Controlled Flying Birds and Workforce Development Highlight Festo Hannover Announcements

I remember the first trip I made to Festo in Germany many years ago. I thought, this is “just” a pneumatics company. What could be interesting about this trip? Then I witnessed what their R&D engineers did with pneumatics. And saw that the company if far deeper than “just” pneumatics.

Even though we could not experience in the flesh, so to speak, this year’s press conference and demonstrations did not disappoint. The company discusses financial results, strategy, general information, an application – assembly of insulin injection pen, workforce issues, and the always delightful demonstration of pneumatic/electronic far-out thinking with this year being a bionic swift (bird).

Most companies I work with have an education and training component. Festo has a division that is dedicated to education from children to adults. Check out the Festo Didactic information below. Maybe you can purchase a bionic bird education kit for your local school’s science and technology program (see information below). I’m living in a new community, but I’m looking for local contacts to help out.

Financial years 2020/2021

Festo’s results were stable despite the pandemic. The Festo Group had to cope with a 7.5% decline in turnover in the 2020 financial year due to the pandemic. Turnover was 2.84 billion euros (previous year 3.07 billion euros). Overall, however, thanks to forward-looking cost-cutting measures and employment protection, the operating result in 2020 was slightly higher than in the previous year.

“This has enabled us to guide our workforce safely through the crisis year and to create a good basis for being ready for the global economy to pick up again. At the same time, it gives us the financial freedom to invest in our future now as well,” said the Chairman of the Management Board, Dipl.-Ing. Dr. h.c. Oliver Jung.

As in the previous year, the company’s R&D ratio was 8% of turnover. 

For 2021, the company expects a catch-up year. “We started the year well, with strong growth in the first quarter. Nevertheless, the end of the pandemic cannot yet be estimated. We are therefore continuing our savings course. At the same time, we continue to invest in our growth and innovation strategy,” Jung affirmed.

Strategy 2025+

Digitalisation and AI determine the product roadmap with smart and intelligent products as enablers for energy efficiency and sustainability in customer solutions.

Festo is focusing on the capability shift upgrading employees’ skills in the digital transformation.

The need for home schooling and virtual training (Digital Education) is growing rapidly in the pandemic. In the lockdown, Festo Didactic successfully launched its new digital learning platform, Festo LX, for technical education and provided a free homeschooling version for mechatronics courses in schools.  

The LifeTech business segment with medical technology and laboratory automation is experiencing a real boom with growth rates of over 100%. Festo is continuously expanding its Technical Engineering Center for LifeTech in Boston, which opened in 2018 and is one of the world’s most important development locations for life science, in order to further develop this promising growth market.

Festo’s products make an important contribution to the fight against COVID 19. In particular, laboratory automation enables high throughput in COVID 19 tests.  Automation is also key in vaccine development and production.

Sustainability needs automation and education

“As a company and society, we have to manage the balancing act in the pandemic of simultaneously finding ways out of the crisis and focusing our future activities on sustainability. Automation and technical education are a key to this. We also have a high social responsibility for sustainable development here,” said Jung. The goal is to gradually develop production in the direction of a circular economy.

“At Festo, we are convinced that pneumatics in particular offers massive advantages over electrics in many areas, and that no other technology can match it. We are currently developing this further in the direction of smart and digital pneumatics. There is still a lot of potential here,” confirmed Jung.

In 2020, Festo has also made great progress internally in climate protection and thus towards its climate target of saving at least 30% CO2 by 2025 (Scope 1 and 2).

Festo has the greatest leverage for climate protection with its customers, through the appropriate product selection of pneumatics and electrics (Scope 3). This is because around 90% of CO2 emissions are generated during product operation and only around 10% during production. Smart products and services, digitalization and AI are giving new impetus to energy efficiency on the way to CO2-neutral production.

