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.

Universal Robots Takes ActiNav Next-Gen Machine Loading on Tour

I guess we have entered the post-pandemic era. Universal Robots is taking its latest technology on tour this summer. By the time I got to this news item, the first date was passed. If you are close to one of these areas, check out this cool technology.

Automating machine loading traditionally means integrating conveyors, bowl feeders, custom trays, shaker tables or various other components and processes. These approaches can lead to a range of obstacles and challenges, including complex programming and setup, poorly-utilized manpower, inefficient machine utilization and decreased output.

ActiNav changes all that, combining intelligent vision and sensor software with the autonomous motion control of Universal Robots’ world-leading cobots in one seamless Application Kit that solves the random bin picking challenge in machine tending applications. To give manufacturers an opportunity to experience ActiNav hands-on, Universal Robots and its partners are now hosting live demos, inviting attendees to bring their parts to be picked, experiencing how easy it is to set up a sophisticated machine loading system.

“We want manufacturers to experience in person the “wow factor” as they see ActiNav effortlessly pick their randomized parts and place them correctly in a designated place,” says Bryan Bird, Regional Sales Director for Universal Robots’ North America division. “We look forward to working with our partners in providing this unique experience.”

The ActiNav Tour dates are hosted by Universal Robots partners and systems integrators on the following dates and locations:

FPE Automation: July 13, Elk Grove Village, IL

Southwestern PTS: July 22, Coppell, TX

NEFF Wisconsin: August 3, Mequon, WI

CIMTEC: August 5, Charlotte, NC

Shaltz: August 10, Flint, MI

In addition to meeting ActiNav on tour, manufacturers can now leverage an expanded network of ActiNav Solution Providers (ASPs), a vetted and carefully selected group of systems integrators across the U.S. to deploy the next-generation machine loading solution. Joining the ASP network are:

Muratec, Charlotte, NC, PCC Robotics, Germantown, WI, Computech Manufacturing Company, Washington, MI, and PrecisionForm Inc., Lititz, PA.

Bird explains that UR’s selection process focused on integrators with expertise in both vision and robotics, that deliver superior value, and on time/on budget projects for customers.

Dan Carney, General Manager at Wisconsin-based PCC Robotics, is looking forward to sharing the benefits of Actinav with manufacturers in his region. “As a systems integrator we find parts staging to be a key component of nearly every application,” he says. “We have reviewed a number of bin picking offerings and ActiNav is simply in a different class.”

Better Gripping With Intelligent Picking Robots

Festo has consistently presented me with some of the most impressive creativity within pneumatics, robotics, and automation. This is a fascinating use of artificial intelligence (AI) with robot gripping. Only a couple of years ago, I caught myself thinking that nothing could be as boring as robotic end-of-arm-effectors. How wrong could I have been! This is my second post on this technology in a couple of weeks. Check this out.

Production, warehouse, shipping – where goods are produced, stored, sorted or packed, picking also takes place. This means that several individual goods are removed from storage units such as boxes or cartons and reassembled. With the FLAIROP (Federated Learning for Robot Picking) project Festo and researchers from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), together with partners from Canada, want to make picking robots smarter using distributed AI methods. To do this, they are investigating how to use training data from multiple stations, from multiple plants, or even companies without requiring participants to hand over sensitive company data.

“We are investigating how the most versatile training data possible from multiple locations can be used to develop more robust and efficient solutions using artificial intelligence algorithms than with data from just one robot,” says Jonathan Auberle from the Institute of Material Handling and Logistics (IFL) at KIT. In the process, items are further processed by autonomous robots at several picking stations by means of gripping and transferring. At the various stations, the robots are trained with very different articles. At the end, they should be able to grasp articles from other stations that they have not yet learned about. “Through the approach of federated learning, we balance data diversity and data security in an industrial environment,” says the expert. 

Powerful algorithms for industry and logistics 4.0

Until now, federated learning has been used predominantly in the medical sector for image analysis, where the protection of patient data is a particularly high priority. Consequently, there is no exchange of training data such as images or grasp points for training the artificial neural network. Only pieces of stored knowledge – the local weights of the neural network that tell how strongly one neuron is connected to another – are transferred to a central server. There, the weights from all stations are collected and optimized using various criteria. Then the improved version is played back to the local stations and the process repeats. The goal is to develop new, more powerful algorithms for the robust use of artificial intelligence for industry and Logistics 4.0 while complying with data protection guidelines.

