One Year After Launch, Bluetooth Mesh Adoption Surpasses Expectations

One Year After Launch, Bluetooth Mesh Adoption Surpasses Expectations

Wireless mesh networking has been the source of technology and market battles for years in industrial applications. There is one that’s seldom discussed among engineers in this sector, though—Bluetooth. There exists a Bluetooth mesh standard. It’s been out a year. At this point there are more than 65 Qualified Bluetooth Mesh Products.

The dominant application to date is smart lighting systems. Smart home applications are coming along. The Bluetooth SIG talks of other industrial applications. We’ll have to see what develops. If I were an active engineer, I think I would take a look at possibilities. Bluetooth has some longevity and stability. We all use it with our smart devices. Interesting possibilities.

Following is news from the press release. Bluetooth mesh plays a role in the development of emerging markets such as Smart Building, Smart Industry, Smart Cities, and Smart Home. In the year since the release of Bluetooth mesh, more than 65 products with mesh networking capability have been qualified from leading silicon, stack, component, and end product vendors.

Bluetooth mesh networking enables many-to-many (m:m) device communications and is optimized for creating large-scale device networks. Designed to meet the scalability, reliability, and security requirements of commercial and industrial environments, Bluetooth mesh is powering smart building and smart industry implementations where tens, hundreds, or thousands of devices need to communicate with one another effectively. From factories to hospitals, airports, retail stores, and the home, Bluetooth mesh supports building services that bring real value to owners, operators, and occupants.

“Bluetooth mesh is one of a number of fundamental enablers of future IoT markets, allowing for robust, secure and scalable connectivity across the smart home, commercial building automation, industrial environments, and beyond,” said Stuart Carlaw, Chief Research Officer, ABI Research. “Bluetooth mesh, in conjunction with Bluetooth beacons, can propel these environments towards greater automation, increased sensorization, and enable valuable RTLS services. Nearly 360 million annual Bluetooth Smart Building device shipments are forecasted by 2022.”

Lighting control systems have served as a key use case driving the increase in Bluetooth mesh implementations. A building’s lighting system provides a natural grid through which all devices in a Bluetooth mesh network can pass messages and establish whole-building control, monitoring, and automation systems within a facility. This wireless lighting solution can also function as a platform to enable indoor positioning and location services – including point-of-interest solutions, indoor navigation, asset tracking, and improved space utilization.

“Bluetooth mesh has fundamentally altered the conversation around connected lighting by providing a complete, high-performing solution that allows lighting to serve a greater purpose in industrial and commercial spaces,” Mark Needham, Vice President, European Sales at Fulham Co, Inc. “A lighting system that can both help visitors find their way and allow building operators to pinpoint the location of assets within a building or collect a vast range of data from various building sensors for analysis and utilization is only the beginning of what is possible.”

In one year alone, Bluetooth mesh has paved the way for wireless lighting control solutions and has been a driving force in realizing the concept of lighting as a platform. According to ABI Research, annual commercial smart lighting equipment shipments are expected to increase fivefold by 2022.

“We are really excited about the rapid progress our member companies have made using Bluetooth mesh in just one year,” said Mark Powell, Executive Director of the Bluetooth Special Interest Group. “The Bluetooth member community dove straight into developing with the new technology, creating a growing list of product innovations that will steer the evolution and direction of commercial and industrial markets for years to come.”

Schneider Electric Foxboro Holds Conference, Details Strategy

Schneider Electric Foxboro Holds Conference, Details Strategy

Foxboro and Triconex looks to be on the path to health under Schneider Electric. Its annual user conference is this week in San Antonio. I‘d love to be there, but personally more important is “grandparent duty” that I’m on this week. So, I had the opportunity to talk with Gary Freburger, leader of the group, and Peter Martin, VP of marketing, to get an update and view of what I’ll be missing.

