Automation Makes Today’s News

Today, I have two product releases in the automation space. Collaborative robots (cobots) were the hit of Fabtech a couple of weeks ago. I was wondering about SCARA robots—those that I first learned to program and use back in the 80s. ABB came through with some SCARA robot news. Then comes news from a new Danish company that is applying automation to CNC machine loading problems.

Made4CNC Launches World’s First Completely Automatic CNC Door Opening Solution for Robots

A new Danish company has solved a well-known and previously unsolvable challenge in the metal industry; Made4CNC has developed the world’s first completely automatic door opening solution for robotic machine tending, fitted to any robot and CNC machine in under an hour.

Currently only a small percentage of the industry’s CNC machines are automatically fed components. Most of the world’s CNC machines rely on either the operator or the robotic arm having to physically open and close the machines’ heavy doors every few minutes. Investing in a new fully automatic CNC machine or upgrading an older model can be a tall order, both in practical and financial terms.

Made4CNC’s first official product, the new Safedoor SD100 removes the barriers to the automation of component feeding at machine shops. Safedoor SD100 opens CNC doors that are up to 1 meter wide and weigh 400 kg, at a speed of 500 mm/s. The door opener can connect to any robot and CNC machine make via galvanic insulated digital inputs and outputs.

Several end users and distributors have already caught the scent of a killer app and have started deploying the solution. The team behind Made4CNC, Thomas Visti, Lasse Kieffer and Peter Nadolny are three professionals well-known for disrupting the robot industry, having played integral roles in the success of Danish robot companies Universal Robots, OnRobot, Purple Robotics and Mobile Industrial Robots.

When automating CNC machines today, integrators often build “homemade” door opening solutions. But that risks errors, stoppages, and hazardous situations because the solutions typically require compressed air and are neither standardized nor tested. These challenges are overcome with Made4CNC’s fully electric Safedoor SD100 with built-in safety functions that enable the integrator to adjust the speed of the CNC door, making risk assessments easier to conduct.

“Around the world the need for faster and greater automation is a major trend, and for it to succeed, less time must be spent on each installation,” said Peter Nadolny Madsen, CEO at Made4CNC. “With the SD100, we have integrated safety and robustness in a user-friendly solution, which we believe is the key to optimal productivity,” he said, adding that integration of collaborative robots or light industrial robots together with existing CNC machines makes a lot of sense, since the automation of existing machines generate low risk and a short payback period for the customer. 

Together with investors Thomas Visti and Lasse Kieffer, Peter Nadolny Madsen established Made4CNC in January 2021. Investor Lasse Kieffer has contributed with his deep technological expertise, while investor Thomas Visti has provided market insight: “Made4CNC has understood what is required to make the process easier,” said Thomas Visti “It’s win-win-win for the end customer, employees, distributors and the manufacturer. I therefore expect that Made4CNC will have established itself via robot distributors and integrators around most of the world in the next 12 months.”

Integrator Nordelektro has installed two Made4CNC Safedoor SD100 door opening solutions at Randers Tandhjulsfabrik. “It took less than an hour for each CNC machine and they are good and stable door openers,” reported Lars Bo Nielsen, factory manager at Randers Tandhjulsfabrik. For Nordelektro, it makes a huge difference that they can provide customers with a standardized solution designed as a solution-in-a-box:

“Safedoor SD100 is a complete solution, which makes it simpler to work with automation,” said Jesper Storm Simonsen, sales manager at Nordelektro.  “It is a huge advantage for us as an integrator. We don’t need to invent something complicated and expensive. We have minimum project risk.” 

Made4CNC has just entered into agreement with their first American distributor, Thinkbot Solutions: “Safedoor SD100 makes having a job as a machine feeder much more pleasant and easy-going, while the employer will be able to optimize and get a better work flow,” said President of Thinkbot Solutions, Philip Courtois. “Others have tried unsuccessfully to develop a user-friendly door opener. Made4CNC has completely succeeded. I have chosen to distribute SD100 because attention is given to all of the details in terms of the mechanics, software and safety,” he stated, adding that SD100 is certified by the world’s most popular collaborative robot company Universal Robots (UR). “The UR+ certification ensures completely seamless integration with robots from Universal Robots. All operation can be done through the robot’s teach pendant.”