“In the FLAIROP research project, we are developing new ways for robots to learn from each other without sharing sensitive data and company secrets. This brings two major benefits: we protect our customers’ data, and we gain speed because the robots can take over many tasks more quickly. In this way, the collaborative robots can, for example, support production workers with repetitive, heavy, and tiring tasks”, explains Jan Seyler, Head of Advanced Develop. Analytics and Control at Festo SE & Co. KG During the project, a total of four autonomous picking stations will be set up for training the robots: Two at the KIT Institute for Material Handling and Logistics (IFL) and two at the Festo SE company based in Esslingen am Neckar.

Start-up DarwinAI and University of Waterloo from Canada are further partners

“DarwinAI is thrilled to provide our Explainable (XAI) platform to the FLAIROP project and pleased to work with such esteemed Canadian and German academic organizations and our industry partner, Festo. We hope that our XAI technology will enable high-value human-in-the-loop processes for this exciting project, which represents an important facet of our offering alongside our novel approach to Federated Learning.  Having our roots in academic research, we are enthusiastic about this collaboration and the industrial benefits of our new approach for a range of manufacturing customers”, says Sheldon Fernandez, CEO, DarwinAI.

“The University of Waterloo is ecstatic to be working with Karlsruhe Institute of Technology and a global industrial automation leader like Festo to bring the next generation of trustworthy artificial intelligence to manufacturing.  By harnessing DarwinAI’s Explainable AI (XAI) and Federated Learning, we can enable AI solutions to help support factory workers in their daily production tasks to maximize efficiency, productivity, and safety”, says Dr. Alexander Wong, Co-director of the Vision and Image Processing Research Group, University of Waterloo, and Chief Scientist at DarwinAI.

The FLAIROP (Federated Learning for Robot Picking) project is a partnership between Canadian and German organizations. The Canadian project partners focus on object recognition through Deep Learning, Explainable AI, and optimization, while the German partners contribute their expertise in robotics, autonomous grasping through Deep Learning, and data security.

  • KIT-IFL: consortium leadership, development grasp determination, development automatic learning data generation.
  • KIT-AIFB: Development of Federated Learning Framework
  • Festo SE & Co. KG: development of picking stations, piloting in real warehouse logistics
  • University of Waterloo (Canada): Development object recognition
  • Darwin AI (Canada): Local and Global Network Optimization, Automated Generation of Network Structures

Symbio Robotics The Tech Behind Ford Motor Company’s AI-enabled Assembly Line

There exist interesting developments in robotics beyond all the excitement of collaborative robotics (cobots). Companies are working on control platforms agnostic to the hardware. Although AI (usually machine learning) has been around for years, marketers and media have jumped all over the term. More important than the buzz is this example of something that actually works. Goes to show that there remain many areas for further development in our market.

Pioneering the next frontier of manufacturing through a combination of artificial intelligence (AI) and industrial robotics, Symbio Robotics, announced its work with Ford Motor Company to deploy an AI-controlled robot at the automaker’s Livonia Transmission Plant. The robot is programmed and managed with Symbio’s robot-agnostic platform, SymbioDCS, to assemble transmissions for the Bronco Sport, Escape and Edge, to name a few. 

Assembly of transmissions is notoriously complex. Previously, operators installed heavy transmission components such as torque converters manually, a challenging process from an ergonomics and safety standpoint. In recent years, the process was automated. Now Symbio is helping Ford to control the robot with AI which more efficiently installs components into the transmission based on the large amounts of data it has collected. This new process allows the robot to predict how it should assemble components in the next transmission based off of its previous performance.

“Symbio’s focus is on delivering technology that allows companies like Ford to adopt AI as a core competency,” said Max Reynolds, Symbio CEO and co-founder. “AI-enabled automation looks very different. It’s not just about automation, it’s about providing tools that empower automation teams to deploy and maintain more general, flexible systems.” 

Symbio builds automation that enables human-machine collaboration. Its technology is designed to fundamentally reframe existing manufacturing pain points by utilizing the best practices of AI and human robot interaction and the programmers that are already working in these environments. Through the use of AI applied by people, the robots quickly learn and execute tasks increasing efficiency, improving quality and reducing ergonomic hazards. 

“As the mobility landscape continues to rapidly change there is an increasing demand for much faster product life cycles,” said Harry Kekedjian, Advanced Controls and Digital Factory Manager at Ford. “Using the Symbio technology, we’ve observed a 15% improvement in cycle time and greater than 50% reduction in adapting to new products over the previous manufacturing method.”