Gary Freburger began with the market rebounding due to current oil pricing. Business is starting to get strong. IA product line has done well and the process business also did well going up 6% in the first half of the year. He’s expecting majority of growth over the next two years. Schneider Electric is still investing around EcoStruxure system. Foxboro is continuing on the path they discussed with us at the last user conference—how to get more value from control systems going from “necessary evil” to value add in the eyes of customer executives. The strategy is to turn data and connectivity into a business driver. The goal is enabling better decisions and improving profitability.

Freburger discussed cooperating with OPAF for a comprehensive strategy. Then he dropped in an interesting tidbit—cooperation with AVEVA. I’ve wondered about how AVEVA with the inclusion of previous Schneider Electric software would work with the Foxboro side of things. He told me they now have and end-to-end relationship to improve time to market. He noted as oil prices dropped customers thought “what can I afford to do?” Now, all have reset expectations. As oil prices rebound, they have not changed expectations. Some interesting applications and strategies include AVEVA auto populate control system, digital twin of facility, operations feedback our systems to AVEVA’s, then customer asset management upgrade works easier.

Martin discussed how Schneider is trying to change the question—from how to do control to how do we help customers solve problems that impact business? He pointed out that they’ve been doing digitization for years. What’s new is how to drive this new approach. 40 years ago controls was a solution-driven business; then with digitization the industry went from solutions to technology-driven. The times now require a need to flip flop. Solutions oriented but with today’s portfolios taking it to a much higher level. The speed of industrial business has increased—what was stable, e.g. cost of electricity—is stable no longer. The speed means IT world can’t keep up. Built-in real-time accounting control helps plants go beyond control to profitability. Foxboro is still dedicated to taking the use of technology to the next level.

During the conference (while I am writing from the forests in southern Ohio while the grandkids are in bed), Schneider Electric announced the release of EcoStruxure Foxboro DCS Control Software 7.1.With expanded capabilities and an enhanced HMI, the updated software simplifies engineering and enhances the user experience, while expanding the ability of EcoStruxure Foxboro DCS to drive measurable operational profitability improvements, safely.

The EcoStruxure Foxboro DCS is an open, interoperable and future-proof process automation system that provides highly accurate and effective control over a manufacturing plant’s operational profitability. It is the only process control system that provides measurable operational profitability improvements and a future-proof architecture, enabling a measurable 100 percent ROI in less than one year.

EcoStruxure is Schneider Electric’s open, interoperable, IoT-enabled system architecture and platform. This includes Connected Products, Edge Control, and Apps, Analytics and Services. EcoStruxure has been deployed in 480,000+ sites, with the support of 20,000+ system integrators and developers, connecting over 1.6 million assets under management through 40+ digital services.

EcoStruxure Foxboro DCS Control Software 7.1 runs on Windows 10 and Windows Server 2016, to provide maximum flexibility while ensuring robust cybersecurity. When planning upgrades, Schneider Electric customers can mix Windows XP, Windows 7 and Windows 10 on the same system, allowing flexibility in scheduling and timing for upgrades. Customers can upgrade individual sections of the plant in any order, at any pace, to best accommodate plant production schedules. With Microsoft support for Windows 7 due to end in 2020, transitioning to Windows 10 allows EcoStruxure Foxboro DCS customers to benefit from the strongest operating system with the most up-to-date cybersecurity features.

Among other new and updated features, the continuously current EcoStruxure Foxboro DCS Control Software 7.1 now includes:

• EcoStruxure Field Device Expert that improves efficiency, safety and profitability, while considerably reducing time for startup and restarts. It includes:

◦ Intelligent Commissioning Wizard, to reduce commissioning time up to 75 percent by automating HART device commissioning and documentation processes.

◦ Device Replacement Wizard to significantly reduce time and expertise to replace or commission HART devices, either individually or in bulk.

◦ Bundled HART DD library for increased security, faster device deployment, eradication of version mismatch and elimination of cybersecurity risks previously created by moving documents from the HART consortium web page into the system.