ABB expands SCARA robot range for faster, high precision assembly

ABB expanded its range of SCARA robots with the launch of the IRB 920T. Designed to meet the requirements of the electronics industry for high-speed production in increasingly complex manufacturing processes, the IRB 920T provides the highest levels of speed, accuracy and repeatability for assembly, picking and handling tasks.

“The need for companies to respond quickly to changing consumer demands is making SCARA robots a popular choice for production lines where fast and accurate performance is key to ensuring maximum product quality,” said Antti Matinlauri, Head of Product Management for ABB Robotics. “Together with ABB’s OmniCore controller, the IRB 920T is part of a new generation of robotic solutions from ABB that help manufacturers stay one step ahead of changing market demands.”

With a cycle time of 0.29 seconds, the IRB 920T is faster than other SCARA robots in its class and up to 14 percent faster than ABB’s current IRB 910SC SCARA robot, enabling more products to be produced per hour. With a maximum payload of 6kg and available in a choice of variants offering reaches of 450, 550 and 650mm, it can be installed throughout production lines to handle a variety of items, from single components through to assembled products.

Key to the performance of the IRB 920T is its excellent repeatability. Offering class-leading consistency, the IRB 920T can work quickly without the risk of errors, making it possible to achieve the highest levels of manufacturing quality with minimal or zero wastage. This flexibility is further supported by its lightweight and space-saving design. Weighing just 24kg, the IRB 920T is 10 percent lighter than other SCARA robots in its class, reducing cell design costs by eliminating the need for extra materials to support the robot. With all cables routed internally to remove cable interference, it also offers a compact footprint, enabling optimization of available production space.


The State of Ransomware in Manufacturing and Production 2021

Along with market research I have also been flooded with every security firms’ research especially on ransomware. This one just in from Sophos written by Sally Adam contains information more positive about our market sector than the usual scare tactics I see.

Our [Sophos] new report The State of Ransomware in Manufacturing and Production 2021 reveals that companies in this sector are the least likely to submit to a ransom demand and the most likely to restore encrypted data from backups of all industries surveyed. Just 19% of organizations whose data was encrypted paid attackers to decrypt their files, compared to a global average of 32%.

The report is based on the findings from an independent survey of 5,400 IT decision makers, including 438 in the manufacturing and production sector, conducted at the start of 2021.

Overall, 36% of the manufacturing and production organizations surveyed were hit by ransomware last year which is in line with the global average of 37%. Fortunately for this sector, 68% of those whose data was encrypted were able to restore it using backups, a rate considerably above the global average (57%). This high ability to restore data from backups enables many companies to refuse attacker demands, resulting in the low ransom payment rate.

Chester Wisniewski, principal research scientist at Sophos, advises that “backups are vital, but they cannot protect against this risk, so manufacturing and production businesses should not rely on them as an anti-extortion defense. Organizations need to extend their anti-ransomware defenses by combining technology with human-led threat hunting to neutralize today’s advanced human-led cyberattacks.”

OK, So There Is a Small Scare Tactic

While manufacturing and production companies show good resilience in the face of ransomware, the survey revealed that they have the highest expectation of a future attack of all sectors. Of the respondents not hit by ransomware last year, 77% expect to be hit in the future. The sophistication and prevalence of ransomware are the key factors driving this concern.

A sector heavily impacted by the pandemic

IT teams in manufacturing and production were severely affected by the challenges of 2020. This sector was the least likely to experience a decrease in cybersecurity workload over 2020: just 7% said their cyber workload had decreased, vs. a global average of 13%. It also had the fewest respondents who saw improved response time to IT cases (15% vs. a global average of 20%). The silver lining is that cyber skills also increased, with 71% of respondents saying their team’s ability to further develop cybersecurity knowledge and skills increased over 2020.

Learn more

Download the full report to explore the reality of ransomware in manufacturing and production. It also includes recommendations from Sophos experts to minimize the impact of ransomware in future.

Additive Manufacturing Software For Metal Replacement Parts

Continuing coverage of additive manufacturing from last week’s Rapid + TCT show in Chicago, here is news from Roboze, a company specializing in extreme end-use metal replacement parts. The original additive process used polymer materials. Metals have been hard to process and maintain tolerance. Technology has advanced.