As a family-owned company, Festo thinks and acts responsibly and with a long-term perspective. Festo stands for clear values, utmost quality and customer-oriented innovation. It has set standards in industrial automation technology and technical education ever since its establishment, thereby making a contribution to sustainable development of the environment, the economy and society.

Festo is advancing digitalisation in all its corporate divisions. Festo is leading its customers and employees into the digital future. To this end, the company is developing new future-oriented concepts founded on the triad of innovative and energy-efficient technologies, intuitive human-machine collaboration, and education and further training.

Productivity – Festo’s core competency

Innovation for the best possible productivity, a global presence and close, long-term partnerships with its customers are the hallmarks of Festo. In the 1950s, Festo became the first company in Europe to use compressed air as a drive medium in automation. The company now offers over 30,000 products and system solutions for pneumatic and electrical automation technology which, thanks to a large variety of modular systems, can be tailored to specific customer applications in many different factory and process automation industry segments.

Added value through digitalisation
           
Smart products, connectivity, the mining and interpretation of data, including via the cloud, and dashboards for visualisation, already offer added value for customers. Products like the energy efficiency module E2M, IO-Link-capable components, the CPX-IOT gateway or interfaces like OPC-UA contribute to this process. Another basic requirement for successful and consistent digitalisation is mechanical, electrical and intelligent connectivity through software solutions, enabling all customers to find their bearings quickly and intuitively. 

Festo is promoting this with an open automation architecture and a large product portfolio made up of axes, motors and controllers. Standardised software tools are also being developed: configurators for smart engineering, the Festo Automation Suite for easy commissioning and the digital maintenance manager Smartenance for reliable operation. Digitalised pneumatics such as the Festo Motion Terminal VTEM makes pneumatics more flexible than ever before. The reason: apps define the function, the hardware remains the same.

In addition, data analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence are shaping the agile product development of the future. Since 2018, the competence in the field of AI has been strongly expanded. The Festo AX (Festo Automation Experience) software platform is an AI-based software solution that allows production processes to be improved, e.g. with preventive maintenance of assets and machines, monitoring of quality in production or energy consumption.

With AI-based solutions for operations and maintenance processes, the overall equipment efficiency (OEE) of customers is to be improved.

Qualification in the digital transformation

As a leading provider of technical education and training, Festo Didactic is responding to current megatrends such as digitalisation and the energy transition. Because these trends are changing industry and production processes. Festo Didactic supports its customers with learning solutions and supports them to ensure the employability and productivity of employees and companies.

Festo Didactic offers a comprehensive range of learning solutions. Learners acquire technology knowledge and soft skills both in team-oriented and practical training on physical learning systems with industrial components, but also location- and time-independent through digital online learning opportunities. The new digital learning portal Festo Learning Experience (Festo LX) creates individual learning experiences for learners and teachers.

The fast way to a safe insulin pen

Syntegon’s assembly system for medical technology with the Festo automation platform 

Diabetes is on the rise worldwide with around 10 million people being diagnosed with the disease every year. This pushes up the demand for insulin pens for self-injection. Syntegon’s Danish subsidiary has developed an automated system for assembling these pens using the Festo automation platform.

“I have a dream,” says Michael Andersen, Sales Director of Syntegon Technology Sandved in Denmark. “I have a dream of our machines doing on-the-fly format changes. That would be the culmination of our philosophy of flexibility and agility that we strive for in our company,” adds the automation expert.

Flexibility and agility

“By using the Festo automation platform, which includes the servo press kit, we are already very close to making this dream come true,” says Andersen. In fact, Festo’s servo press kit YJKP – a preconfigured modular system consisting of software, controllers and standard electrical drives – can be easily integrated in the plant and offers a high degree of flexibility thanks to the preinstalled software. This means that the modular press system with servo drive for electric pressing and joining up to 17 kN is ready for immediate use and, compared to similar solutions on the market, is both intuitively to parameterize and cost-effective.

