Industrial Leadership—Beyond The Buzz

Have you heard “digital transformation” until your ears ring? Every supplier, every analyst, every consultant promises to take you on the digital transformation journey.

Pause and reflect. Aren’t you already using many digital tools in your business and production processes?

Are marketers and gurus trying to induce panic in you with FOMO (fear of missing out). These days we have plenty of people inducing panic and fear with health concerns. Do we need to add to that with fear that when production returns we will be left in the dust by the digital few?

What I have seen as I tour manufacturing and process plants is a triumph of good leadership using sound management and judicious application of technology to solve problems that improves the business. And treats people well at the same time.

In my own journey, I learned about the importance of sound data from the ground up. And working with people to improve processes. Later, I learned about computer applications and digital technology as I implemented an early MES system that improved processes and life for inventory control and cost accounting. These savings paid for the system. And we had barely tapped the potential.

Then as a quality assurance manager I studied W. Edwards Deming and and the work behind the Toyota Production System pioneered by Taiichi Ohno and Eiji Toyoda, Japanese industrial engineers, who developed the system between 1948 and 1975.

What we learned was good leaders working with all people involved identified and solved problems adding digital technologies into their tool set as they helped solve problems.

The worst thing was when engineers wanted to apply technology just because it was new and cool. It has been several years since I’ve seen or heard of “over automation”—at least until Elon Musk blamed his Tesla production problems on it.

People like me who are not beholden to a particular supplier or type of solution can help find the way that works for what your culture and problem require. It’s important to consider both. Trying to change everything at the same time is a recipe for certain disaster.

As we sort through the sickness mess we’re in now, we also need to remember that startups after a prolonged shutdown never go smoothly. Machine problems that were previously hidden by continuous running suddenly demand immediate attention. People take some time to return to speed and focus.

If you are still in production or trying to develop a product or process specifically for this outbreak, remember that it is hard for you and all your employees and contractors to maintain focus when fear and worry linger in the recesses of their minds. Anti-stress breaks and encouragement for nutrition and sleep help build the immune system and keep them in the race.

And rather than focus on social media negativity and panic, check out some of the positive sources for information such as Peter Diamondis.

Stay safe, stay healthy, stay focused on solving problems.

Solution for 3D Printing Pure Copper

3D printing proffers the possibility for drastic advances in manufacturing. However combining printing technology with material science holds the key to success. And, every week brings news of advances. Here is one where a company has improved manufacture with pure copper.

Markforged has announced the release of pure copper for the Markforged Metal X system, making it a reliable, affordable, and safe way to 3D print the widely used material. 3D printing copper parts on demand will drive new manufacturing and supply chain efficiencies for customers – leading to reduced lead times and part costs, as well as eliminating the need for costly inventory. Available today, Markforged provides an easy and fast way to produce geometrically complex copper with high electrical and thermal conductivity.

“Copper powers our world. It’s everywhere. It builds our cars, enables phones, and keeps electrical equipment running,” said Greg Mark, Markforged CEO and Founder. “Copper has traditionally been an expensive and challenging material to machine and incompatible for 3D printing in a pure form with other techniques. Now, we’ve made it easier and cheaper to produce. Markforged 3D printed Copper will be a game-changer for the automotive and electronics industries, and it will open the door to innovation across many more.”

The new material is available for the Metal X system, Markforged’s patented platform that safely and rapidly 3D prints metal. Copper is the latest metal to join the lineup of materials, which also includes aerospace superalloys like Inconel 625, 17-4 PH Stainless Steel, H13 Tool Steel, D2 Tool Steel, and A2 Tool Steel. With systems across six continents, the Metal X is used to deliver on applications such as functional prototypes, tooling and fixtures, and end-use production parts to help customers reduce manufacturing costs and improve supply chain efficiency.

Automotive Spot Welding with Markforged Copper Shanks

“Every automotive factory in the world uses copper for welding,” Greg Mark added. “Complex production parts are required to weld tight spots of the car body. They cost thousands of dollars to make and can have months-long lead times. But Markforged is changing all of that by enabling manufacturers to produce parts in-house so they get them faster and for significantly lower costs. With our 3D printed parts, automotive manufacturers can print the parts they need on demand instead of holding significant inventory and will be able to design new kinds of welding shanks that were never before possible.”

