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