“We have installed more than a 100 servo press kits in the automated assembly lines for insulin pens,” says Ulrik Keldke, Head of Syntegon’s engineering department in Sandved. The precisely adjustable pressing and joining forces ensure consistent quality and low reject rates. “What we particularly like about the Festo servo press kit is that it’s quick and easy to commission, and the machine operators don’t need to be trained to use it,” explains chief engineer Keldke.

Quality and safety

“Automating the assembly line is a prerequisite for meeting the requirements for the end product: the insulin pens must be safe and user-friendly,” says Andersen. The pens must not break when used by the patients, as that would put them at risk. The Servo Press Kit keeps the tension and pressure constant. “The glass of the syringes should never be subjected to irregular pressure as they would break,” Keldke says. The automated systems ensure that the insulin pens are always in order and can deliver the exact amount of insulin.

Depending on the machine type, Syntegon’s assembly lines produce up to 300 pens per minute. The degree of automation is scalable according to requirements and can also be adapted at a later date. The machine concepts are based either on a rotary table for low to medium outputs or on a linear transport system for high outputs. The system can be expanded with automatic feeders and stations to increase output and the degree of automation.

Consistency and reliability

Syntegon Technology, formerly Bosch Packaging Technology, sees itself as a provider of integrated solutions. The assembly line for insulin pens can be expanded into a complete line with other systems from the company. Pharmaceutical manufacturers can thus be provided with machines for all process steps, from filling, capping, assembly, testing, to labelling and packaging – preconfigured and from a single source.

The machine control system is based on electrical and pneumatic components and modules from the Festo automation platform. This ensures a consistency of supply since Festo products are available worldwide and offer open interfaces to higher-level controllers. The CPX-E-CEC module from Festo establishes the connection to the process control level, allowing it to be used with Profinet or, for other customers in Europe, with EtherCat. Especially for North American customers, however, the system could also be supplied with an Ethernet/IP module.

Bionic Swift: A Bionically Inspired Robotic Bird

So, the cool demonstration this year was the Bionic Swift. This year’s engineering innovation has been incorporated into the “Bionics4Education” program. Its target market is high school education and also industrial training. 

It is one of the oldest dreams of mankind: flying like a bird. The lift and propulsion of birds have been ingeniously achieved by nature. Birds measure, control and regulate their movements continuously and completely autonomously. The inspiration for the development of the Bionic Swift educational kit came from the Bionic Learning Network, a research association with universities, institutes and development companies whose goal is to produce novel technology carriers through the application of bionics. In 2020, the BionicSwift was presented to the public for the first time. Festo Didactic wants to bring the world of bionics together with the education sector in order to promote working in interdisciplinary project teams as well as problem-oriented learning and creativity at schools.

The Bionic Swift is a robotic bird inspired by the bird world. Festo based its development on the natural model of the swallow. With the experimental set, scientific and technical correlations as well as the fascination of bird flight and the topics of lightweight construction, energy efficiency and aerodynamics can be impressively conveyed in STEAM lessons using a project-based approach.

The mechanisms of action of the flap of the wings can be explored in a playful way by students in class. Weighing less than 45 grams, the ultra-light flying object Bionic Swift shows particularly agile flight behaviour. Due to its extreme manoeuvrability, even tight turns can be realised. The Bionic Swift experimental set is recommended for up to three learners and from the age of 15. 

The references to biology and technology that can be taught in STEAM lessons or at extracurricular learning venues are numerous and reach from the structure of tubular bones to wing take-off and landing to the basics of movements in the air. This allows teachers to teach technical learning content via a new, cross-curricular educational learning path. Accompanying teaching material, as well as the assembly manual, can be downloaded free of charge from our website

CIP Security, Resource-Constrained EtherNet/IP Devices, Updated Terminology Headline ODVA Hannover News

ODVA’s annual Hannover Messe press conference highlighted new technologies that extend EtherNet/IP and CIP Security to “resource-constrained” devices. Thanks to advance in 2-wire Ethernet, devices that were too small or too inexpensive for a network chip can now join the EtherNet/IP network. There is an international movement to change traditional networking terminology, for example “master-slave”, that would be offensive to many. Here are the news releases.