Roboze has launched Prometheus, a robust slicing software that increases the productivity of its customers. The software, developed by Roboze’s software engineering team, was unveiled today at this year’s Rapid + TCT event.

The development of the Prometheus software empowers Roboze customers with a complete, simple, and intuitive 3D printing software solution for end-to-end workflow management, from the first stages of design through final production of the printed part. Prometheus was designed with a user-friendly interface and cutting-edge features to increase digital production and parts performance from Roboze 3D Printers. The technology behind Prometheus was developed to specifically consider the robust performance capabilities of the machines and the intrinsic characteristics of Roboze’s specially developed, high-performance super polymers and composite printing materials. The software allows users to easily and quickly create a stable, secure 3D printing code in just a few clicks, and it works across the most popular browsers in the world, including Chrome and Edge.

Software Partner and 3D Printing Materials Bring Additive Manufacturing to the Factory Floor

While at Fabtech and Rapid + TCT last week, I stopped by the Stratasys booth. It’s another of the leading Additive Manufacturing (or 3D Printing) suppliers developing materials, machines, and software. Here are a few announcements from it.

Expanded material options for new manufacturing systems

Stratasys continues to expand its ecosystem of materials to offer customers a variety of options across 3D printing technologies and solutions. The company announced new materials for the Stratasys H350 and Stratasys Origin One 3D printers and a new Origin Open Material License (OML) for the Origin One.

The SAF-powered Stratasys H350 3D printer is specifically designed for the mass production of end-use parts with consistency, and the ability to customize and control the production workflow. The H350 will initially utilize High-Yield PA11, a sustainable material derived from 100% bio-based castor beans. In addition, in 2022, PA12 (also known as Nylon 12) will be available for the H350. PA12 provides dimensional stability, chemical resistance and impact strength, and has been used across various additive manufacturing printing technologies for creating jigs and fixtures, tooling, and functional end-use parts.

Stratasys has further expanded its ecosystem of materials with two new materials by Henkel for the Stratasys Origin One. Stratasys Dura56 by LOCTITE is a durable, impact-resistant photopolymer with exceptional surface finish and a low cost per kilo. The material was created to address applications with high material consumption and for functional applications where aesthetics and robustness are critical. Dura56 is ideal for end-use parts such as housings, parts with mating features, or class A surfaces.

The second material for the Origin One printer is LOCTITE 3D IND405 Clear, a one-part semi-rigid 3D printable clear photopolymer resin that provides smooth surface finish, good impact resistance and elongation. Parts printed in IND405 can be polished to an optically clear finish. The material can be machined, tapped and polished, and is ideal for microfluidic devices as well as guide overlays. Its qualities are most comparable to unfilled polypropylene.

Stratasys is also introducing the Origin Open Material License (OML) for the Stratasys Origin One system, which is expected to ship this year. With the Origin OML software toolkit, advanced print users and material companies will be able to develop, beta test, and experiment with custom workflows and new materials. OML users will have the ability to override light, temperature, force, velocity and pressure on a layer-by-layer basis for ultimate control over the print process. The OML is designed to help materials companies and super-users accelerate iterations of material formulations and push products to market in weeks, not years.

Supporting Industry 4.0 with a growing software ecosystem

The GrabCAD Software Partner Program has added eight software partners so far in 2021, enabling Stratasys customers to integrate additive manufacturing into their Industry 4.0 initiatives. Stratasys today announced the newest addition to the GrabCAD Software Partner Program – AMFG.

AMFG, a leading provider of Manufacturing Execution System (MES) and workflow automation software for additive manufacturing, has partnered with Stratasys to deliver advanced AM solutions that combine AMFG’s workflow automation expertise with Stratasys’ 3D printers and GrabCAD software. AMFGs software solution enables connectivity across the production workflow, streamline processes, and provide greater levels of traceability and visibility. Further, the combination of Stratasys 3D printing solutions with AMFG’s fully automated order management, routing and production scheduling tools enable fully automated end-part production at scale.