• New HMI Bulk Graphics Editor for increased operational efficiency and reliability by greatly reducing engineering hours and improving quality during testing. Use in major projects shows that replicating hundreds of displays with the new Bulk Graphics Editor saves months of man hours and improves quality by delivering highly predictable results. The Bulk Graphics Editor makes migrating from the classic FoxView HMI to the new Foxboro DCS Control HMI easier, requiring far fewer engineering hours, which reduces the time and cost to transition between technologies.

• Control Editors Activity Monitor for increased efficiency by improving communication, workflow and collaboration.

• Real-time asset health condition monitoring for increased reliability.

• Future-proof technology supporting the latest FTD 2.0 standard, which improves compatibility with digitized field devices from Schneider Electric and third-party vendors.

• New migration path, along with the new HMI Bulk Graphics Editor, simplifies the transition from existing FoxView HMI displays to the EcoStruxure Foxboro DCS Control Software 7.1 HMI platform for a continuously current and future-proof system. An upgrade migration path is available from previous Control Software Versions 5.x, 6.x and 7.0. After upgrading, users can tap into newer technologies that improve productivity, cybersecurity, efficiency and profitability.

Companies Merge To Form Next Gen Collaborative Robotics

Companies Merge To Form Next Gen Collaborative Robotics

Enrico Krog Iversen, former CEO of the industry-leading collaborative robot pioneer, Universal Robots, along with the Danish Growth Fund, is addressing the next challenge in automation with the merger of three innovative end-of-arm tooling companies to facilitate the ongoing growth of collaborative robotics; an industry expected to reach $8.5 billion by 2025.

The new company combines U.S.-based Perception Robotics, Hungary-based OptoForce, and Denmark-based On Robot to become OnRobot, which will drive innovation and ease-of-use for robotic end-of-arm tooling. OnRobot’s headquarters will be located in Denmark under the management of Enrico Krog Iversen, and the three entities will continue their individual operations and development as well. In addition, OnRobot’s global network of distributors will have access to local sales support, technical assistance and product training from the company’s regional offices in Germany, China, U.S., Malaysia, and Hungary. More offices to come in 2018.

“The aim is to build a world-leading organization in development and production of end-of-arm tooling. Through further acquisitions and collaborations, we expect to reach a revenue exceeding one hundred million dollars in a few years,” says Iversen and continues: “Safe, cost-effective, and versatile cobots are becoming increasingly common because they offer sophisticated and intuitive programming that enables them to be easily deployed and redeployed. Easy-to-integrate end-of-arm tooling, such as grippers and sensors, become vital elements in adapting these powerful automation tools for a wide range of applications.”

In 2015 Enrico Krog Iversen and the Danish Growth Fund sold the Danish cobot pioneer company Universal Robots to U.S.-based Teradyne for $285 million. With their new venture, the two investors now further strengthen Denmark’s global position in the robotics field.

“In recent years Denmark has successfully established itself as a global hub for robotic technologies. Universal Robots was a pioneer, and since then many more strong and innovative companies have been formed with roots in Odense, Denmark. The new OnRobot has the potential to become not only a world-leading company, but also a catalyst for further development of the Danish robotics cluster. We are pleased to promote this trend through our investments and invite both companies and investors from around the world to come join us,” says Christian Motzfeldt, CEO of the Danish Growth Fund.

Collaborative robots, which work safely alongside humans in applications such as packaging, quality testing, material handling, machine tending, assembly and welding, currently represent 3% of global robot sales, according to the International Federation of Robotics, but the share is expected to rise to 34% of a $25 billion market by 2025.

“This growth will most definitely depend on cobots being used in more applications,” Iversen added. “Their small footprint and ability to work safely alongside humans make them ideal for small and medium-sized manufacturers who need to compete globally. Cobots are also increasingly integrated into very large manufacturers such as automotive plants, where they are taking over processes that can’t be automated using traditional robotics. As the types of cobot applications expand, so does the need for new tooling that can be quickly and easily integrated into the cobot’s user interface. The new OnRobot is championing a current mega trend in the field of automation. Combining the unique capabilities of these end-of-arm technologies under one umbrella company that is led by some of the smartest minds in the robotics industry will make them even easier to implement and program. By the way, the new OnRobot is currently looking to add employees in R&D,” says Iversen.