CIP Security

ODVA announced that CIP Security has added support for resource constrained EtherNet/IP devices. CIP Security can now provide device authentication, a broad trust domain, device identity via Pre-Shared Keys (PSKs), device integrity, and data confidentiality for resource-constrained devices such as contactors and push-buttons. Additionally, a narrow trust domain, user authentication, and policy enforcement via a gateway or a proxy are available options. 

The recent integration of single pair Ethernet has opened up the door to overcoming lower-level device constraints and ultimately to expanding the footprint of EtherNet/IP. Adding simpler devices to EtherNet/IP allows for the benefits of additional remote diagnostics, asset information, and parameterization capability. The addition of more nodes to the network within the context of IT/OT convergence makes device level security a fundamental need to ensure that indispensable assets and people are protected from physical harm and monetary loss. 

The new CIP Security specification has added a Resource-Constrained CIP Security Profile in addition to the EtherNet/IP Confidentiality and the CIP User Authentication Profiles. The Resource-Constrained CIP Security Profile is similar to the EtherNet/IP Confidentiality Profile, but is streamlined for resource-constrained devices. The same basic security aspects of endpoint authentication, data confidentiality, and data authenticity remain. Access policy information is also included to allow a more capable device, such as a gateway, to be used as a proxy for user authentication and authorization of the resource constrained device. 

Implementation of CIP Security for resource-constrained devices requires only DTLS (Datagram Transport Layer Security) support instead of DTLS and TLS (Transport Layer Security), as it is used only with low-overhead UDP communication. 

Terminology Updates

ODVA announced that the April 2021 publication of the DeviceNet and ControlNet Specifications have replaced the usage of the words “master” and “slave” within ODVA references. Developers of devices for ODVA networks will now utilize the words “client and server” (EtherNet/IP, including the integration of Modbus devices), “controller and device” (DeviceNet), and “system time supervisor or active keeper” (ControlNet) to describe these functions. With the goal of eliminating terminology that is hurtful, these changes are the first in a series to update the entire library of ODVA specifications and documents to rectify the use of these terms. 

EtherNet/IP for Resource-Constrained Devices

ODVA announced that The EtherNet/IP Specification has been enhanced to allow vendors to bring the network to resource-constrained devices in-cabinet, including push buttons and contactors. Cost, size, and power restrictions have historically limited the usage of EtherNet/IP at the edge, where many nodes are still hardwired. However, the continued decrease in the cost of semiconductor chips has enabled increased connectivity of simple devices, as evidenced by the rapid expansion of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). The sustained, strong growth of EtherNet/IP combined with accelerating IT/OT convergence has made it possible to deploy EtherNet/IP within cabinets on lower-level automation devices such as contactors and push buttons.

The inclusion of resource-constrained devices within cabinets on an EtherNet/IP network is enabled by recently published enhancements to The EtherNet/IP Specification including the physical layer In-Cabinet Profile for EtherNet/IP along with low overhead UDP-only resource-constrained EtherNet/IP communication. Resource requirements have been reduced via enhancements such as an IT friendly LLDP node topology discovery mechanism, auto-commissioning support, and auto-device replacement support. Additionally, a specification for a new select line circuit facilitates the efficient delivery of system wide sequential commands. 

The EtherNet/IP in-cabinet bus solution reduces interface components through use of single pair Ethernet (IEEE Std 802.3cg-2019 10BASE-T1S) and reduces node cost via multidrop cabling that spans a single cabinet with one interface per device and one switch port that supports many devices. Cost is further reduced via cables that use composite network and control power to eliminate separate parallel runs. The select line for topology eliminates configuration switches by enabling discovery based on relative position and allows for direct connection with programming tools during assembly for parameterization. Assembly time is lowered by eliminating most wire or cable preparation with insulation displacement (piercing) connectors. Nodes will also be able to be replaced with compatible nodes of the same type during normal system operation without any engineering tools in a plug and play manner. 

