Everyone touts Digital Transformation lately. Emerson Automation has been patiently building a Digital Transformation practice through acquisition and development. Executives announced advances at this year’s edition of Emerson Global Users Exchange—my second stop of the Fall Conference Tour. I see Emerson pulling away from many of its automation peers becoming part of a select group of suppliers putting it all together (the others being Siemens, ABB, and Schneider Electric / AVEVA).
I’m going to run through some of the more significant announcements from the press conferences so far this week.
New Digital Transformation Organization
Emerson has established a dedicated organization focused on digital transformation technologies and programs. The Digital Transformation business brings together resources to help manufacturers develop and implement pragmatic digital transformation strategies that deliver industry-leading, or Top Quartile, performance. The $650+ million business combines existing expertise in consulting, project execution, smart sensor technologies, data management and analytics – all part of Emerson’s Plantweb digital ecosystem. The organization will help customers not only establish a clear vision for digital transformation, but also execute and realize measurable results at each step of their journey.
“In a space inundated by confusing promises, Emerson helps customers define and execute a practical and successful path to digital transformation,” said Lal Karsanbhai, executive president of Emerson’s Automation Solutions business. “With our new Digital Transformation business, we are strategically focused on guiding customers to the right strategy, helping them drive improved organizational alignment, and implementing programs that accelerate improved business performance.”
“The industry is at a critical point in the digital transformation journey,” said Stuart Harris, group president for Emerson’s new Digital Transformation business. “Many companies have a vision but struggle to implement practical solutions that deliver results and therefore they are getting frustrated. Other companies are solving specific problems, but not realizing value at scale across the enterprise. Emerson has the technology to provide practical solutions, and the experience to define the best practices and roadmap to help make a broad operational impact.”
Existing and new Emerson resources comprising the business include:
- Operational Certainty Consulting: facility and enterprise-level roadmap strategies and implementation to improve reliability, safety, production and energy utilization metrics
- Operational Analytics: the industry’s most comprehensive portfolio of predictive diagnostics and advanced analytics, providing insights on health and performance of operational assets
- Industry Solutions: deep, industry-specific expertise on solutions to drive key performance indicators
- Pervasive Sensing: the industry’s largest portfolio of smart, easy-to-deploy, connected devices, including wireless instruments
- Project Management: best practices, tools and resources to implement a digital transformation project with confidence
Comprehensive Operational Analytics Portfolio
Emerson’s portfolio of operational analytics focuses on the greatest source of value for industrial manufacturers – the production itself. Operational analytics with embedded domain knowledge can impact and improve performance of simple equipment, complex assets and process units, and entire production plants.
“We recommend addressing the high impact, known problems first,” Zornio said. “By using proven models that make analytics accessible to the personnel responsible for the performance of assets, our customers can act quickly to solve problems faster. For example, Emerson’s solutions can detect and address 80% of the equipment failure modes contributing to production loss in a plant in real-time.”
Additionally, Emerson’s enhanced portfolio includes machine learning and artificial intelligence that can be used to identify new discoveries and deepen insight to impact business performance. These tools provide perspective previously unattainable with traditional analytics.
“With our acquisition of KNet and its integration into our Plantweb Optics asset performance platform, Emerson can provide not only some of the most advanced machine learning and AI tools in the industry, but also the connection to people and workflows, which are critical to digital transformation success,” Zornio said.
Emerson’s portfolio now provides both pre-packaged analytics solutions as well as a complete analytics toolbox for users to develop their own applications. This portfolio is supported by Emerson’s Operational Certainty consulting practice and robust data management capabilities that provide a foundation for analytics success.
AMS Asset Monitor increases visibility and adds predictive analytics
AMS Asset Monitor edge analytics device digitalizes essential asset data and analytics for better operations performance and improved decision making. AMS Asset Monitor provides actionable insights into essential
assets that were previously monitored only with infrequent assessments. The new edge analytics device will connect with Emerson’s Plantweb Optics asset performance platform to provide key operations personnel with instant asset health details for operations and maintenance decision making.
Plants typically monitor the condition of essential assets such as pumps, fans, and heat exchangers only every 30 to 60 days. The longer the gap, the more likely that a defect goes undetected and results in an unexpected failure with significant impact on production, product quality, and plant efficiency. The new AMS Asset Monitor combines easy deployment, embedded logic-based analytics, and intuitive health scoring to make it easier for organizations to monitor and maintain essential assets. For instance, AMS Asset Monitor’s analytics and visualization can help plant personnel effectively plan maintenance during scheduled shutdowns and turnarounds and reduce or eliminate unplanned downtime.