Companies Chosen for Synergies, Ease of Integration, Vision

The three companies that will form the new OnRobot were chosen because of their synergistic end-of-arm technologies, the ability of these technologies to easily integrate to provide improved support and the long-term vision and capabilities of each company’s founders.

• On Robot, founded in 2015, provides plug-and-play electric grippers — RG2 and RG6 — that mount directly on the robot arm, are highly flexible and are simple enough to be programmed and operated from the same interface as the robot without the need of engineers.

• OptoForce, founded in 2012, provides force/torque sensors that bring the sense of touch to industrial robots so that they can automate tasks that would otherwise require the dexterity of the human hand.

• Perception Robotics, founded in 2012 and based in Los Angeles, develops bio-inspired robot grippers: 1) a gecko-inspired gripper for handling large, flat objects and 2) a tactile gripper with compliant rubber tactile sensors (“skin”) to give robots a sense of touch. Its first grippers will be available this year.

OnRobot presented its first new products at automatica 2018. The Gecko Gripper, Polyskin Tactile Gripper, RG2-FT gripper and a technical upgrade of the HEX force-torque sensor product line based on OptoForce technology will open up new applications for collaborative robotics and make implementation even easier. In this fast-growing market segment, OnRobot has positioned itself from the ground up as the innovative provider for collaborative grippers and end-of-arm tooling.

“Collaborative robots have the potential to become the comprehensive standard in industrial automation,” says Enrico Krog Iversen, CEO of OnRobot. “We want to unleash this potential by making collaborative applications even easier to implement and to carry them into completely new applications – that is the idea behind all our new products that we are presenting here at automatica.”

The Gecko Gripper, developed by Perception Robotics, was inspired by nature and uses the same adhesive system for gripping as the feet of a gecko, with millions of fine fibers that adhere to the surface of the workpiece and generate strong van der Waals forces. For the Gecko Gripper technology, OnRobot licenses a concept originally developed by the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and brought it to market maturity.

This unique and fast-moving solution for handling large, flat objects makes vacuum grippers and their compressed air system unnecessary. In contrast to vacuum grippers, the Gecko Gripper can also handle perforated or porous workpieces such as printed circuit boards without any problems. The gripper is compatible with Universal Robots and Kawasaki robotic arms.

The Polyskin Tactile Gripper also comes from the innovation forge of Perception Robotics. The solution specializes in sensitive gripping: Both fingers can be individually aligned and have integrated tactile sensors at the fingertips. This allows the gripper to precisely measure the condition of the surface of workpieces and align its gripping processes accordingly. These properties take tactile gripping to a whole new level, especially when working with sensitive or irregular workpieces. The Polyskin Tactile Gripper is also compatible with Universal Robots and Kawasaki.

OnRobot is launching a variation of its established RG2 gripper, the RG2-FT with integrated force-torque sensors and a proximity sensor, which also accurately detects the condition of objects. The gripper detects the danger of objects slipping off even before it happens, making handling even safer – for workers as well as for the workpiece. This gripper model is particularly suitable for use in precision assembly and is compatible with lightweight robots from Universal Robots and KUKA.

The OnRobot product line for force-torque sensors based on OptoForce HEX technology has received a substantial technical upgrade, making installation and handling of the sensors even easier and faster. Mounting is now up to 30 percent faster, partly thanks to overload protection integrated in the sensor, which no longer has to be removed and mounted separately when attaching to the robot arm. Furthermore, the weight of the sensor can be reduced by 20 percent. A new, improved sealing ring also protects the HEX products better against dust or water in the environment.