Hundreds of Markforged 3D printers are deployed at nine of the 10 highest-valued auto manufacturers in the world. Markforged partnered with one of these customers — a well-known automotive manufacturer — to conduct in-depth weld testing using Copper. After thousands of welds, the manufacturer has been thrilled by the results. The testing showed the same resistance as traditional manufactured spot welding shanks, and they plan to extend the use of the 3D printing parts to the production line. With Markforged additive manufacturing, the automotive manufacturer has already reported reduced part lead times by 12x and part costs by 6x.

“I’ve always been impressed with the technology behind the Markforged Metal X system, and our experience with 3D printed copper has been incredible – especially when looking at its conductivity and structural stability,” noted the maintenance manager at the global automotive manufacturer. “And now that we’ve successfully evaluated weld testing, we plan on expanding our metal 3D printing capacity for this and other metal components. 3D printing copper with Markforged is faster and more cost effective than purchasing complex machined components, and we expect it to help us mitigate downtime exposure and reduce inventory costs by $200,000 a year using only one Metal X system.”

Engineering in the Cloud

What?? Engineering in the Cloud? One of the joys of having been around so long is to see technologies that some said they’d never use become commonplace.

When I switched to the “dark side of the force” and landed a job as a sales engineer, my first customer told me “I’ll never run a wire from a PLC to anywhere (other than I/O of course). I’ll also never use IEC motor starters in place of these big old NEMA starters.”

Oops. By the time I left to become a magazine editor, the plant had connected controllers and IEC starters all over the new production line.

Ethernet was another one.

Then there was cloud. A poorly chosen name, perhaps, denoting a mist that blocks the sun and rains on our parade. Or, it could just be a name for a server bank somewhere.

This is somewhat “old news”, but it is interesting simply from the point of view that we just keep adapting new technologies to better serve old needs.

In brief:

  • Beckhoff Introduces Smart Engineering Directly in the Cloud
  • TwinCAT Cloud Engineering provides a foundation for efficient IoT-based automation strategies

Beckhoff Automation has introduced new TwinCAT Cloud Engineering software for IoT and Industrie 4.0 applications. Users can instantiate and use existing TwinCAT engineering and runtime products directly in the cloud. The solution is easy to access from the Beckhoff website with a web browser and requires no additional software. In addition, TwinCAT Cloud Engineering enables registered users to work with the TwinCAT development environment even from previously unsupported devices, such as tablets.

TwinCAT Cloud Engineering adds a new dimension by providing users with an easy means of engineering TwinCAT instances and controllers in the cloud.

The TwinCAT Cloud Engineering instances generated by users can be connected to physical control hardware over a secure transport channel. Users not only have TwinCAT control architecture, but also distributed collaboration support through a source control repository. For new users in particular, having access to a TwinCAT Cloud Engineering instance in the cloud provides a foundation to learn how to work in the TwinCAT environment.

In addition, TwinCAT Cloud Engineering enables users to move their entire TwinCAT architecture to the cloud; the only difference versus a conventional TwinCAT environment is that they use a virtual machine instead of a local PC for engineering. One advantage is that users do not need to learn a new software environment but can simply continue to work in the same, familiar development environment. Another is that they do not have to install and maintain multiple software versions tailored to specific machine generations on their own PCs. Instead, users can run separate TwinCAT Cloud Engineering instances with different software versions, all of which they can access remotely whenever they need to. Project files are stored in a source code control repository that can be accessed directly from within TwinCAT Engineering.

Based on modern source control features, connecting to Git-based systems and managing automation projects on them is easy. TwinCAT Multi-User functionality enables simple, seamless access to a source control repository without the need for special technical expertise. Here, TwinCAT Cloud Engineering enables multiple users to work together on a number of instances at the same time either by integrating a Git server into the instance or using a Git-based cloud service.

Collaborative Robot Market Activity

I used to respond when asked what I wrote about, “automation.” The return response was “robots?” But I had become less fascinated by robots from my early years as a VAR. But the collaborative and mobile robot developments have piqued my interest in the area again. Plus an adjacent area—human-assist robots for medical and handicapped person lifestyle applications.

Thanks to a couple of friendly media relations people, I’ve accumulated a flurry of news in the collaborative robot space—a technology hub and news about grippers.

