Automate Report 2: Robots and More

The second of I don’t know how many reports from the Automate show in Chicago. This section is a five-part tour conducted with a PR person who works with someone I’ve known and respected for many years. The main theme of Automate derives from its genesis of the Robot Show, Vision Show, and Motion Show. So mostly we see the evolution of robotics.

The companies I’m reporting are:

MiR

Mobile Industrial Robots (MiR) featured the company’s latest innovations in autonomous mobile robots (AMRs), including the first U.S. showing of its new artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled MiR1200 Pallet Jack and a preview of a generative AI-powered version of its MiR Insights analytics software. MiR will also showcase a mobile collaborative robot (cobot) that integrates a MiR250 AMRs with a cobot from sister company Universal Robots, a complete solution that enables the cobots to automatically and safely perform different tasks at different workstations. 

With advanced AI pallet detection powered by NVIDIA Jetson AGX Orin, MiR1200 Pallet Jack uses 3D vision to identify pallets and then pick up and deliver pallets with unprecedented precision.

The new AI-focused advancements to MiR Insights will enable fleet owners to not only track and analyze the operations of their robots and obtain actionable insights they can use to improve the robots’ performance but more easily find and engage with the data.

Kawasaki

Kawasaki Robotics offered a first look at its new family of collaborative robots (cobots) at Automate 2024. Powered with partner NEURA Robotics’ robotic assistant platform, the CL Series combines the safety and intuitiveness that standard cobots are known for with a solid, robust design that unlocks the speed and productivity of industrial robotics to offer limitless user flexibility.

Kawasaki Robotics will also feature new applications using the Kawasaki R Series and BX Series of reliable, precise and Ai-enabled industrial robots, all created in close collaboration with partners such as Mech Mind, CRG Automation, AMT Precision Parts and Olis Robotics. The CL Series and these applications—including welding, finishing, multi-SKU palletizing and depalletizing and an automated corner board solution—demonstrate Kawasaki Robotics’ commitment to continually optimizing its product offerings, aided by its technology-agnostic stance and expanding network of partners.

Designed and built in Germany, and powered with NEURA Robotics’ robot assistance technology, the CL Series combines industry-leading speed of 200°/s and repeatability of ± 0.02 mm with payloads and reaches of 3kg/590mm, 5kg/800mm, 8kg/1300mm, and 10 kg/1000mm, free mounting orientations, extremely small footprints, and IP66 classification.

Mujin

Mujin featured its vision for robotics and latest enhancements to the MujinController, which utilizes machine intelligence to give robotic systems real-time decision-making ability that enables truly autonomous, reliable, and production-capable robot applications.

Attendees will discover user-friendly interfaces and intuitive tools that enable them to design, customize and deploy robotic automation solutions tailored to their specific requirements. Through real-world case studies and live demonstrations, Cloer will showcase the tangible benefits of no-code programming, including increased productivity, reduced downtime, and enhanced adaptability to changing production demands.

Micropsi

AI software company Micropsi Industries announced MIRAI 2, the latest generation of its AI-vision software for robotic automation. MIRAI 2 comes with five new features that enhance manufacturers’ ability to reliably solve automation tasks with variance in position, shape, color, lighting or background. Available immediately, the latest release offers users even greater reliability, easier and faster deployment, and robot-fleet scalability. 

MIRAI is an advanced AI-vision software system that enables robots to dynamically respond to varying conditions within their factory environment, including variance in position, shape, color, lighting and background. What sets MIRAI apart from traditional vision solutions is the ability to operate with real factory data without the need for CAD data, controlled light, visual-feature predefinition or extensive knowledge of computer vision. 

MIRAI 2 offers customers improved reliability thanks to the ability to detect unexpected workspace situations; a new, automated way to collect training data, and the option to run the software on the highest industry-standard PCs, resulting in higher dependability in rough factory conditions. The new feature, which assists in recording the required data for training the robot, also means that training and deploying MIRAI 2 is easier and faster. In addition, with MIRAI 2 a force-torque sensor is no longer required for most applications, which means lower cost and more robust performance. 

