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.


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. 

Fabtech, My First Trade Fair In Person in Two Years

It is nice to be back. Like riding a bicycle, there was no relearning required getting back into the trade show routine. Only difference for me was I drove from home (now in the northwest Chicago suburbs) in a little over an hour rather than the 4-1/2 hours from western Ohio.

There were many exhibitors. Fabtech is a metal working show with the addition of an additive manufacturing section. The show filled most of the south hall of McCormick, a big chunk of the north hall, a little of the east hall main floor, and most of the second level of the east hall for the additive technology show and conference.

I’ll be posting press releases of relevant companies later. I’ll summarize the experience here.

I learned in the additive hall that there are three major players—Markforge (which actually had a booth in the south hall), Essentium (where I got a half-hour with the CEO), and Stratasys (probably the first one I knew about a few years ago). These companies provide materials, machines, and software. Each has a slightly different emphasis from the others. I had a sense that they are beginning to get connected—as in connected to the rest of manufacturing and to the enterprise.

One company showed micro products. Tolerances of parts has gotten very good. I ran across the beginnings of “Manufacturing-as-a-Service” ideas. These machines being digital can and do collect amazing amounts of data.

Robots were my focus in the Fabtech part of the show. Especially cobots, where I spent some time in the Universal Robotics booth. Much more later, but the new thing with cobots is welding. An application previously reserved for the big six-axis machines, many welding applications are perfect for the smaller cobot. One company building on to Universal Robotics’ cobot claimed it could bring in a cobot welding system in the morning and have it in production after lunch. I believe them. I have seen how easy these are to set up and get started.

A company called Simpac builds presses. It has developed an XR application for iPads and similar devices that lets a tech virtually walk through the press, see through an exploded view to find the recalcitrant part, and then find part numbers of replacement parts. They’ve used it as a run-off, buy-off tool in these Covid reduced travel days.

Enterprise software was represented. I talked with the Epicor people. Wiser Systems has a location tracking product with an internally developed wireless mesh network. And automation companies Beckhoff Automation and Bosch Rexroth were also there. More in a later post.

Traffic was decent through the show floor. I don’t think many exhibitors were greatly disappointed, but they would have liked more traffic. With the first time back and Covid reappearing, I’d consider the show a success. But Covid has impacted a conference I was slated to speak at which is now going virtual. Oh, well. 

Customized Robotics-as-a-Service Offering Lets Manufacturers ‘Hire’ Robots

It seems as if everything can be as-a-Service these days, now even robotics. Formic Technologies launched recently with a simple value proposition: hire fully customized robots from top vendors at a low hourly rate and no upfront cost. To help small and medium-size manufacturers benefit from automation, Formic handles every aspect of a financing and deployment—from scoping, engineering, purchasing, implementation, and maintenance. The company also guarantees uptime, with customers paying nothing for system downtime.

Purchasing robotics can be expensive and a capital expense rather than an operational expense. This results in a barrier to entry for smaller manufacturers dissuading them from deploying automation altogether.

“We started Formic because we saw all that automation can do, and we wanted to provide a way for any manufacturer to easily adopt automation in a simple, risk-free, and on-demand way,” said Saman Farid, CEO and co-founder. “With Formic’s fundamentally different approach to financing and deployment, manufacturers can do more with automation without high costs or a lengthy and complicated purchasing and deployment process.” 

Formic’s model was designed to systematically remove every barrier to entry, allowing manufacturers to deploy automation efficiently and cost effectively. Testing shows that Formic’s deployments are 50% faster than traditional approaches and save customers 42% on their operating expenses from the first day.

According to Farid, an engineer and robotics start-up investor who founded Formic with former Universal Robots salesperson Misa Ikhechi, a unique combination of products and services make Formic’s model possible:

  • Systematized deployment processes
  • In-house equipment financing
  • Formic-designed solutions featuring products from leading robotic vendors such as Universal Robots, Fanuc, and ABB

“We came to the conclusion that what manufacturers needed was not any specific new technology, but a better way to access the technology that would best meet their needs,” Farid said. “Formic offers that access at a fraction of the cost or energy, as Formic takes on the heavy lifting.”

Robotics, Vibration, and Water Systems News

Today is another “wrap up a bunch of products” day. It’s been a hectic couple of days where I was on a panel with the ZEDEDA Transform event live on the Web (I’m sure it will be ondemand shortly) while today Don Pearson of Inductive Automation interviewed me for an Inductive podcast. Below are two robotic announcements looking forward to new applications, a reliability oriented vibration sensor, and a water system.