World’s Largest Hub for Collaborative Robots Opens in Denmark

Danish robotics companies Mobile Industrial Robots and Universal Robots invest $36M in robot development and production.

Denmark’s Minister of Industry, Business and Financial Affairs, Simon Kollerup, unveiled what will become the new home of Mobile Industrial Robots (MiR) and Universal Robots (UR), the two flagships in the thriving Danish robotics industry. The companies will share 32,000 m2 (334,000 square feet) in a new “cobot hub” in the city of Odense, the heart of Denmark’s rapidly expanding robotics cluster.

With financial backing from their joint U.S. parent company Teradyne, Mobile Industrial Robots (MiR) and Universal Robots (UR) have acquired a 50,000 m2 building site in Odense, where $36 million will be invested in the construction of a major cobot hub in the “cobot capital” of the world. Collaborative robots – or cobots – are now the fastest growing segment of industrial automation. Cobots are a type of user-friendly robots that can work closely with humans without the need for safety guarding, enhancing both work environment and productivity.

The new cobot hub supports Teradyne’s mission to further strengthen the significant leads that both MiR and UR have established worldwide.

“MiR and UR are leading the world in the collaborative robot revolution that’s making automation solutions available to companies of all sizes. Teradyne continues to invest aggressively in the development of new products, solutions, and sales channels and this new facility is a key part of our growth strategy,” says Mark Jagiela, President and CEO of Teradyne. “We have found something very special in Denmark. The Danes’ combination of innovative industrial design, combined with a practical business sense, have created a perfect combination for this emerging industry. The ability to make robots work in collaboration with humans in a user-friendly manner is something we have not encountered to this degree anywhere else in the world and we’re very excited to expand our capabilities in Odense.”

This is not the first time the MiR and UR owner has provided cash support for robot development in Denmark. To-date, Teradyne has invested more than half a billion USD in the two young Danish robotic companies, both of which are growing rapidly.

Danish robotics cluster on the rise

The Danish robotics industry is currently booming; the 2019 annual survey from trade association Odense Robotics shows that 8,500 people now work for Danish robotics companies, 3,900 of them in and around Odense, Denmark’s third largest city. If the industry follows the growth forecasts, the Danish robot industry will employ 25,000 employees in 2025 according to the Danish analyst firm Damvad.

OnRobot’s One System Solution grippers receive UR+ Certification for seamless operation with Universal Robots

The certified URCap software provides a unified interface for OnRobot’s new versions of RG2, RG6, and VG10 grippers with Universal Robots (UR). The URCap allows the OnRobot grippers to work seamlessly with UR’s collaborative robot arms in a single program with no need to change cables or load new software when deploying additional products.

With the One System Solution launched this fall, OnRobot presented a full line of intelligent grippers and sensors with a unified mechanical and communications interface. The innovative approach allows for quick plug-and-play tool changes and fast and easy programming across multiple production lines and applications.

The One System Solution grippers are now also part of the UR+ program that tests and certifies EoAT products for seamless use with cobots from Universal Robots.

“Our unified URCap software is a key differentiator for our grippers, sensors and tool changers. Now, we have a single URCap that automatically identifies the OnRobot tool that is mounted on a UR robot,” says Kristian Hulgard, General Manager of OnRobot’s Americas division. “The end users no longer have to worry about different URCaps for multiple tools, they can effortlessly plug and play various OnRobot products; for example, an RG2 two-finger gripper can be implemented with a VG10 vacuum gripper in one cycle, achieving optimized utilization of a single UR robot.”

OnRobot’s unified URCap can be installed in UR’s Polyscope operating system when installing OnRobot software. The installation requires the identification of just one product; the software automatically identifies additional OnRobot products. With the One System Solution, all OnRobot products have a unified mechanical and communications interface based on the OnRobot Quick Changer, which is now an integrated part of all OnRobot products. The Quick Changer allows manufacturers to simply click OnRobot grippers onto the UR cobot arm for instant deployment. The only cable coming out of the chain is from the Quick Changer, eliminating the need to disconnect/connect cables. An additional Dual Quick Changer incorporates these same new capabilities while allowing the use of two tools in one cycle, mixing and matching to suit application needs and maximizing robot utilization.