Unlike typical analytics devices that send data to a historian or the cloud to be processed later, AMS Asset Monitor provides analytics at the edge, performing calculations at the device. This device-centered analytics capability reduces the time, complication, and expense of adding analytics to a plant’s assets. Each device collects data continuously and uses embedded logic to identify and diagnose common reliability issues. Individual issues such as imbalance, misalignment, bearing faults, lubrication issues, or fouling are consolidated into an overall asset health score. AMS Asset Monitor then communicates these health scores via a web browser or—when integrated with Plantweb Optics—through real-time persona-based alerts on mobile devices. Plantweb Optics also enables enterprise-wide visibility and expands edge analytics and digital intelligence throughout the organization, keeping personnel aware of essential asset health.
“Plants are always looking for more ways to improve profitability by increasing productivity. Just a percentage point or two in availability can equal millions of dollars per year or more,” said John Turner product manager for online prediction, Emerson. “The AMS Asset Monitor enables personnel across the plant to see the current health of essential assets along with suggested actions to improve asset health. This allows them to make informed decisions to maintain reliability, increase uptime and maximize productivity.”
The AMS Asset Monitor’s small footprint along with wired or wireless Ethernet connectivity make it simple to install. The edge device can support new applications by simply adding new logic-based analytics.
Industrial Wireless Network Solution
Emerson is partnering with Cisco to introduce a next-generation industrial wireless networking solution. The new Emerson Wireless 1410S Gateway with the Cisco Catalyst IW6300 Heavy Duty Series Access Point combines the latest in wireless technology with advanced WirelessHART sensor technology, delivering reliable and highly secure data, even in the harshest industrial environments.
“A secure connection that scales easily is the foundation for every successful IoT deployment.” said Liz Centoni, senior vice president and general manager, IoT at Cisco. “By using the power of the intent-based network, Cisco provides a secure, automated, rock solid infrastructure helping IT and operational teams work together to reduce complexity and improve safety.”
This next-gen wireless access point provides enhanced wi-fi bandwidth necessary for real-time safety monitoring, including Emerson’s Location Awareness and wireless video. These applications enhance personnel safety practices, improve plant security and help ensure environmental compliance. A reliable and fast connection between devices and people streamlines decision making by providing real-time analytics. It also enables a mobile workforce to virtually come together, collaborate and resolve critical issues in a timely manner.
“Products installed in industrial plants need to last for years, even decades,” said Bob Karschnia, vice president of wireless at Emerson. “This kind of longevity was a critical design and engineering requirement to ensure this new wireless access point was future-proofed to meet a rapidly evolving technology landscape.”
Personalized Digital Experience
Emerson‘s new personalized digital experience – MyEmerson–connects people and technology through streamlined work processes and better collaboration. With a MyEmerson online account, users can access digital tools to quickly engineer solutions, manage software and installed assets, access training, collaborate with experts, streamline procurement processes, and improve visibility into buying history and trends.
“Driven by our personal interaction with digital technology, customers have new expectations today about speed and access to information,” said Brad Budde, vice president of digital customer experience, Emerson
Automation Solutions. “Our customers still want access to human expertise, but now expect a great digital experience as well. Combining these two experiences to deliver information immediately and use it to solve problems faster is what drives new business value.”
Digital engineering tools help engineers collaborate, gain confidence in an evolving industry, and streamline time-consuming manual processes. With online sizing, selection, and configuration tools for measurement instrumentation, valves, actuators, fluid control, pneumatic and electrical solutions, engineers can confidently and accurately specify solutions for their unique requirements and process conditions. By employing
digital tools, engineers can configure instrumentation up to 93% faster, typically saving over 100 engineering hours annually.
For procurement professionals, MyEmerson includes access to online purchasing and supplier management resources. Once solutions are selected and configured by engineering counterparts, the information moves seamlessly to the procurement team – eliminating the need for manual handoffs and duplicate entry of model codes. Procurement personnel can then create requisition lists, generate quotes and automatically populate purchase orders. With greater visibility to order status and order history, procurement teams have access to the information they need to drive more efficient processes.