The five new features that will be available to MIRAI 2 users are:

  • Robot skill-sharing: This new feature allows users to share skills between multiple robots, at the same site or elsewhere. If conditions are identical (lighting, background, etc.), very little or no additional training is required in additional installations. MIRAI can also handle small differences in conditions by recording data from multiple installations into a single, robust skill.  
  • Semi-automatic data recording: Semi-automatic training allows users to record episodes (of data) for skills without having to hand-guide the robot, reducing the workload on users and increasing the quality of the recorded data. MIRAI can now automatically record all the relevant data—users only need to prepare the training situations and corresponding robot target poses.
  • No F/T sensor: Training and running skills is now possible without ever connecting a Force/Torque sensor. This reduces cost, simplifies tool geometry and cabling setup, and overall makes skill applications more robust and easier to train. 
  • Abnormal condition detection: MIRAI can now be configured to stop skills when unexpected conditions are encountered, allowing users to handle these exceptions in their robot program or alert a human operator. 
  • Industrial PC: The MIRAI software can now be run on a selection of industrial-grade hardware for higher dependability in rough factory conditions.

Roboworx

I met up with Dale Walsh, vp strategy and innovation for Roboworx. This is a new company established to set up and service robotics to help customers “get all the value they expect from their robotic investment.”

Roboworx is dedicated to revolutionizing the service, support, and customer success of robots. With an increasing number of industries integrating robots into their operations, the need for specialized maintenance and support services has never been more critical.

Roboworx offers a comprehensive range of services, including routine preventative maintenance, break/fix support, implementations and activations, and customer success programs designed to keep customers happy and engaged with their robotic fleet. These services cater to a wide array of robots, ranging from industrial automation, supply chain, service, hospitality, restaurant, kitchen automation, drones, drone boxes, and cleaning.

Automated Robotic Inspection Cells for 3D Measurement

This news brings together things I’m interested in (robotic, automated) with things on my peripheral (3D measurement). It should be interested to all of you within the discrete manufacturing market. Note: they use the term “revolutionalising” (British English), I am more cautious using that term.

Hexagon’s Manufacturing Intelligence division has announced the launch of PRESTO System – an innovative modular suite of automated robotic inspection cells revolutionising the landscape of 3D measurement for automotive and aerospace manufacturing. PRESTO System builds on the foundation of its turnkey PRESTO quality inspection cell to provide manufacturers a future-proof system that sets a new standard for scalable, versatile, and seamlessly integrated automated quality inspection.

PRESTO System empowers manufacturers to become more agile with automated robotic programming that enables a single quality control specialist to create, test and deploy robust robotic inspection in hours. The deployed cells are highly flexible and accessible to all levels of expertise – an operator can safely load and inspect one part then another simply by selecting the correct part to inspect from the control panel. At a time where skills shortages are impeding daily operations for many manufacturers, the integrated robotic system eliminates repetitive manual setup and calibration processes, enabling teams to work more effectively and focus on operational excellence and halving total inspection time compared other modern inspection technologies.

Some features:

  • Hexagon’s Absolute Scanner AS1 combined with absolute positioning from the Leica Absolute Tracker AT960.
  • Blue laser line technology – PRESTO is the first Hexagon turnkey inspection cell to utilise the most advanced and intuitive method for capturing a rich and complete digital representation of both the key features and surfaces.
  • SHINE technology that ensures effortless measurement of reflective surfaces, eliminating the need for part preparation.
  • Sophisticated robotic automation software that utilises a digital twin to simulate and programme complete inspection programmes offline, and to coordinate the real time execution of all processes for repeatable and uninterrupted operations.
  • Full integration and coordination of all systems, from robotic actuation to metrology scanning, enabling near-line inspection at higher speeds, in total safety.