Eight Transformative Technologies

Eight Transformative Technologies

Everybody has a list of transformative technologies. A news release from an advisory firm, ABI Research, came my way a few weeks ago. Its analysts came together and compiled a list of eight technologies they feel will be transformative in manufacturing and then they fit them with Smart Manufacturing. That latter phrase is one of the descriptors for the new wave of manufacturing strategy and technology.

We will have difficulty contesting the list. Most of these are, indeed, already well along the adoption path. I find it interesting that they refer to IIoT platforms, but they don’t view those as transforming technologies but rather as a sort of sandbox for the technologies to play in.

[This is a Gary aside—when an analyst firm makes a list of suppliers, I’d advise not considering it to be comprehensive. Rather the list is usually comprised of companies that the firm’s analysts get to sit down with and receive in-depth briefings.]

The ABI report identifies eight transformative technologies:

1 Additive manufacturing

2 Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML)

3 Augmented reality (AR)

4 Blockchain

5 Digital twins

6 Edge intelligence

7 Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) platforms

8 Robotics

From the ABI news release, “The manufacturing sector has already seen increased adoption of IIoT platforms and edge intelligence. Over the next ten years, manufacturers will start to piece together the other new technologies that will eventually lead to more dynamic factories less dependent on fixed assembly lines and immobile assets. Each step in this transformation will make plants and their workers more productive.”

“Manufacturers want technologies they can implement now without disrupting their operations,” says Pierce Owen, Principal Analyst at ABI Research. “They will change the way their employees perform jobs with technology if it will make them more productive, but they have no desire to rip out their entire infrastructure to try something new. This means technologies that can leverage existing equipment and infrastructure, such as edge intelligence, have the most immediate opportunity.”

ABI summary of its research

The transition towards a lights-out factory has started, but such a major disruption will require an overhaul of workforces, IT architecture, physical facilities and equipment and full integration of dozens of new technologies including connectivity, additive manufacturing, drones, mobile collaborative robotics, IIoT platforms and AI.

IIoT platforms must support many of these other technologies to better integrate them with the enterprise and each other. Those that can connect and support equipment from multiple manufacturers, such as PTC Thingworx and Telit deviceWISE, will last.

After decades of producing little more than prototypes, the AM winter has ended and new growth has sprung up. GE placed significant bets on AM by acquiring Arcam and Concept laser in 2016, and Siemens announced an AM platform in April 2018. Other leading AM specialists include EOS, Stratasys, HP and 3D Systems.

ML capabilities and simulation software have made digital twins extremely useful for product development, production planning, product-aaS, asset monitoring and performance optimization. Companies with assets that they cannot easily inspect regularly will significantly benefit from exact, 3D digital twins, and companies that manufacture high-value assets should offer digital twin monitoring as-a-service for new revenue streams. Innovative vendors in digital twins and simulation software include PTC, SAP, Siemens, and ANSYS.

The above technologies have already started to converge, and robotics provide a physical representation of this convergence. Robotics use AI and computer vision and connect to IIoT platforms where they have digital twins. This connectivity and AI will increase in importance as more cobots join the assembly line and work alongside humans. The robotics vendors that can integrate the most deeply with other transformative technologies have the biggest opportunity. Such vendors include the likes of ABB, KUKA, FANUC, Universal Robots, Rethink Robotics and Yaskawa.

“The vendors that open up their technologies and integrate with both existing equipment and infrastructure and other new transformative technologies will carve out a share of this growing opportunity. Implementation will go step-by-step over multiple decades, but ultimately, how we produce goods will change drastically from what we see today,” concludes Owen.

Safe and Collaborative Autonomous Mobile Robots

Safe and Collaborative Autonomous Mobile Robots

Collaborative describes the latest and most important trend in robots. Even if I was summarily dismissed when I asked that question of the CEO of a robotic arm company at an IT event, I stand by that analysis.

Lately Mobile Industrial Robots (MiR) news came to my attention. I’ve put off writing until I connected with Ed Mullen, US VP of Sales for this Danish company.