This will be made possible through reduced hardware requirements enabled by UDP-only EtherNet/IP communication, usage of single pair Ethernet, and shared in-cabinet external power and cabling. Adding low-level in-panel devices to the network will enable the benefits of additional remote diagnostics, asset information and parameterization capability, automatic node topology discovery, and plug and play device replacement. 

ABB Drops a Bunch of News, Drones, OEMs, and Mills

ABB has moved its media relations, at least the people working with me, to England. Two other major European industrial technology providers also have moved marketing and media relations from the US to England. I have no idea whether this is a statement about the state of the US market or the state of their cost structure. Maybe both.

ABB changed CEOs several years ago and just changed again. These precipitated changes in corporate emphases—divesting several large businesses and adding others. The variety in these three announcements certainly reflects the new diversity of the corporate portfolio.

ABB drone-based leak detection and greenhouse gas measuring system

HoverGuard can help operators of USA’s three million miles of pipeline infrastructure to increase their safety and environmental capabilities in line with the USA 2020 PIPES Act.

According to the US Energy Information Administration (EIA), the majority of gas shipments in the US take place using the millions of miles of the nation’s pipeline infrastructure. On December 27, 2020, the Protecting Our Infrastructure of Pipelines and Enhancing Safety (PIPES) Act was signed into law in the United States. The Act directs gas pipeline operators to use advanced leak detection technologies to protect the environment and pipeline safety.

Detection of odorless and invisible gas leaks can be challenging and expensive. ABB’s latest addition to its ABB Ability Mobile Gas Leak Detection System, HoverGuard, provides the solution by finding leaks faster and more reliably than ever before. 

HoverGuard is an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV)-based system that detects, quantifies and maps leaks up to 300 ft from natural gas distribution and transmission pipelines, gathering lines, storage facilities, and other potential sources quickly, safely and reliably. It automatically generates comprehensive digital reports that summarize results and can be shared in minutes after a survey.

The cloud-connected, multi-gas solution is also the first of its kind to quantify the three most important greenhouse gases methane, carbon dioxide and water vapor continuously while flying. Each greenhouse gas affects the environment differently and is present in the air in different amounts. Sourcing individual gases also provides important information to scientists and researchers when studying the complex environmental processes affecting climate and pollution.

Patented cavity enhanced laser absorption spectroscopy detects methane with a sensitivity more than 1,000 times higher than conventional leak detection tools. This sensitivity and speed allow HoverGuard to detect leaks while flying at altitudes of 130 ft, or higher, and at speeds greater than 55 mph. It can cover 10-15 times more land area per minute by operating on low-cost commercial UAV capable of carrying a payload of 6.6 lbs.

ABB calls for more collaboration with OEMs

ABB has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Hitachi Construction Machinery to share their expertise and collaborate in bringing solutions to market that will reduce the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions associated with heavy machinery in mining.  

The companies will explore possibilities to apply ABB’s electrification, automation, and digital solutions to mining trucks and excavators provided by Hitachi Construction Machinery as part of wider efforts with mine operators to electrify all processes from pit to port. Original equipment manufacturer (OEM) Hitachi Construction Machinery also brings expertise in driverless operation and labor-saving technologies. The aim of the combined solutions is to enhance the efficiency and flexibility of customer businesses, contributing to the reduction of CO₂ and the realization of a sustainable society.

The collaboration with Hitachi Construction Machinery is one of many that ABB are looking to develop with OEMs to accelerate the transition to all-electric mines.  

“ABB is calling for more collaboration between OEMs and technology companies to fast-track the development of new emissions-reducing systems with electrification and automation of the whole mining operation the goal. We are ready to work more with OEMs to establish a common approach for the market, and through strategic collaboration provide solutions that can help enable a low-carbon society and make mining operations more responsible,” said Joachim Braun, Division President, Process Industries, ABB. “New emissions-reducing technologies can transform the energy-intensive mining industry to achieve an even more productive, but also sustainable future.”

