Looking For Skilled Labor–Try Hiring a Welding Bot

Looking For Skilled Labor–Try Hiring a Welding Bot

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.

BotX Welder1

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.”

Looking For Skilled Labor–Try Hiring a Welding Bot

Smart Factory Transition

The short take: ADVICS and Macnica Networks, Inc. deploy FogHorn Edge Computing Software in Smart Factory Transition. We talk endlessly about IoT, digital transformation, and now Smart Factory Transition. Do these terms mean anything? I think we are seeing people do actual work by using digital technologies that they mostly already have pieces of. Then marketers come along and christen it with a name. We are witnessing real progress improving manufacturing and production with modern thinking and tech.

In this case according to the press release, a $5B automotive brake system manufacturer deploys FogHorn Lightning Edge Computing Software Platform for real-time data processing, machine learning and AI. Note: machine learning is usually considered a subset of AI.

ADVICS Co. Ltd., working with Macnica Networks Inc., has deployed FogHorn Lightning Edge Computing Software to provide onsite data processing, real-time analytics, and ultimately machine learning AI in its smart factory transition.

ADVICS supplies advanced, high-quality automotive brake systems and components globally. ADVICS partnered with Macnica Networks to digitize its manufacturing sites and integrate varied equipment data to enable edge-based real-time visualization and analytics of its manufacturing. The digital transformation has allowed ADVICS to identify production issues immediately and quickly determine the root cause therefore improving manufacturing efficiencies. Manual workloads surrounding data acquisition have also been significantly reduced, enabling operation leaders to spend more time on managing production.

“ADVICS digital transformation to a smart factory reflects their mission to contribute to the reliability of society by pursuing a better safety, environment and comfort through products that delight customers,” said Yuta Endo, vice president, general manager of business development and head of APAC operations at FogHorn. “We are excited to work with our partner, Macnica Networks, to help ADVICS enhance manufacturing efficiency. FogHorn Lightning is uniquely positioned to help companies transform streaming data into actionable, predictive insights right at the edge, providing real-time monitoring and diagnostics, streaming analytics, machine learning and operations optimization.”

FogHorn’s Lightning product portfolio embeds edge computing software locally, as close to the source of streaming sensor data as possible. FogHorn Lightning Edge platform delivers low latency for onsite data processing and real-time analytics in addition to its machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities.

ADVICS is one of the 13 major Aisin Group companies. The main business is the development, production and sales of automotive brake systems and parts that make up these systems.

Macnica Networks is a member of the Macnica Group, a growing global technology distributor. The company has over 20 years of experience in product localization, sales, and technical support of computer network equipment. It supplies a full line of leading-edge network appliances, software, telecom solutions to its customers, and consistently brings innovative new products to their portfolio.

FogHorn is a developer of edge computing software for industrial and commercial IoT application solutions.

Looking For Skilled Labor–Try Hiring a Welding Bot

Collaborative Robots Assume Tedious Tasks

I started out in a small shop. I had roles that encompassed purchasing, production/inventory control, manufacturing engineering, and even worked production when something needed done. 

So it was that one day I was trimming parts from a vacuum-formed plastic sheet using a bandsaw. Probably illegal today, may have been back then for all I know. Occasionally I would catch my mind drifting away. A guitar player, I’d pause and count fingers just to be sure.

Humans want jobs. But jobs that don’t challenge creativity and problem-solving but are only tedious, repetitive, mind-numbing can lead to tragedy.

A major reason robots gained such wide use especially in automotive manufacturing was that very problem along with removing humans from unsafe environments. Use robots when the task is dirty, dull, or dangerous.

The new breed of collaborative robots, or cobots, help expand robot’s usage into new areas of industry.

For example, this partnership just announced between Phillips Corp. and Universal Robots for loading and unloading CNC machines. Phillips Corporation, the largest global distributor of Haas CNC machines, offers a fast track to spindle uptime using Universal’s cobots.

“Having an expensive machine sit idle and missing out on orders due to lack of staffing is every manufacturer’s nightmare,” says Stu Shepherd, Regional Sales Director for the Americas division of Universal Robots (UR) that has already sold more than 1,000 UR cobots for tending Haas CNC machines. “This partnership between the largest distributor of the leading CNC brand and the leading collaborative robot brand offers a huge advantage for manufacturers, helping them solve staffing issues and stay competitive. We expect this new partnership to fast-track cobots in this sector, with significant advantages for manufacturers.”