OnRobot Launches New 3-Finger Electric Gripper with Large Stroke for Handling Wide Range of Cylindrical Objects

OnRobot’s 3FG15 three-finger gripper with a 150mm stroke is an alternative to bulkier and less-flexible three-finger grippers currently on the market. The new gripper excels at heavy-payload machine-tending applications that require high precision and flexible handling.

“Our new 3FG15 three-finger gripper was developed as a response to existing pneumatic three-finger grippers that are bulkier and less flexible,” says CEO of OnRobot, Enrico Krog Iversen. “We have long defined the market for electric parallel grippers with the RG2 and RG6 series, and we look forward to addressing new market segments and applications with a new three-finger gripper that allows users to deploy applications faster even with highly accurate, fixed positioning.”

The 3FG15 gripper has a maximum stroke of 150mm that can easily handle multiple processes. The innovative three-finger design with a 15 kg (33 lb) payload provides a strong, stable grip for both form fit (internal) or friction fit (external) gripping, adding flexibility to any implementation.

3FG15 Features:

  • Precise stable grip with automatic centering
  • Large 150mm stroke for parts from 20mm to 150mm
  • Form fit (internal) and friction fit (external) gripping
  • 15kg payload
  • Weight 1.15kg, gripping force 10-240 N
  • Fast, flexible deployment

Rockwell Automation Adds Computer Technology with Acquisition of ASEM

Rockwell Automation announced it has signed an agreement to acquire Italy-based ASEM, S.p.A., a leading provider of digital automation technologies. ASEM provides a complete range of Industrial PCs (IPCs), Human-Machine Interface (HMI) hardware and software, remote access capabilities, and secure Industrial IoT gateway solutions.

Here is the justification from Rockwell’s Communication people: “ASEM’s high-performance automation solutions enable The Connected Enterprise with smarter technology, enhanced productivity, and a more secure environment by integrating smart devices, the control platform, and design and operational software all on a single network.”

My friends in Italy (you can find my column in Italian in Automazione Oggi—Automation Today) tell me that ASEM is indeed a major Italian supplier. It is an interesting pick up. Rockwell acquired an Industrial PC company years ago and proceeded to gut it. I have a feeling that the new regime under Blake Moret has better strategies in mind.

The keyword I pick out centers on IIoT gateway solutions along with the “integrating smart devices…”

I’ve been closely watching the IT companies develop their compute platforms into gateways to serve as the data/information highway from the plant to the enterprise. I know that Rockwell is a target account for their sales groups. In fact, rival ABB has partnered with HPE.

Combine this technology with the close partnership with PTC/ThingWorx and there are many interesting possibilities. How Rockwell handles this acquisition will be indicative of whether Moret has shed the past and is forging a new future—or whether it was just an opportunistic buy to try to gain a European foothold with something to sell.

The transaction includes the purchase of a minority interest in ASEM held by KEB Group, Germany. Post-close, Rockwell Automation will maintain ASEM’s strategic supplier and technology partner relationship with KEB.

The transaction is expected to close in the spring of 2020, subject to customary approvals and conditions, and will be reported in the Architecture & Software business segment.

Hannover Messe Preview

The 2020 edition of the annual manufacturing trade show in Hannover, Germany isn’t until April, but here I am in Hannover for my first trip to the preview of the show given to global media. Well global except for most of the Chinese delegation for obvious reasons.

2020 is expected to be as large as ever with the theme this year of Industrial Transformation.

Show organizers have placed an emphasis of attracting start up companies acknowledging that these are often the sources of energy and new ideas. This year 250 startups are expected at the show.

Hannover Messe is the world’s largest manufacturing technology show partly because it is also the broadest. The areas of emphasis this year are:

  • Digitalization (AI, IoT, Analytics, security)
  • Individualization (impact on manufacturers)
  • Climate Change (customers ask for responsibility from manufacturers)

Demographics — acknowledging the global shrinking workforce — will be an added area of concern.

The Big Picture trends, defined as 5G, Automation, Digital, Energy, Engineered Parts, Global, Logistics, and Future, constitute the organizing principle for the layout of the 30+ Halls.

Attendees will not escape without hearing about Data many times. Artificial Intelligence being the key component.

Networking is also considered an important component, and attendees will be tutored on speed and 5G.

I am not sure yet if I will be attending–there are several personal commitments I have not to mention the cost. The jury remains out on that one. I’m trying to work it out. It’s a tiring week, but I always learn much.

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