Transforming additive manufacturing technology

Daikin Applied, a member of Daikin Industries, Ltd., designs and manufactures advanced commercial and industrial HVAC systems for customers around the world. The company is using the large build volume of the new Stratasys F770 3D printer to print batches of end-use parts for HVAC cabinets, which has allowed them to achieve a 93% time savings over purchasing custom injection molded spacers. Daikin is also using the F770 to print nozzle clamps used in Daikin test chambers, again saving time and costs over traditional manufacturing.

In February 2021, Stratasys announced the acquisition of UK-based RP Support Ltd. (RPS), a provider of industrial stereolithography 3D printers and solutions. This acquisition provided Stratasys customers with a new 3D printing technology option that produces high-quality parts with superior surface quality, accuracy and detail.

The Stratasys Neo Series of printers can produce concept models and prototypes with industry-leading accuracy, exceptional sidewall quality and crisp feature resolution, as well as rapid tooling and master patterns. Furthermore, the Neo Series of printers are designed with an open resin material system. This allows customers to choose the material that best suits their application.

Additive Manufacturing—Machine, Materials, Software

Talking with the Blake Teipel, CEO of additive manufacturing developer Essentium, at Rapid + TCT last week, he emphasized the core of the company’s offerings—Machine, Materials, Software. I summarized the show last week. Following are details from the company’s press releases. They include high-performance materials and a new printer, and electronics manufacturing.

First was announced the introduction of Essentium PEKK, made with Arkema 6002 Kepstan resin. This ultra-polymer offers high heat and chemical resistance and mechanical strength to meet the performance requirements of aerospace and industrial applications.

PEKK shares most of the performance attributes of PEEK but has a lower crystallization rate and can therefore be treated as an amorphous polymer. This means it is less affected by the cooling process once the part is 3D printed, thereby minimizing warping. PEKK maintains the flame smoke toxicity ratings for FAR (Federal Aviation Regulations) compliance while offering improved resistance to chemical attack compared to PEI materials. PEKK has an extrusion temperature between 340 and 400°C. 

The new material extends Essentium’s open additive ecosystem by allowing manufacturers to scale and meet the requirements of their specific applications with tested and certified materials of their choice. Essentium PEKK ensures manufacturers can quickly produce parts that meet their industry’s reliability, repeatability, and performance standards.

The Essentium HSE 280i HT 3D printer demonstrates how the industry’s first true independent dual extruders (IDEX) machine gives manufacturers the ultimate machine tool to 3D print at scale.  The system is independent on both the Y and X-axis, enabling manufacturers to 3D print multi-part builds at industrial speeds, even for parts with complex geometries.

Said Brandon Sweeney, Ph.D., Executive Vice President of R&D, Materials and Co-founder, Essentium Inc.: “Industries such as aerospace and automotive want AM to give them speed to parts without sacrificing quality. By providing an open additive ecosystem with a range of high-performance materials such as PEKK combined with the powerful capabilities of the HSE 280i, industry players now have a unique opportunity to rapidly produce complex parts for harsh and extreme environments on-demand. These AM innovations are game-changing for manufacturers who are driven by improvements in efficiency and time-to-market opportunities.”

Electronics Manufacturing with Industrial-Scale 3D Printing

Essentium, Inc. showcased its work with electronics manufacturer VIRTEX to achieve significant efficiencies, cost-savings, and time-to-market gains. Serving customers across aerospace, military, medical, and other industrial sectors, VIRTEX needed to create large volumes of custom fixtures for circuit boards and electronics placed in plastic enclosures. The fixtures were machined using traditional methods, but the lead time and cost would be unsustainable as production scaled. VIRTEX needed a 3D printing solution that could deliver the speed and agility to meet the demand for 3,000 fixtures per month and a build volume to accommodate 18″ x 6″ parts. 

VIRTEX worked with Essentium to explore the possibilities of deploying AM to create custom fixtures that could perform as well as the machined counterparts. Using the Essentium High Speed Extrusion (HSETM) 3D Printing Platform and Essentium PCTG material, VIRTEX could print the set of fixtures in under two days, reducing the lead time by almost two weeks. For the same fixture order that cost $5,000, the 3D printed part was $30, reducing the cost by 99%.

Said Ian Denefe, Manufacturing Engineer at VIRTEX: “The flexibility of additive manufacturing was one of the biggest benefits for us. The fact that we could reverse engineer existing fixtures, print them quickly, and rapidly modify them or replace them made it an ideal solution.”