MASS Robotics Partners with Procter and Gamble

MassRobotics helps create and scale the next generation of successful robotics and connected devices companies by providing entrepreneurs and innovative robotics/automation startups with the workspace and resources they need to develop, prototype, test and commercialize their products and solutions. It has launched a new partnership with Procter & Gamble (P&G) to collaboratively explore technologies around automation and manufacturing-related applications.

The goal of the partnership is to develop ideas to improve productivity, drive increased value for consumers, accelerate agility from more automation, and allow more flexibility in meeting the manufacturing deadlines of customers. In addition to exploring and accessing innovations from resident startups, MassRobotics’ overall community will help P&G remain on the cutting-edge of the robotics and automation industry and more closely collaborate with existing P&G robotics partners in Massachusetts.

MassRobotics is the result of the collective work of a global group of engineers, rocket scientists, and entrepreneurs with a shared vision to create a strong, vibrant robotics and IoT ecosystem. 

MiR Introduces Two New Robots

Mobile Industrial Robots (MiR), the global market leader in autonomous mobile robots (AMRs), launched its most powerful robots for transporting pallets and other heavy items around manufacturing facilities, warehouses, and logistics centers. The MiR600 and MiR1350 robots, which can lift up to 600 kg (1322 pounds) and 1350 kg (2976 pounds), respectively, are designed to safely and efficiently perform material handling tasks in challenging industrial environments.

The industrial and protected MiR600 and MiR1350 are the market’s first Ingress Protection52-rated autonomous mobile robots, which mean their components are protected and can tolerate dust and water drops.

New AMRs optimize all logistics—inbound, production and outbound

The larger MiR600 and MiR1350 are ideal for autonomously transporting heavy loads of materials and goods in:

• loading bays

• production and assembly areas

• warehouses

• material delivery areas

Like MiR’s other AMRs (MiR100, MiR200, MiR250, MiR500 and MiR1000), the MIR600 and MIR1350 navigate smoothly and safely among people and other transport equipment in dynamic surroundings. Sensors, 3D cameras and the latest laser scanning technology ensure 360-degree vision for precise and safe navigation and operations. The new AMRs are designed to comply with the industry’s latest safety standards, including ISO 3691-4 and ANSI/RIA R15.08-1-2020.

Fluke Reliability introduces the Fluke 3562 Screening Vibration Sensor system

Fluke Reliability introduces the Fluke 3562 Screening Vibration Sensor system. With its batteryless technology, long-range sensor-to-gateway communication, and ability to connect up to 1,000 sensors to a single gateway, the Fluke 3562 is a “set it and forget it” solution that can operate continuously, even in hard-to-reach places. 

When used with the recently released Fluke 3563 Analysis Vibration Sensor for critical machines and LIVE-Asset management software, maintenance teams now have a comprehensive solution for virtually every asset in the plant. The vibration screening system enables maintenance teams to spot machine faults before catastrophic failures happen, avoiding costly downtime. 

The Fluke 3562 Screening Vibration Sensor draws power from a machine’s heat or the light in the room using innovative thermoelectric or photovoltaic energy harvesters. The technologically advanced sensor screens overall vibration levels, temperature, and humidity, as well as trends the nine highest FFT peaks by magnitude. 

The Fluke 3562’s unique features: 

Batteryless technology — With either a thermoelectric or photovoltaic energy harvester, the sensor requires minimum upkeep over a longer period of time, reducing costs and labor. 

Flexible wireless network capabilities — The wireless gateway has triple network connection capabilities — Wi-Fi, LTE, and Ethernet — so it’s adaptable for any facility.

Scalable and long-range — With long-wavelength signals and the ability to connect up to 1,000 sensors, the Fluke 3562 can be placed further from the gateway, allowing sensors to be installed in more hard-to-reach areas.

KETOS Unveils Updates to its Smart Water Intelligence Platform

Addressing global water management issues, KETOS, Inc., a water intelligence innovator, announced enhancements to its award-winning, cloud-based KETOS Smart Water Intelligence Platform. Key updates include improved user experience and workflow management, greater flexibility to configure customer-specific instances, scalability to support larger concurrent users numbers, the ability to handle larger data sets, and more sophisticated analytics and reporting capabilities.

Bringing water intelligence to customers across agriculture, industrial and municipal operations, KETOS combines software, hardware, and predictive analytics to automate water monitoring and testing. The holistic solution helps solve water efficiency and quality challenges with real-time data and mission-critical insights.