The modularity of the PRESTO System provides flexible deployment, enabling manufacturers to rapidly scale their quality inspection capacity in alignment with their business needs. Once the first cell is deployed, additional modules can be added with short lead times and rapid installation. This scalability not only enhances operational agility – the standardised single-vendor solution also helps businesses to optimise their investment strategies by facilitating upgrades and enhancements rather than replacement.

Siemens To Acquire Industrial Drive Technology Business of ebm-papst

This acquisition is a very interesting acquisition from several points-of-view. This shows Siemens commitment to factory automation. It hints at entry into the mobile automated robotic space (see the analysis by Vanessa Lopez, Research Analyst, Interact Analysis at the bottom of the story). Even though I don’t see as much in the US as I once did, Siemens is still one of the most active automation suppliers.

Key points from the news.

  • Planned acquisition to strengthen Siemens’ position as a leading technology company in the field of factory automation and digitalization
  • Strategic addition to the Siemens Xcelerator portfolio
  • A business of ebm-papst, a leading supplier of fans and compact and intelligent mechatronic systems, which employs around 650 people
  • Major growth opportunities in the field of intelligent, battery-powered drive solutions

Siemens AG has signed an agreement to acquire the industrial drive technology (IDT) business of ebm-papst. The business, which employs around 650 people, includes intelligent, integrated mechatronic systems in the protective extra-low voltage range and innovative motion control systems. These systems are used in free-range driverless transport systems. The planned acquisition will complement the Siemens Xcelerator portfolio and strengthen Siemens’ position as a leading solutions provider for flexible production automation.

Cedrik Neike, member of the Managing Board of Siemens AG and CEO of Digital Industries, said: “Ebm-papst’s innovative portfolio of mechatronic drive systems and its highly qualified people are an excellent fit for Siemens. The acquisition will enable us to tap new business and customer potential in the rapidly growing market for intelligent, battery-powered drive solutions in intralogistics as well as mobile robot solutions.”

IDT products are intelligent, integrated mechatronic systems, which support the automation and digitalization of production processes. This acquisition will be a strong addition to the Siemens Xcelerator portfolio. Through their use in mobile robots and driverless transport vehicles as well as in the automation of auxiliary processes, such as the retooling of modern production machines, they are an important lever for greater flexibility and productivity. For this reason, high market growth is expected in this market segment.

The transaction is to be completed by mid-2025, subject to the necessary foreign trade and merger control approvals. The IDT business of ebm-papst is located in St. Georgen and Lauf an der Pegnitz, Germany, and in Oradea, Romania. The parties have agreed not to disclose the purchase price.

“The acquisition by Siemens is a strategically significant step for us. What our industrial drive technology (IDT) business had lacked until now was a global sales organization for maximum growth. Siemens is a long-standing customer and a company with strong international market penetration and an extensive customer base. The integration that has now been agreed upon will give our IDT business global market access. It will open up new horizons for innovation and further growth,” added Dr. Klaus Geißdörfer, CEO of the ebm-papst Group. “We’ll use the proceeds from the sale of the IDT business to further expand our Air Technology and Heating Technology divisions, to further strengthen our three regions – Europe, Asia and the Americas – and to invest in future fields of our product portfolio, such as digitalization and sustainability.”

Interact Analysis take

Siemens’ recent acquisition takes advantage of surging market

VANESSA LOPEZ, Research Analyst, Interact Analysis

If you’ve been following manufacturing news, Siemens has been making big waves in its divestitures and acquisitions over the last few years. Most recently, it divested several business units worth nearly €3 billion into the newly formed Innomotics, which is currently up for sale.

On March 21st, Siemens announced yet another acquisition. In a press release, the company unveiled its plans to acquire ebm-papst’s industrial drive technology (IDT) business. What makes this move most interesting is the acquisition of ebm-papst’s ultra-low voltage motor offering. In a report published by Interact Analysis in late 2023, we found the market for these products is growing strongly, particularly in applications relating to conveying and mobile robotics.