Said Blake Teipel, Ph.D., CEO of Essentium: “As additive manufacturing goes mainstream, it is increasingly possible to manufacture crucial parts at speed and scale not previously seen. Given its greater design freedom, accelerated time to market, and significantly lower tooling costs, AM is fast becoming one of the most effective ways to meet the demands of electronics manufacturers. We will continue to work with customers like VIRTEX to unlock innovative new possibilities in electronics design and production.”

Universal Robots Showcases Innovative Applications at Fabtech 2021

My last post before absconding for vacation included an overview of Fabtech 2021—the first trade show I’ve visited in two years. Aside from the additive manufacturing area, the next most active area for me was collaborative robots. Much of the activity concerned welding. People at the Universal Robot booth told me that smaller companies have trouble hiring welders. The smaller cost of these robots plus speed from delivery to production make them an attractive alternative.

Universal Robots used FABTECH 2021 as the launchpad for new cobot applications including heavy-duty water-cooled welding, hardfacing, plasma cutting, and flexible machine loading. 

UR cobot-powered systems were mainstream at FABTECH with numerous OEMs and UR+ partners actively selling MIG, TIG and plasma welding and cutting solutions, making it one of the fastest growing market for UR cobots.

“For 40 years, robotic arc welding evolved incrementally”, says Joe Campbell, Senior Manager of Applications Development and Strategic Marketing at Universal Robots. “Collaborative arc welding is the first disruptive technology to hit the robotic arc welding market since the introduction of DC servo powered robots,” he adds, attributing the rapid market traction to several key drivers including significant shortage of welders, increase in high mix/low volume production, and the fact that cobot welders are easy to deploy, quickly producing parts with improved quality and consistency.

Heavy-duty welds are now possible to perform with cobots as Vectis Automation becomes the first UR partner in North America to develop a water-cooled cobot-based welding system in a new version of its Cobot Welding Tool. The solution is now not only compatible with Miller welding equipment but can be integrated with Lincoln and Fronius welding equipment too. 

Vectis Automation also pioneers the use of a UR cobot for hardfacing, the metalworking process where harder or tougher material is applied to a base metal. The company debuted new UR cobot powered plasma cutting as well, featuring Vectis’ Cobot Cutting Tool with Hypertherm PowerMax able to perform complex cuts on 3D shapes and large structures for a fraction of the cost of a tube laser. 

The UR booth also hosts new solutions for automated machine tending, featuring the new VersaBuilt CNC Mill Application Kit for manufacturers seeking a plug-and-play approach to CNC milling automation. Versabuilt’s UR+ Application Kit comes with all components pre-assembled and designed to successfully get the CNC mill and the UR10e cobot working together, automating the loading and unloading of parts into the mill. The VersaBuilt Kit requires no programming experience with easy-to-use automation software that allows the machinist to simply enter part dimensions and CNC milling program numbers to get the application up and running. 

Universal Robots’ ActiNav combines intelligent vision and real-time autonomous motion control with Universal Robots’ e-Series cobots. ActiNav combines real-time autonomous motion control, UR cobots, vision and sensor systems in one seamless Application Kit that solves the bin picking challenge in machine tending applications. At FABTECH, ActiNav picked metal parts randomly jumbled in bins and correctly insert them into a machine. Powering ActiNav is the new enhanced version of UR’s best-selling UR10e cobot now featuring 25% more payload capacity with the ability to lift 12.5kg (27.55lbs).

When it comes to the grippers picking up parts in automated loading and unloading of machine tools, as well as handling of ferromagnetic raw materials, gripping with magnetic grippers has proven to reduce cycle time and increase production. SCHUNK has addressed this industry need with the new EMH gripper, the world’s first electrically activated, 24 V permanent magnetic gripper with integrated electronics. The new EMH gripper will be showcased in seamless integration with a UR cobot at UR’s FABTECH booth alongside the new UR+ product, the AOV-10 Axially-Compliant Orbital Sander, from ATI Industrial Automation that is the ideal robotic solution for surface preparation and finishing. With built-in compliance, the AOV-10 is well-suited for many different robotic application types—even those that require a light touch.