With 9 offices representing 12 states throughout the South and Mid-Atlantic regions, Phillips Corporation boasts an installed base of more than 19,000 Haas CNC machines. “There is tremendous potential both for retrofitting existing installations with UR cobots and for getting through the door to new customers, offering turn-key solutions,” says president of Phillips Corporation’s commercial division, Michael Garner, who is also the chairman of Haas Automation’s North American distributor council. “We see a significant demand for cobots, which address labor shortages and also support manufacturers who need flexible automation tools they can operate without safety caging,” adds the Phillips president, stressing the UR cobots’ ease of programming. “There is no hardwiring or complex coding involved in getting a Universal Robot to communicate with a Haas machine since UR has solutions like the VersaBuilt software that facilitates two-way communication between the UR cobot and the CNC.”

VersaBuilt’s Haas CNC Integration Kit is a simple yet powerful interface that enables UR cobots to easily execute any machining program stored on the Haas CNC directly through the cobot’s own teach pendant, maintaining all Haas safety interlock features. Versabuilt is available through the UR+ platform, a showroom of products all certified to integrate seamlessly with UR cobots.

More than 60 different Haas models can be automated Universal Robots’ cobot arms. UR’s Stu Shepherd emphasizes how fast integration also means fast ROI. “Machine tending applications have consistently delivered an ROI of less than a year, sometimes even paying themselves back in a few months. A Haas-UR solution offered with Phillips’ CNC expertise and application know-how will help further improve that payback time.

Tales from the Tech Unknown

Data Protection Best Practices White Paper

Standards are useful, sometimes even essential. Standard sizes of shipping containers enable optimum ship loading/unloading. Standard railroad gauges and cars enable standard shipping containers to move from ship to train, and eventually even to tractor/trailer rigs to get products to consumers. 

Designing and producing to standards can be challenging. Therefore the value of Best Practices.

Taking this to the realm of Industrial Internet of Things where data security, privacy and trustworthiness are essential, the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) has published the Data Protection Best Practices White Paper. I very much like these collaborative initiatives that help engineers solve real world problems.

Designed for stakeholders involved in cybersecurity, privacy and IIoT trustworthiness, the paper describes best practices that can be applied to protect various types of IIoT data and systems. The 33-page paper covers multiple adjacent and overlapping data protection domains, for example data security, data integrity, data privacy, and data residency.

I spoke with the lead authors and came away with a sense of the work involved. Following are some highlights.

Failure to apply appropriate data protection measures can lead to serious consequences for IIoT systems such as service disruptions that affect the bottom-line, serious industrial accidents and data leaks that can result in significant losses, heavy regulatory fines, loss of IP and negative impact on brand reputation.

“Protecting IIoT data during the lifecycle of systems is one of the critical foundations of trustworthy systems,” said Bassam Zarkout, Executive Vice President, IGnPower and one of the paper’s authors. “To be trustworthy, a system and its characteristics, namely security, safety, reliability, resiliency and privacy, must operate in conformance with business and legal requirements. Data protection is a key enabler for compliance with these requirements, especially when facing environmental disturbances, human errors, system faults and attacks.”

Categories of Data to be Protected

Data protection touches on all data and information in an organization. In a complex IIoT system, this includes operational data from things like sensors at a field site; system and configuration data like data exchanged with an IoT device; personal data that identifies individuals; and audit data that chronologically records system activities.

Different data protection mechanisms and approaches may be needed for data at rest (data stored at various times during its lifecycle), data in motion (data being shared or transmitted from one location to another), or data in use (data being processed).

Data Security

“Security is the cornerstone of data protection. Securing an IIoT infrastructure requires a rigorous in-depth security strategy that protects data in the cloud, over the internet, and on devices,” said Niheer Patel, Product Manager, Real-Time Innovations (RTI) and one of the paper’s authors. “It also requires a team approach from manufacturing, to development, to deployment and operation of both IoT devices and infrastructure. This white paper covers the best practices for various data security mechanisms, such as authenticated encryption, key management, root of trust, access control, and audit and monitoring.”