“Today, the challenge of our customers is on electrification of trucks and the time to change is now. But nobody can achieve this transformation alone. Co-creation of solutions with OEMs and mining companies is needed to successfully integrate electrification in mines.” said Max Luedtke, ABB’s Global Head of Mining.

ABB Ability Performance Optimization Service for cold rolling mills

ABB has launched its new ABB Ability Performance Optimization Service for cold rolling mills, offering steel, aluminum, and other metals manufacturers opportunities to reach new levels of operational performance through technology, boosting their processes and profitability.

The new service – part of ABB’s metals digital portfolio and Collaborative Operations for Metals suite – combines continuous performance monitoring using ABB Ability Data Analytics for cold rolling mills, with real time support from ABB experts. ABB will work alongside customers with the vision of continuing to transform the metals industry.

The data analytics component uses process-specific algorithms based on a century of metals domain expertise to collect high frequency data from mill control systems and discover trends, benchmarks and other performance factors, sending alerts to operators and maintenance when opportunities to optimize performance are identified.

Alongside this, ABB experts are available to provide onsite or offsite support, recommending actions to ensure the mill maintains its performance targets against key performance indicators (KPIs) for productivity, quality and yield. Leveraging the collective strengths of metals producers and ABB experts, access to dashboards is shared, enabling all parties to drill down to individual coil level.

In addition, ABB experts can provide customers with detailed reports at regular intervals describing areas for improvement, identified trends, or problem areas found in historical data, allowing for continuous improvement over time.

Key benefits include continuous collaboration and access to experts; increased productivity through improved asset performance and reduced downtime; higher yield and quality resulting from immediate corrective action when problems occur; reduced risk of equipment failure; the ability to leverage insights across the enterprise and reductions in wastage, energy and other costs.

WhiteHat Security Releases AppSec Stats Flash Volume 3

Cyber security news is always relevant, especially in our hyper-connected time. This tells of leaking information.

Findings reveal more than 40 percent of applications actively leaking information and at-risk of exposing sensitive data

WhiteHat Security, a wholly owned, independent subsidiary of NTT Ltd. and a world leader in application security, released AppSec Stats Flash Volume 3, the latest installment of the company’s monthly report and podcast reflecting on the current state of application security and the wider cyber threat landscape.

In AppSec Stats Flash Volume 3, WhiteHat Security’s Setu Kulkarni, vice president of corporate strategy and business development, and Zach Jones, senior director of detection research, are joined by Dino Boukouris, founder and managing director at Momentum Cyber, to primarily discuss how information leakage can expose vulnerabilities in connected applications across business-to-business partnerships, as well as analyze the latest application security data found in this month’s report.

“In any partnership or merger and acquisition activity, organizations reach a stage where they need to integrate applications to sync data, enhance productivity and grow revenue. While application integration issues have been simplified, there is still no way to predict how their security posture will be affected by the complex orchestrations that form a digital supply chain,” said Kulkarni. “When two companies decide to integrate their applications, they should explicitly account for the risks that both companies will inherit, particularly concerning sensitive user and infrastructure data.”

Key findings from AppSec Stats Flash Volume 3 include:

  • More than 40 percent of applications are actively leaking information and are at-risk of exposing sensitive data. “When we talk about information leakage, we often do not realize the vast amount of sensitive or partially sensitive information that the applications we interact with are collecting,” said Jones.
  • Exposure of A3-Sensitive Data, one of the leading vulnerabilities reported within information leakage, can result in a supply chain-type attack across connected applications. “Too often, by the time a formal security assessment takes place in an acquisition, application security is viewed as a ‘check-the-box’ diligence item as opposed to a key value driver,” said Boukouris.
  • Applications in the manufacturing sector continue to report the highest Window of Exposure, with 70 percent of applications having at least one serious vulnerability open over the previous 12 months. “Window of Exposure is a major concern as applications remain increasingly vulnerable across all industries, particularly manufacturing and finance. To improve these metrics, security and DevOps teams must take a holistic approach to identifying, prioritizing, and remediating these vulnerabilities in a manner that configures all changes with the development controls in process,” said Kulkarni.