The MyEmerson development roadmap will centralize the management of software, hardware and workforce upskilling. With easier access to technical documentation, easier identification of device location, and the ability to initiate repair, replacement or service as needed, organizations gain maintenance and turnaround planning efficiencies. By moving from manual management of disparate software applications, updates and
licenses, users will be able to actively operate and maintain their software portfolio through a single-entry point. Both hardware and software records will be tightly integrated to relevant training, enabling trackable and accessible information in the same experience.
This entire area of collaborative robots (cobots) just keeps getting more interesting. The idea of humans and robots working collaboratively is intuitive but has been difficult to achieve. Cobots have ramifications far beyond industrial applications. But even here, they can lead the way to better productivity and effectiveness.
In this latest piece of news, Universal Robots (UR) announced the immediate availability of the UR16e which boasts an impressive 16 kg (35 lbs) payload capability.
This cobot combines the high payload with a reach of 900 mm and pose repeatability of +/- 0.05 mm making it ideal for automating tasks such as heavy-duty material handling, heavy-part handling, palletizing, and machine tending.
“In today’s uncertain economic climate manufacturers need to look at flexible solutions to stay competitive,” said Jürgen von Hollen, President of Universal Robots. “With UR16e, we meet the need for a collaborative robot that can tackle heavy-duty tasks reliably and efficiently. This launch significantly expands the versatility of our product portfolio and gives manufacturers even more ways to improve performance, overcome labor challenges, and grow their business.”
Developed on UR’s e-Series platform, the UR16e offers these benefits:
· Fast and frictionless deployment with easy programming and a small footprint
UR16e makes accelerating automation easy and fast. Programming and integration is simple – regardless of the user’s experience or knowledge base. Like all UR’s cobots, UR16e can be unpacked, mounted and programmed to perform a task within less than an hour. With a small footprint and 900 mm reach, UR16e easily integrates into any production environment without disruption.
· Addresses ergonomic challenges while lowering cost
With its 16 kg payload, UR16e eliminates the ergonomic and productivity challenges associated with lifting and moving heavy parts and products, lowering costs, and reducing downtime.
· Ideal for heavy-duty material handling and machine tending
Rugged and reliable, UR16e is ideal for automating high-payload and CNC machine tending applications, including multi-part handling, without compromising on precision.
“At Universal Robots we continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible with collaborative automation,” continued von Hollen. “Today, we’re making it easier than ever for every manufacturer to capitalize on the power of automation by bringing a cobot to market that is built to do more, as it delivers more payload than our other cobots.”
Like with UR’s other e-Series cobots; UR3e, UR5e and UR10e, the UR16e includes built-in force sensing, 17 configurable safety functions, including customizable stopping time and stopping distance, and an intuitive programming flow. UR16e meets the most demanding compliance regulations and safety standards for unobstructed human-robot collaboration, including EN ISO 13849-1, PLd, Category 3, and full EN ISO 10218-1.
I have watched the activity of growth and maturity of fieldbuses for many years. The promise of interoperability and many other benefits with Profibus, Foundation Fieldbus, DeviceNet, and the like were written and discussed in all the journals and conferences.
But Ethernet became widely adopted more than 10 years ago. Profibus developed Profinet. ODVA moved its protocol to Ethernet dubbed EtherNet/IP just to confuse everyone in the market and (I suppose) hoped to pick up a few unsuspecting customers. Many companies were interested in the benefits of Ethernet without the protocols and/or firmware of the majors. It really seemed to take over the world.
I spotted a press release from HMS Industrial Networks citing a study that charts industrial network market shares for 2019. I lost the release in my inbox, but I picked it up in Control Global after seeing a newsletter.
This is essentially the HMS press release as found at Control Global.
Industrial networks are linking more equipment than ever, which is why newly connected nodes are expected to increase by 10% this year, according to a recent study, “Market shares 2019—fieldbus, industrial Ethernet and wireless,” by HMS Industrial Networks. The annual study also found that industrial Ethernet and wireless will continue to grow quickly in 2019, but it will also be the first year that fieldbuses decrease.