Data Integrity

“Data integrity is crucial in maintaining physical equipment protection, preventing safety incidents, and enabling operations data analysis. Data integrity can be violated intentionally by malicious actors or unintentionally due to corruption during communication or storage. Data integrity assurance is enforced via security mechanisms such as cryptographic controls for detection and prevention of integrity violations,” said Apurva Mohan, Industrial IoT Security Lead, Schlumberger and one of the paper’s authors.

Data integrity should be maintained for the entire lifecycle of the data from when it is generated, to its final destruction or archival. Actual data integrity protection mechanisms depend on the lifecycle phase of the data.

Data Privacy

As a prime example of data privacy requirements, the paper focuses on the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which grants data subjects a wide range of rights over their personal data. The paper describes how IIoT solutions can leverage data security best practices in key management, authentication and access control can empower GDPR-centric privacy processes.

The Data Protection Best Practices White Paper complements the IoT Security Maturity Model Practitioner’s Guide and builds on the concepts of the Industrial Internet Reference Architecture and Industrial Internet Security Framework.

The Data Protection Best Practices White Paper and a list of IIC members who contributed to it can be found on the IIC website 

Cybersecurity Zero Day Threats and Executive Survey

Cybersecurity Zero Day Threats and Executive Survey

Cybersecurity is in the news more often than violence or politics, its seems. Last week I received two important pieces of news—both reported below. The first details vulnerabilities found in VxWorks—the most widely used Real-Time Operating System forming the foundation for process control. The other news concerns a survey of executives that shows continued cyber attacks on industrial systems.

Zero Day Vulnerabilities

Enterprise IoT security company, Armis, announced the discovery of 11 zero-day vulnerabilities, 6 critical, that affect Wind River® VxWorks versions since version 6.5, that include the IPnet stack, collectively known as “URGENT/11.” Updated releases have been provided. URGENT/11 does not impact versions of the product designed for certification, such as VxWorks 653 and VxWorks Cert Edition.

VxWorks, the leading real-time operating system (RTOS), is used in more than two billion devices across industrial, medical and enterprise environments such as mission-critical systems including SCADA, elevator and industrial controllers, patient monitors and MRI machines, as well as firewalls, routers, satellite modems, VOIP phones and printers. If exploited, URGENT/11 could allow a complete takeover of the device and cause disruption on a scale similar to what resulted from the EternalBlue vulnerability.

“VxWorks is the most widely used operating system you may never have heard of,” said Ben Seri, vice president of research at Armis. “A wide variety of industries rely on VxWorks to run their critical devices in their daily operations—from healthcare to manufacturing and even security businesses. This is why URGENT/11 is so important. The potential for compromise of critical devices and equipment especially in manufacturing and healthcare is a big concern.”

URGENT/11 includes six Remote Code Execution (RCE) vulnerabilities that could give an attacker full control over a targeted device, via unauthenticated network packets. Any connected device leveraging VxWorks that includes the IPnet stack is affected by at least one of the discovered vulnerabilities. They include some devices that are located at the perimeter of organizational networks that are internet-facing such as modems, routers and firewalls. Any vulnerability in such a device may enable an attacker to breach networks directly from the internet. Devices protected by perimeter security measures also can be vulnerable once the devices create TCP connections to the internet. These connections can be hijacked and used to trigger the discovered TCP vulnerabilities, allowing attackers to take over the device and access the internal network.

“URGENT/11 could allow attackers to remotely exploit and take over mission critical devices, bypassing traditional perimeter and device security. Every business with these devices needs to ensure they are protected,” said Yevgeny Dibrov, CEO and co-founder of Armis. “The vulnerabilities in these unmanaged and IoT devices can be leveraged to manipulate data, disrupt physical world equipment, and put people’s lives at risk.”

VxWorks is pervasive and trusted due to its rigorous and high-achieving safety certifications and its high degree of reliability and real-time accuracy. In its 32-year history, only 13 Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVEs) have been listed by MITRE as affecting VxWorks. Armis discovered unusually low-level vulnerabilities within the IPnet stack affecting these specific VxWorks versions released in the last 13 years, from versions 6.5 and above. These are the most severe vulnerabilities found in VxWorks to date.