Those interested in learning more about the findings and analysis in AppSec Stats Flash Volume 3 can now download the report and stream the latest podcast episode on WhiteHat Security’s websiteand popular platforms including Apple PodcastsSpotifyStitcherAmazon, and more. 

About WhiteHat SecurityWhiteHat Security, a wholly-owned, independent subsidiary of NTT Ltd., is the leading advisor for application security with the most comprehensive platform powered by artificial and human intelligence. Trusted for nearly two decades by Fortune 500 organizations, WhiteHat Security helps organizations accelerate their digital future in our application-driven world. WhiteHat Security is based in San Jose, California, with regional offices across the U.S. and Europe.

Andrew Ng of Landing AI on Building Vision AI Project

The new A3 organization (motion/vision/robotic associations) held its annual show virtually over five days this week. I was busy, but I did tune in for some keynotes and panel discussions. I also browsed the trade show.

The platforms are getting better all the time. I was blown away by all the cool things today’s keynoter was able to pull off. But they still can’t quite get the trade show experience up to expectations.

Today’s keynote was given by Andrew Ng, CEO of Landing AI, a machine vision AI company. His talk was a low-key, effective explanation of AI and how to implement a successful AI-enabled vision inspection project. I’d almost call this “beyond hype”. 

Here are a few key points:

75% of AI projects never go live.


Vision inspection has gone from rules-based to deep learning (aka, AI, ML), learn automatically.

Ng polled his audience about experiences with AI projects with the key responses:

  • Lack of data
  • Unreal expectations
  • Use case not well defined
  • Hype—perception of AI as futuristic

Challenges

  • Not sufficiently accurate
  • Insufficient data
  • More than just initial ML code needed
  • System able to learn continuously

AI Systems = Model + Data

Improving the system depends upon improving either Model or Data; experience in manufacturing shows best results come from improving data.

One Landing AI partner estimated 80% of his work was on preparing data (data processing) and only 20% on training a model.

AI Project Lifecycle

Scope  Collect Data  Train Model  Deploy in Production

Train Model feedback to Collect Data

Deploy feedback to train model and also feedback to collect data

Common problem—is data labeled consistently? E.g. are defects consistently defined?

Common data issues: inconsistent label; definition between two defects ambiguous; too few examples

Final advice:

  • Start quickly
  • Focus on data
  • End-to-end platform support (lifecycle)

Coincidentally, Ng was Interviewed at MIT Technology Review and I received an email notice today. I’ve included a link, but you may need a subscription to get in.

Karen Hao for MIT Technology Review: I’m sure people frequently ask you, “How do I build an AI-first business?” What do you usually say to that?

Andrew Ng: I usually say, “Don’t do that.” If I go to a team and say, “Hey, everyone, please be AI-first,” that tends to focus the team on technology, which might be great for a research lab. But in terms of how I execute the business, I tend to be customer-led or mission-led, almost never technology-led.

A very frequent mistake I see CEOs and CIOs make: they say to me something like “Hey, Andrew, we don’t have that much data—my data’s a mess. So give me two years to build a great IT infrastructure. Then we’ll have all this great data on which to build AI.” I always say, “That’s a mistake. Don’t do that.” First, I don’t think any company on the planet today—maybe not even the tech giants—thinks their data is completely clean and perfect. It’s a journey. Spending two or three years to build a beautiful data infrastructure means that you’re lacking feedback from the AI team to help prioritize what IT infrastructure to build.