In 2018, HMS reported that industrial Ethernet had surpassed traditional fieldbuses for the first time, and this trend continues in 2019. With a steady growth rate of 20%, industrial Ethernet makes up 59% of the global market in 2019, compared to 52% in 2018. EtherNet/IP is the largest industrial Ethernet network with 15% of the market, while Profinet has almost closed the gap and is now at 14%. Ethernet runners-up globally are EtherCAT at 7%, Ethernet Powerlink at 5%, and Modbus-TCP at 4%, all of which are showing stable growth.
Meanwhile, for the first time ever, fieldbuses are declining by -5% in 2019, compared to 6% growth last year, and now account for 35% of new installed nodes. The dominant fieldbus is still Profibus with 10% of the total world market, followed by CC-Link at 6% and Modbus-RTU at 5%.
The transition to industrial Ethernet continues and is driven by the need for high performance and the need for integration between factory installations and IT-systems/IIoT applications,” says Anders Hansson, chief marketing officer at HMS. “For the first time, we’re seeing traditional fieldbuses are declining in new installed nodes. When it comes to industrial Ethernet, we see good growth for many networks. For the established Ethernet/IP, Profinet, EtherCAT, Powerlink and Modbus-TCP, as well as for the networks grouped in the ‘other Ethernet’ category. This fragmented Ethernet picture is very interesting, and it goes to prove that industrial Ethernet never standardized on one network as many predicted when the Ethernet-based networks first evolved in the 1990s. Just like the fieldbuses, the various Ethernet networks serve different purposes depending on industrial application.”
In addition, wireless technologies are also growing steadily by 30% in 2019, and account for 6% of the total market. Within the wireless category, wireless local area networks (WLAN) are the most popular technology, followed by Bluetooth. “Wireless is increasingly being used by machine builders and system integrators to realize new, innovative automation architectures. Users can reduce cabling and create new solutions for connectivity and control,” adds Hansson. “We also see increased activities globally around cellular technologies, such as private LTE/5G networks, as enablers for smart and flexible manufacturing in factories.”
Finally, HMS reports that in Europe and the Middle East, EtherNet/IP and Profinet are leading and Profinet is still widely used, while other popular networks are EtherCAT and Ethernet Powerlink. Meanwhile, the U.S. market is dominated by the CIP-based networks with a clear movement towards EtherNet/IP, while EtherCAT continues to gain market share. In Asia, no individual network stands out as market-leading, but Profinet, EtherNet/IP, Profibus, EtherCAT, Modbus and CC-Link are widely used, with the Ethernet version of CC-Link, CC-Link IE Field, also gaining ground.
That engineers would develop ways for humans and robots to co-exist, yes even collaborate, seemed inevitable. Why should we consign robots to cages as safety hazards when the future assuredly requires close collaboration. Therefore the burgeoning area of collaborative robotics or cobots.
I’m thinking not just about industrial applications. Robots surely will assist an aging population cope with everyday tasks in our (near) future of fewer people to populate those jobs.
Several of the “old guard” robotics companies have developed “co-bots” but I’ve watched the development of Universal Robots for some time. The company sponsored this blog for a while a few years ago. Here I’ve picked up on a couple of items. The UR marketing team was a bit surprised to discover that I have more than a passing interest in packaging. As a matter of fact, I noticed packaging as a likely growth area for automation about 18 years ago, and that feeling has been borne out.
One story concerns a packaging demonstration with a socially worthwhile goal mixed in. The other reports on a recent market study by ABI Research.
Universal Robots Solves Random Picking Challenge, Providing Food for At-Risk Youth
The challenge: Pick six differently sized food items randomly oriented on a moving conveyor and place each of these items into the same pouch. Then do this again 1,199 more times, ensuring each pouch has the same six items. This is the challenge Universal Robots and Allied Technology will address, quickly identifying and picking items – ranging widely from packs of Craisins to cans of beef ravioli – in Pack Expo’s Robotics Zone during the three-day show.
“Random picking is quickly becoming one of the most sought-after automation tasks from industries such as e-commerce, fulfillment centers and warehousing,” says Regional Sales Director of Universal Robots’ Americas division, Stuart Shepherd. “At Pack Expo, Universal Robots and Allied Technology will demonstrate how UR cobots can be quickly deployed in a compact, modular system, handling the entire process from box erecting, to vision-guided conveyor tracking, part picking, tote assembly, pouch filling and sealing, kitting and palletizing,” he says, adding how the packaging line is also a testament to the capabilities of Universal Robots’ growing number of Certified System Integrators (CSIs). “Allied Technology was able to quickly create this fully-automated solution. We are delighted to see our cobots competently integrated in so many new packaging applications now.”