He told me that MiR designs and manufactures Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMR) which are a bit like a quantum jump from the older Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) with which you may be familiar. Especially if you’re older, like me.

AGVs followed a path which was usually a wire laid in the floor. It followed its route around the facility. Cool, but not really very intelligent.

AMRs operate similar to modern autonomous technology using a 2D map of the facility and a location system plus laser scanning LIDAR. Tell it a place to go, and like a GPS it calculates the best route and directs the mobile robot to its destination—safely. I have actually interacted with one of the company’s earlier versions at a trade show where it continuously ran a route around the booth.

He tells me that the company is really more of a software company than hardware. The object is to take open source software and package it so that the customer has great flexibility for applications while usually going from unboxing to operations in under an hour.

Product news

The latest product news is the launch of its MiR500 AMR. The robot has a lifting capacity of 500 kg (1102 lbs) and can automatically collect, transport and deliver pallets with speeds of nearly 4.5 miles per hour (mph). The MiR500 joins the MiR100 and MiR200 to form a complete fleet of flexible and easy-to-program MiR robots for both heavy and light transport that can optimize logistics throughout the entire production chain, from the warehouse to the delivery of goods.

“With the MiR500, we are extending the proven, strong technology and safety features that have made us the leading global supplier of autonomous mobile robots,” said Thomas Visti, CEO of Mobile Industrial Robots. “The MiR500 was developed to meet the needs of customers who have used our other robots and now see huge potential in the automation of the internal transport of heavy items and Euro-pallets. With MiR500, we’re setting new standards for how companies can use autonomous mobile robots.”

The user interface matches that used in the MiR100 and MiR200, which already optimize production processes in many of the world’s biggest multinational companies such as Airbus, Flex, Honeywell, Hitachi and Danone. The difference is the MiR500’s size, lifting capacity and areas of application.

“MiR500 is an extremely robust robot, so it’s perfect in industrial environments,” Visti said. “We’ve also incorporated the principles from the MiR100 and MiR200, where flexibility and user-friendliness are key attributes. This means that the MiR500 can be programmed without prior experience. It’s also simple to develop and replace top modules such as pallet lifters, conveyor belts and robot arms, so the robot can be used for different transport purposes.”

MiR has grown quickly since its founding in 2013, with sales rising by 500 percent from 2015 to 2016, and 300 percent from 2016 to 2017. With its second US office opening in San Diego this spring, and strong growth continuing worldwide, MiR expects to increase the number of employees from 65 to about 120 in 2018.

Acquisition

But wait, there’s more. Teradyne Inc. and the shareho6lders of Mobile Industrial Robots (MiR) announced the acquisition of privately held MiR of Odense, Denmark for €121 million ($148 million) net of cash acquired plus €101 million ($124 million at current exchange rate) if certain performance targets are met extending through 2020.

“We are excited to have MiR join Teradyne’s widening portfolio of advanced, intelligent, automation products,” said Mark Jagiela, President and CEO of Teradyne.  “MiR is the market leader in the nascent, but fast growing market for collaborative autonomous mobile robots (AMRs).  Like Universal Robots’ collaborative robots, MiR collaborative AMRs lower the barrier for both large and small enterprises to incrementally automate their operations without the need for specialty staff or a re-layout of their existing workflow.  This, combined with a fast return on investment, opens a vast new automation market.  Following the path proven with Universal Robots, we expect to leverage Teradyne’s global capabilities to expand MiR’s reach.”

MiR was profitable in 2017 with annual revenue of $12 million USD, more than triple 2016 revenues and had Q1’18 sales of $5 million.

“Joining Teradyne allows us to advance our engineering and development investments to provide greater value to our customers and further expand our market leadership in industrial autonomous mobile robots,” said Thomas Visti, CEO of MiR. “Teradyne’s worldwide reach, world-class engineering and support capabilities, financial strength and proven model for leveraging those strengths will help us grow in new and existing markets worldwide.”