The IPnet networking stack was acquired by Wind River through its acquisition of Interpeak in 2006. Prior to the acquisition, the stack was broadly licensed to and deployed by a number of real-time operating system vendors.

Wind River has been working in collaboration with Armis on this matter, and customers were notified and issued patches to address the vulnerabilities last month. To the best of both companies knowledge, there is no indication the URGENT/11 vulnerabilities have been exploited.

Organizations deploying devices with VxWorks should patch impacted devices immediately. More information can be found in the Wind River Security Alert posted on the company’s Security Center.

Operational Downtime is the Most Common Impact of IoT-Focused Cyberattacks

As connectivity in the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) promises to transform the manufacturing and production industry, new research by Irdeto underlines the importance of cybersecurity, revealing that 79% of manufacturing and production organizations surveyed have experienced an IoT-focused cyberattack in the past year. This finding demonstrates the importance of cybersecurity as IoT devices proliferate across the critical infrastructure of these organizations, to ensure that the potential business benefits of IoT can be realized safely.

The Irdeto Global Connected Industries Cybersecurity Survey of 220 security decision makers in organizations in this sector (700 respondents in total) found that of the organizations that were hit by an attack, operational downtime (47%), compromised customer data (35%) and compromised end-user safety (33%) were the most common impacts. These findings clearly point to a direct bearing on revenue as well as health safety challenges presented by unsecured IoT devices.

The research also suggests that these organizations are aware of where the key cybersecurity vulnerabilities exist with their infrastructure, but do not necessarily have everything they need to address them. The most prominent vulnerabilities within manufacturing and production organizations were in mobile devices and apps (46%). This was followed by the IT network (41%) and the software used by the organization (40%) – which if referring to the OT equipment software which runs of the factory floor, could be hugely problematic.

However, despite this awareness, 92% of respondents feel their organization does not have everything it needs to address cybersecurity challenges. 44% state that their organization needs to implement a more robust security strategy. This is followed by a need for additional expertise/skills within the organization to address all aspects of cybersecurity (42%) and a need for more effective cybersecurity tools (37%).

This is compounded by the finding that, in the manufacturing sector, a total of 91% of manufacturers and 96% of users of IoT devices state that the cybersecurity of the IoT devices that they manufacture or use could be improved either to a great extent or to some extent. Failure to address these challenges could prove costly with the average financial impact as a result of an IoT-focused cyberattack in the manufacturing space identified as more than $280,000 USD, according to the survey.

“While the benefits of IoT may be in abundance in manufacturing and industrial environments, this connectivity also increases the attack surface and these findings demonstrate that there is an awareness of the cybersecurity challenges and impacts within the industry, but potentially a need to rethink strategies to mitigate the impact of potential cyberattacks,” said Mark Hearn, Director of IoT Security and Business Development, Irdeto. “Whatever the nature of the threat, industrial and manufacturing organizations must understand the scope of their current risk, ask hard cybersecurity-centric questions to vendors, and work with trusted advisors to safely embrace connectivity in their manufacturing process.”

As organizations fight to keep pace with the cybersecurity challenges in the manufacturing sector, they do have several security measures in place, but have often not implemented enough layers into their security strategy. 21% of organizations surveyed do not currently have software protection technologies implemented, while 39% do not have mobile app protection implemented, despite identifying mobile devices and apps as the greatest source of vulnerabilities. In addition, only 50% make security part of the product design lifecycle process.

However, the majority of organizations that don’t already have these measures in place, state that they plan to implement them in the next year. In addition, 99% of the manufacturing organizations surveyed agree that a security solution should be an enabler of new business models, not just a cost. These findings suggest that attitudes towards IoT security are changing for the better.

“As the manufacturing industry embraces IoT technology it’s clear that there are many cybersecurity challenges that must be addressed, but the industry attitude towards cybersecurity is on the right track,” added Steeve Huin, Vice President of Strategic Partnerships, Business Development and Marketing, Irdeto. “As the scope of connected manufacturing grows, the opportunities and the risks are magnified and it is imperative that organizations upskill and implement robust cybersecurity strategies to ensure they mitigate the threat and safely take advantage of the benefits that IoT can bring.”