Allied Technology and Universal Robots’ packaging line features four UR cobots equipped with products from the UR+ platform that certifies grippers, vision cameras, software, and other peripherals to work seamlessly with UR’s collaborative robot arms. The latest flexible grasping technology will be showcased by a UR5e with Piab’s new Kenos® KCS vacuum gripper guided by a vision camera from UR+ partner Cognex.
Once completed, the 1,200 bags of food will be delivered to “Blessings in a Backpack” a leader in the movement to end childhood hunger, ensuring that children receiving free or subsidized school lunches during the week do not go hungry over the weekends. “We look forward to showcasing this demo that is meaningful in so many ways,” says Shepherd. “We are excited to partner with Blessings in a Backpack while also addressing the needs of the packaging industry with solutions that will simplify and fast-track cobot deployment on their lines.”
Unlike traditional robots caged away from show attendees, visitors to the UR booth are able to walk right up to the UR cobots and interact with them. The booth “playpen area” will feature several cobot arms including a U53e with Robotiq’s new UR+ certified E-Pick Vacuum Gripper, allowing attendees to explore on-the-spot programming. The gripper is one of the recent additions in a rapidly expanding UR+ product portfolio that now includes no less than 195 UR+ certified products with 400+ companies participating in the UR+ developer program.
Meanwhile, Universal Robots maintains top spot in ABI Research’s Ranking of Cobot Companies in Industrial Applications; Doosan, Techman Robot, and Precise Automation are closing in.
This news originates with ABI Research. There are well over 50 manufacturers of collaborative robots (cobots) worldwide, but only a handful of these companies have so far deployed cobots on any meaningful level of scale. Tens of thousands of cobots have been sold as of 2019 and earned US$500 million in annual revenue for world markets. In its new Industrial Collaborative Robots Competitive Assessment, global tech market advisory firm, ABI Research finds Universal Robots (UR) to be the clear forerunner, particularly in implementation.
The Industrial Collaborative Robots Competitive Assessment analyzed and ranked 12 collaborative robot vendors in the industry – ABB, Aubo Robotics, Automata, Doosan Robotics, FANUC, Franka Emika, Kuka AG, Precise Automation, Productive Robotics, Techman Robot, Universal Robots, and Yaskawa Motoman – using ABI Research’s proven, unbiased innovation/implementation criteria framework. For this competitive assessment, innovation criteria included payload, software, Ergonomics and human-machine interaction, experimentation and safety; implementation criteria focused on units and revenue, cost and ROI, partnerships, value-added services, and the number of employees.
“Market leaders in cobots generally have well-developed cobot rosters, in many cases backed up by an ecosystem platform that integrates applications, accessories, and end-of-arm-tooling (EOAT) solutions in with the base hardware,” said Rian Whitton, Senior Analyst at ABI Research. With 37,000 cobots sold so far, UR leads, followed by Taiwanese provider Techman with 10,000, and Korea-based Doosan with over 2,000. Precise Automation, which uses an advanced direct drive solution to develop faster collaborative robots, was cited as the most innovative of the 12 providers, just edging out Universal Robots, who claimed the overall top spot due to their significant lead in implementation.
There are several companies that are too young to be challenging the dominant parties in the cobot market but are developing new and disruptive technologies that will allow them rise to prominence in the years to come. Productive Robotics is a case-in-point. The California-based developer has an arm with inbuilt vision, 7 axes for superior flexibility, long reach, and a very affordable price point, but has yet to deploy at scale. Automata, a British company that develops a ‘desk-top’ cobot costing less than US$7,000, is significantly lowering the barriers to entry for smaller actors and is championing the use of open-source middleware like ROS to program cobots for industrial use-cases. Germany-based Franka Emika and Chinese-American provider Aubo Robotics also represent relatively new entrants to the market who are building on the success of Universal Robots and are beginning to compete with them.