“My main focus is to get our mobile robots out to the entire world,” said Niels Jul Jacobsen, CSO, founder of MiR. “With Teradyne as the owner, we will have strong backing to ensure MiR’s continued growth in the global market.”

Predictive Tool to Improve Human-machine Interactions in Digital Manufacturing

Predictive Tool to Improve Human-machine Interactions in Digital Manufacturing

As manufacturing shifts towards smart factories, with interconnected production systems and automation, engineers at the University of Nottingham are leading a £1.9m project to develop a predictive toolkit to optimise productivity and communication between human workers and robots.

This research fits in with much other reporting I’ve done including the work of Dell Technologies on “human-machine partnerships.”

DigiTOP is one of seven national projects to create novel digital tools, techniques and processes to support the translation of digital capabilities into the manufacturing sector, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

It comes following the industry-led Made Smarter review, chaired by Siemens Chief Executive Juergen Maier, which stated that industrial digitalisation could be worth as much as £455bn to UK manufacturing over the next decade.

DigiTOP officially started on 1st July with the first month dedicated to project set up activities culminating in our internal kick off meeting at the end of the month, after which we should have a more outward focus. The project will take 39 months and complete on 30 September 2021. The twitter account @DigiTOP_Project will be regularly updated, and they are in the process of setting up a website to aid dissemination of progress.

A digital toolkit for the optimisation of operators and technology in manufacturing partnerships, DigiTOP will be led by Professor Sarah Sharples at the University of Nottingham in collaboration with Loughborough University, Cranfield University, University of the West of England, BAE Systems, Babcock International, Synertial Labs Ltd, Artinis Medical Systems B.V., High Value Manufacturing (HVM) Catapult and Jaguar Land Rover Ltd.

The toolkit will focus on using human factor theories and data to digitally capture and predict the impact of digital manufacturing on future working practices. Demonstrators will be used to test the implementation of sensing technologies that will capture and evaluate performance change and build predictive models of system performance.

The project will also provide an understanding of the ethical, organisational and social impact of the introduction of digital manufacturing tools and digital sensor-based tools to evaluate work performance in the future workplace.

DigiTOP’s findings will help companies that are planning to implement digital manufacturing technologies to understand how it will alter working practices, and how to optimise workplace designs to take these changes into account.

The tools developed within DigiTOP will help industry to design future work which might take place with a human and robot working in collaboration to complete a task or help with understanding how to design a data visualisation which shows how current parts of the factory are performing, and where maintenance or systems change might be needed in the short or long-term future.

Professor Sharples said: “The manufacturing industry, with the drive towards ‘Industrie 4.0’, is experiencing a significant shift towards digital manufacturing. This increased digitisation and interconnectivity of manufacturing processes is inevitably going to bring substantial change to worker roles and manual tasks by introducing new digital manufacturing technologies to shop floor processes.

“It may not be enough to simply assume that workers will adopt new roles bestowed upon them; to ensure successful worker acceptance and operational performance of a new system it is important to incorporate user requirements into digital manufacturing technologies design.

“New approaches to capture and predict the impact of the changes that these new types of technologies, such as robotics, rapidly evolvable workspaces, and data-driven systems are required,” adds Professor Sharples, who is Associate Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research and Knowledge Exchange for Engineering at Nottingham.

“These approaches consist of embedded sensor technologies for capture of workplace performance, machine learning and data analytics to synthesise and analyse these data, and new methods of visualisation to support decisions made, potentially in real-time, as to how digital manufacturing workplaces should function.”

The EPSRC investment arose out of work conducted by the Connected Everything Network Plus, which was established to create a multidisciplinary community focussed on industrial systems in the digital age.

EPSRC’s Executive Chair, Professor Philip Nelson, said: “The adoption of advanced ICT techniques in manufacturing provides an enormous opportunity to improve growth and productivity within the UK.

“The effective implementation of these new technologies requires a multidisciplinary approach and these projects will see academic researchers working with a large number of industrial partners to fully harness their potential, which could generate impact across many sectors.”

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