For example, if you have a lot of users, should you prioritize asking them questions in a survey to get a little bit more data? Or in a factory, should you prioritize upgrading the sensor from something that records the vibrations 10 times a second to maybe 100 times a second? It is often starting to do an AI project with the data you already have that enables an AI team to give you the feedback to help prioritize what additional data to collect.

In industries where we just don’t have the scale of consumer software internet, I feel like we need to shift in mindset from big data to good data. If you have a million images, go ahead, use it—that’s great. But there are lots of problems that can use much smaller data sets that are cleanly labeled and carefully curated.

Powerful Electric Vacuum Gripper for Heavy-Duty Palletizing Applications

What news I receive that isn’t related to software or networking seems to be about collaborative robots. Every time I think that there can’t be anything new in grippers, here comes another announcement. Check this from OnRobot.

Large, unwieldy bags of dog food, non-airtight clothing or consumer goods packages, and bulky, porous cardboard boxes. These are just some examples of demanding packaging and palletizing applications that OnRobot’s new VGP20 gripper can address. VGP20 is the world’s most-powerful electric vacuum gripper. Compatible with all leading robot brands, the gripper can handle payloads of 20kg (44.09lbs), making it a great fit for a wide range of applications in industries from cosmetics and electronics to pharmaceuticals and food and beverage. 

“Our customers asked for a cost-effective, easy-to-deploy vacuum gripper that can pick up bulky, heavy-duty payloads while being intelligent enough to handle a wide range of items, including those with irregular shapes and porous surfaces,” says Enrico Krog Iversen, CEO at OnRobot. “The VGP20 combines power, intelligence and ease-of-use that competes with expensive, complex pneumatic grippers.” 

End-of-line operations such as palletizing are labor-intensive and costly. Researchers estimate that, on average, labor costs account for 65% of warehouse facility operating budgets, dwarfing the costs associated with utilities, taxes, distribution and rent combined. 

On this basis alone, automation is a compelling proposition for companies of all sizes. According to researchers, adoption of automated palletizing solutions in the food and beverage sector is estimated to have increased at a CAGR of more than 13% since 2017 and is set to reach USD390 million by 2022. 

OnRobot’s new VGP20 electric vacuum gripper can take on applications that have traditionally been handled by powerful pneumatic grippers–at a fraction of the cost and complexity.

While pneumatic grippers require compressed air to operate, the VGP20 is all-electric and ready to go out of the box, enabling companies to save up to 90% on operating and maintenance costs compared to traditional pneumatic gripper deployments.

The VGP20 provides unlimited cup and airflow customization and multichannel functionality, allowing it to be deployed on multiple items of different shapes and sizes.

Additionally, the VGP20 gripper’s built-in intelligence, combined with its easy-to-use software, provides precise air flow control functionality that is beyond the capabilities of traditional pneumatic grippers. This functionality allows users to vary the type of grip used in different applications, such as the soft grip used to handle delicate items to the hard grip required for handling bulky, heavy cardboard boxes with porous surfaces. 

The costs of carboard for packaging has risen by nearly 40% from 2010-2020. And with continued strong growth of e-commerce demands, estimates of further increases lead shippers to look for lower-cost options for packaging materials. Thinner, more porous cardboard and lightweight shipping bags present challenges for traditional automated packaging and palletizing, however. The powerful, customizable OnRobot VGP20 easily handles these thinner and less expensive packaging materials, allowing shippers to save considerably on both automation and shipping costs. 

OnRobot’s VGP20 gripper also provides an option to enable continuous monitoring of the gripper’s air flow. If this option is selected, and the vacuum is interrupted for any reason, the robot will come to an immediate halt and an alert pop-up window will be displayed in the gripper software. 

“Efficient packaging and palletizing performance is crucial to success for manufacturers, e-commerce and logistics companies. However, labor shortages present an ongoing challenge and performing these jobs by hand is both monotonous and unergonomic,” says Iversen. “The powerful and versatile VGP20 gripper enables companies to automate these tasks, providing relief to workers while improving overall productivity and quality.”