Perhaps surprisingly, while the major industrial robotics providers have developed cobot lines, they have generally been less successful in marketing them or gaining market traction relative to the pure-cobot developers. In part, this is down to focus. While collaborative robots are valuable, they generally suit deployments and use-cases with smaller shipments and a wider variety of small and large end-users. For industrial players like ABB, FANUC, KUKA AG and Yaskawa Motoman, their client-base tends to be large industrial players who buy fixed automation solution through bulk orders. Aside from this, all four of these companies are competing extensively for greater shipment figures in China, where the cobot oppurtunity relative to the market for traditional industrial systems is much less apparent than in Europe or North America.
“Though many of the cobots deployed by these companies are impressive, and they have a lot of software services, the high-cost and lack of easy use among their systems largely defeat the current value proposition of cobots, making them the laggards in this competitive assessment.” says Whitton.
Looking forward, the larger industrial players are likely to improve their relative position, as future growth in cobots rests on scaling up and large deployments. “Universal Robots, though likely to remain the market leader for the foreseeable future, will be increasingly competing on an even footing with near-peer cobot developers, who are already developing second-generation cobots with significant hardware improvements. Meanwhile, some more innovative companies will be able to accelerate adoption through price decreases, improved flexibility, and common platforms to retrofit collaborative capability on industrial robots,” Whitton concluded.
These findings are from ABI Research’s Industrial Collaborative Robots Competitive Assessment report. This report is part of the company’s Industrial Solution, which includes research, data, and analyst insights. Competitive Assessment reports offer comprehensive analysis of implementation strategies and innovation, coupled with market share analysis, to offer unparalleled insight into a company’s performance and standing in comparison to its competitors.
I was working with controls, instrumentation, computers, software when I traded it in for media work first with Control Engineering and then with Automation World. Through a lot of those media years, Honeywell was one of the Big Four or Five in process control and systems. Over the past 6-10 years, those big companies have diverged into differing specialities. It’s been interesting to observe that part of the industrial market.
Honeywell began leveraging expertise of its various divisions into wireless, mobile, and wearables. Much of the emphasis has been safety with a spillover effect into productivity.
Wearables comprise a growing market category with much promise. I’ve had the opportunity to try on a number of different products. These increasingly solve real world problems with ever reducing interference in the real work of the person.
In this latest release, Honeywell announced that Braskem Idesa has adopted a hands-free, wearable connected technology solution at its plant in Veracruz, Mexico. Honeywell’s Intelligent Wearables will allow Braskem Idesa to improve productivity and compliance with process procedures, capture the expertise of experienced workers and provide critical insights and information effectively to trainees and support workers in the field.
Honeywell is delivering a complete outcome-based solution that tracks specific key performance indicators and integrates hardware, software and services, and a full Wi-Fi infrastructure to support use of the solution across the plant. The wearable technology will also accelerate training and ensure safety for field operators at the Braskem Idesa facility.
“With this solution, Braskem Idesa is embracing the digital transformation that will enable us to retain our leadership in the petrochemicals industry,” said Roberto Velasco Gutiérrez, industrial director, Braskem Idesa. “Capturing all the relevant expertise and data within the organization and getting it to workers wherever and whenever needed, will help get trainees safely into the field faster and ensure that every worker operates to Braskem Idesa’s best standards.”
A comprehensive range of applications from Honeywell will boost the speed, safety and reliability of field workers thanks to the following services:
- Expert on Call: Provides field workers with live, real-time access to experts in the central control room or elsewhere for troubleshooting, support and advice
- Video support: Enables users to view videos demonstrating key tasks
- Paperless rounds: Provides step-by-step instructions for common and complex tasks
“Braskem Idesa has not only taken an important step toward Industry 4.0 but has now also replaced paper-based and manual operations with a sophisticated solution that’s both digital and wireless,” said Vincent Higgins, director of technology and innovation, Honeywell Connected Enterprise, Industrial. “Wearable, voice-controlled computer headsets and software eliminate the need for clipboards, pens, and flashlights. Our offering will help Braskem Idesa capture expertise and document critical tasks to ensure operational compliance.”
Honeywell’s solution for field worker competency and productivity enables Braskem Idesa to tie its plant performance directly to the performance of its workers, critical to the success of any industrial enterprise. By connecting field workers with remote advice, Honeywell Intelligent Wearables also reduce the need for site visits from experts, empower workers to continue learning, become their best and effectively share their knowledge with peers.
I think even mainstream media has caught up to the current hiring situation—it is hard to find qualified people to fill positions. Heck, even last night stopping at a Cracker Barrel on the drive home from Tennessee we saw a harried staff and only about half the tables filled. They didn’t have enough people to staff the place.