About Symbio

Founded in 2014, Symbio Robotics is dedicated to strengthening and revamping the fundamentals in industrial manufacturing through the creation of Al and Robotics technologies. Located in Emeryville, Calif., the company’s core product, SymbioDCS enables automation teams to build and deploy high-quality applications in any factory, at any scale that can assemble anything.

Partnership Brings One-Stop-Shop for Cobot Applications to Manufacturers Globally

The Danish collaborative robotics (cobot) tools company OnRobot has been churning out innovative robotic tooling in a stream for the past year. It also taps the partnership stream of collaboration. I’ve run across Vention at a trade show a few years back but haven’t really seen something I could write about intelligently. Here is a partnership between the two that should bear fruit.

Vention, a manufacturing automation platform (MAP), today announced its partnership with OnRobot, which makes tools for collaborative applications. This partnership combines Vention’s online-first manufacturing automation platform with OnRobot’s library of plug-and-play end-of-arm tools to accelerate the design and deployment of end-to-end cobot applications.  

Vention’s MAP provides users with the engineering software and modular hardware they need to design, automate, order, and deploy factory equipment in a single digital environment. With thousands of modular parts, smart design tools, and real-time pricing, factory equipment can be designed in minutes—from anywhere, on any web browser. With the addition of OnRobot’s plug-and-play tools for collaborative and light industrial robotics, manufacturing professionals can focus on scaling production with greater flexibility and efficiency.

The combination of offerings makes it even easier to automate tasks like machine tending, material handling, material removal and assembly. With solutions for grippers—parallel, flexible, magnetic, and vacuum alike—as well as vision cameras, sanding tools, screwdriving tools, and more, the application possibilities have now been significantly expanded.

We’re thrilled to be working with OnRobot to offer a range of industry-leading cobot solutions,” says Patrick Tawagi, Director of Application Development at Vention. “OnRobot’s suite of grippers and end-of-arm tools covers almost every application in the cobot market, and their straightforward interface combined with Vention’s platform makes them incredibly easy to deploy.” 

OnRobot’s exciting partnership with Vention will make it easier than ever for companies of all sizes and skill levels to deploy collaborative automation,” says Kristian Hulgard, General Manager of the Americas division at OnRobot. “The combination of Vention’s superb MAP platform and OnRobot’s ever-expanding, award winning range of no fuss tools for collaborative applications will empower users to design and deploy advanced automation with unprecedented ease.” 

Cobot Welder Delivers Advanced Robot Welding

One of the dirtier applications has come to the cobot world—welding. Here is a smartphone app that interfaces to a Universal Robotics Cobot with an attached Miller welding system to transform it into a welding machine. 

Hirebotics’ Cobot Welder, Powered by Beacon, is a complete, user-friendly collaborative robot (cobot) welding system that enables painless automated welding deployments. “The Cobot Welder is a major leap forward in easy-to-use welding automation that combines industrial grade robot welding functionality with consumer level ease-of-use and a phenomenal price point,” says Rob Goldiez, Cofounder and CEO, Hirebotics.

Complete and ready to go right out of the box, Cobot Welder provides all the hardware and software required to get started on an automated welding deployment, including: a UR10e collaborative robot, a Miller Invision 352 MPa cobot package, a Tregaskiss robotic torch, a mobile cart with a standard 5/8” diameter on 2” center hole pattern, and Hirebotics’ Cobot Welder smartphone application.

“With Cobot Welder, Hirebotics has managed to eliminate the pain points from robot welding system deployments. At the heart of the system is our Cobot Welder smartphone app, which turns welders into robot programmers in a matter of minutes, no pendant required,” says Mitch Dupon, Director of Business Development at Hirebotics. “By reducing the time taken to teach new parts by as much 60%, Cobot Welder reduces downtime, improves welding quality and productivity and ensures painless automated welding deployments. I’m excited to talk about this and the other productivity benefits provided by Cobot Welder at the forthcoming launch.”

“The welding profession is experiencing a labor crisis. The average age for skilled welders is 55, most are likely to retire within 10 years, and younger people aren’t entering the profession in sufficient numbers to sustain industry demand,” Joe Campbell, Universal Robots’ Senior Manager of Applications Development & Strategic Marketing, North America says. “There is an urgent need for collaborative welding systems that are safe to use around human beings and can be used to support expert human welders by taking over the tedious and unergonomic aspects of the welding process,” says Campbell.