Measuring over 25 water quality parameters, KETOS offers water operators a fully integrated, EPA-compliant solution with intelligent hardware, stable connectivity infrastructure, an interactive software platform, and actionable data. 

KETOS Smart Water Analytics enhancements support operational stability and business continuity efforts across its customers, offering predictive maintenance with zero labor hours required for water operators. Users now have access to improved graphical view enhancements, instant notifications, enhanced calendar-based test scheduling, push mobile notifications, and more.

Additional updates include:

• Vertical-focused analytics including reporting comparisons and correlation between parameters; 

• Improved flexibility  and overall user experience; and

• 24/7 remote support.

ABB To Acquire ASTI Mobile Robotics Group

ABB was an early leader in fixed industrial robots and is still one of the industry leaders. The area of mobile robots has been growing with uses expanding as quickly as engineer’s imaginations. This news is the acquisition of ASTI Mobile Robotics Group by ABB adding a jump start into this market segment. Here are the key bullet points:

  • ASTI is global leader in high growth Autonomous Mobile Robot (AMR) market with broad portfolio of vehicles and software 
  • Acquisition adds to Robotics and Machine Automation solutions to deliver unique automation portfolio, further expanding into new industry segments
  • AMR business will be headquartered in Burgos, Spain and led by Veronica Pascual Boé, ASTI CEO. New Asia AMR hub, including full value chain and manufacturing, to open at ABB Robotics factory in Shanghai

The market intelligence firm Interact Analysis sent this comment from Ash Sharma, Managing Director:

  • “ABB is the 3rd largest vendor of industrial (fixed) robots in the world but until now (like most other industrial robot vendors) had no play in mobile robotics”
  • “The move to acquire a mobile robot vendor is not surprising as major customers are rapidly adopting mobile robotics to augment their production line automation. Flexible manufacturing necessitates the use of mobile robots for material flow”
  • “This mirrors the move made by Omron which acquired mobile robot vendor Adept back in 2015 and successfully created an integrated offering to vendors of both mobile and fixed robotics”
  • “ASTI has enjoyed >25% growth in recent years and is now ranked as the 4th largest vendor of mobile robots in Europe by revenue”
  • “Mobile robots used in manufacturing environments are forecast to generate more than $13bn in cumulative revenue in the next 4 years”

Following is the news announcement:

ABB announced it will acquire ASTI Mobile Robotics Group (ASTI). This will expand ABB’s robotics and automation offering, making it the only company to offer a complete portfolio for the next generation of flexible automation.

The acquisition, a key part of ABB’s external growth strategy, was signed on July 19 and is expected to close in mid-summer 2021. Both parties agreed not to disclose any details regarding the purchase price.

Founded in 1982, ASTI is headquartered in Burgos, Spain and employs over 300 people in Spain, France and Germany. It is majority owned by Veronica Pascual Boé, who is also CEO. Other shareholders include European Growth Buyout investor Keensight Capital. Today it supports one of Europe’s largest installed fleets of AMRs and has a broad customer base in automotive, logistics, food & beverage and pharmaceuticals in 20 countries. Since 2015, the company has enjoyed close to 30 percent growth on an annual basis and is targeting approximately $50 million in revenue in 2021.

AMRs will support a degree of flexibility, from production, logistics, intralogistics and fulfillment through to retail and healthcare environments. This will enable ABB’s and ASTI’s common vision to help customers replace today’s linear production lines with fully flexible networks, where intelligent AMRs autonomously navigate materials, parts and finished products between smart connected workstations, in factories, logistics centers, laboratories, shops or hospitals.

These will be integrated with ABB’s portfolio of robots, machine automation, modular solutions and software suite including RobotStudio, ABB Robotics’ simulation and programming tool, creating a unique and comprehensive automation portfolio for ABB’s customers.

ASTI’s headquarters in Burgos, Spain will become ABB’s AMR business headquarters, led by Pascual Boé, with core functions, including R&D, engineering, product and project value chain, continuing at ASTI’s facilities. ABB will significantly expand production capacity at the AMR business headquarters to support the planned sales expansion in Europe and the Americas. To facilitate the growth potential for AMRs in China and Asia, ABB will also establish an Asia AMR hub, including full value chain and manufacturing, at its new robotics factory, which will open in Shanghai in 2022. China, the world’s largest robotics market, is projected to account for $1.8 billion of AMR sales annually by 2025.

ABB Robotics’ acquisition comes shortly after the company’s announcements to expand robotics automation for new sectors and first-time users, including the launch of its new GoFa and SWIFTI collaborative robot families and its announcement that it will advance automation in the construction industry.