Now try to find skilled welders. How about hiring a robotic welder? Easy to program and install. Always shows up for work. No drug test required. A very interesting idea.
The new for-hire BotX Welder—developed by Hirebotics and utilizing Universal Robots’ UR10e collaborative robot arm—lets manufacturers automate arc welding with no capital investment, handling even small batch runs not feasible for traditional automation.
The press release tells us, “Nowhere in manufacturing is the shortage of labor felt as urgently as in the welding sector, which is now facing an acute shortage of welders nationwide. The industry’s hiring challenge, combined with the struggle metal fabrication companies experience in producing quality parts quickly and in small runs, prompted Hirebotics to develop the BotX Welder.
“Many people didn’t believe that collaborative robots could perform such heavy-duty tasks as welding,” says Rob Goldiez, co-founder of Hirebotics. “We realized the need of a solution for small and medium sized metal fabricators trying to find welders.” Hirebotics’ hire-a-robot business model built on the Universal Robot, set the foundation for the BotX. It is a welding solution powered by the UR10e cobot that is easy to teach, producing automation quality with small batch part runs.
The BotX is now available to early access customers and will officially launch at FABTECH in Chicago, November 11-14.
In developing BotX, Hirebotics addressed two major hurdles of robotic welding: the ease of programming and the ease in which a customer can obtain the system without assuming the risk of ownership. There are no installation costs with BotX and with cloud monitoring, manufacturers pay only for the hours the system actually welds. “You can hire and fire BotX as your business needs dictate,” explains Goldiez.
The complete product offering comes with the UR10e cobot arm, cloud connector, welder, wire feeder, MIG welding gun, weld table, and configurable user-input touch buttons. The customer simply provides wire, gas, and parts. Customers can teach BotX the required welds simply via an intuitive app on any smartphone or tablet utilizing welding libraries created in world-class welding labs. A cloud connection enables 24/7 support by Hirebotics.
“We chose Universal Robots’ e-Series line for several reasons,” says Goldiez. “With Universal Robots’ open architecture, we were able to control, not only wire feed speed and voltage, but torch angle as well, which ensures a quality weld every time,” he says. “UR’s open platform also enabled us to develop a cloud-based software solution that allows us to ensure a customer is always running with the latest features at no charge,” explains the Hirebotics co-founder. “We can respond to a customer’s request for additional features within weeks and push those features out to the customer with no onsite visits,” says Goldiez, emphasizing the collaborative safety features of the UR cobots. “The fact that they’re collaborative and don’t require safety fencing like traditional industrial robots means a smaller foot print for the equivalent working space, or put another way; less floor space to produce same size part. In many cases less than half the floor space of traditional automation,” he says. “The collaborative nature of the solution enables an operator to move between multiple cells without interrupting production, greatly increasing the productivity of an employee.”
PMI LLC in Wisconsin, was one of the first customers of the BotX. “A large order would mean, we need to hire 10-15 welders to fulfill it – and they’re just not out there,” says VP of Operations at PMI, Erik Larson. “Therefore, we would No Bid contracts on a regular basis. With the BotX solution, we now quote that work and have been awarded contracts, so it has really helped grow our business,” says Larson. “The BotX Welder doesn’t require expensive, dedicated fixturing and robot experts on the scene.” Now PMI’s existing operators can handle the day-to-day control of the BotX, which welds a variety of smaller product runs.
The Wisconsin job shop has now stored weld programs for more than 50 different parts in their BotX app. “We are now able to deliver quality equivalent to what we could accomplish manufacturing with very expensive tooling typically used with higher-volume part runs,” says PMI’s VP of Operations, mentioning the ease of accessing the solution. “Being able to simply hire the BotX Welder, and quickly switch between welds by using our smart phone—and only pay for the hours it works—is huge for us. It took our area lead, who had no prior robotics experience, half an hour to teach it how to weld the first part.”
Another significant benefit was PMI’s ability to get the BotX welds certified for customers who require this. “This now means we do not need to use certified welders to oversee the operation. As long as the cobot welder’s program is certified, any operator can tend the cobot welder. This really unlocks a lot of resources for us,” says Larson. “Hirebotics and Universal Robots really hit the mark with this, we’re looking forward to a long partnership with them.”