From a product perspective, ebm-papst’s portfolio is a valuable addition to Siemens’ portfolio. While Siemens has been active in the ultra-low voltage drive market, it previously lacked a complimentary motor offering. ebm-papst, with over $50 million in sales, ranks 13th in the global market. The majority of its revenue comes from the EMEA region, where it holds 10th position in the regional market. Siemens’ acquisition of ebm-papst’s IDT division opens up wider global market access for these products, leveraging Siemens’ extensive global sales channels.

While this could include many pieces of equipment, we believe the primary target is mobile robot applications.

Mobile robots are experiencing early-stage growth. As predominantly battery-powered solutions, these robots typically utilize either 24v or 48v DC motors (what we term ultra-low voltage motors). The demand for ultra-low voltage drives and motors is therefore reflecting this upward trajectory. According to Interact Analysis’ ultra-low voltage drives report, revenues are projected to grow at a CAGR of 25.9%, reaching $3.1 billion by 2027. Similarly, ultra-low voltage motors, extensively utilized in mobile robots, are expected to witness substantial revenue growth, reaching $6.5 billion by 2027, as indicated in Interact Analysis’ ultra-low voltage motors report. This surge in demand can be attributed primarily to the burgeoning adoption of mobile robots, particularly in warehouse automation applications.

Also notable is the rapid growth seen by roller conveyors in both segments of the ultra-low voltage markets under discussion. These products are highly compact and often operate at either 12V or 24V, making them an ideal application for ultra-low voltage motors. Moreover, most conveyor manufacturers purchase motors rather than manufacturing them in-house. Our conversations with ultra-low voltage motor vendors consistently highlighted roller conveyors as a significant area of interest for future growth. Interact Analysis estimates this market will nearly double by 2030.

The accelerated surge in warehouse automation, including the adoption of mobile robots and roller conveyors, presents substantial avenues for Siemens to expand its footprint and secure market share. By strategically aligning itself to meet the escalating demand for ultra-low voltage drives and integrated motor solutions, Siemens is poised to benefit from this surging market. Therefore, we consider Siemens’ acquisition of ebm-papst’s industrial drive technology business as a pivotal and forward-looking investment.

ABB Releases Report Looking At State of Automotive Manufacturing

All of the manufacturing automation and cybersecurity suppliers have been conducting market research that they are releasing for us all to get a sense of what customers are thinking. This one from ABB Robotics looks into the global automotive supply chain. 

  • Global ABB Automotive Manufacturing Outlook Survey confirms automation and robotics are crucial to the future of the industry
  • New OEMs and start-ups lead the charge, while suppliers are lagging behind
  • ABB’s flexible and smart solutions make automation viable for companies of all sizes

A new global survey commissioned by ABB Robotics and conducted by Automotive Manufacturing Solutions (AMS) concludes that while automation is considered critical to the future of the automotive industry, many companies in the supply chain have yet to take advantage of the benefits offered by robotics and digitalization.

Almost all respondents (97%) believe that automation and robotics will transform the automotive industry over the next five years, with a similar number (96%) predicting that software, digitalization and data management will be equally significant. When asked about the pace of investment, most believed that new OEMs and start-ups were well ahead of the curve, investing either ‘very well’ (38%) or ‘quite well’ (28%), followed by legacy OEMs who were thought to be embracing automation ‘very well’ by 31%. However, only 7% believed that Tier 2 suppliers were making the necessary investment, with Tier 3 suppliers further behind with only 3%.

The ABB survey gathered opinions on a range of topics from a comprehensive mix of nearly 400 industry experts from vehicle manufacturers and suppliers at all levels of management and engineering as well as other key professionals throughout the automotive world.

Yokogawa Updates OpreX Process Automation Family

Yokogawa has sent a couple of process automation announcements recently. It’s been quiet on my radar for a few years. Nice to see some investment in product development. The first is the release of OpreX Robot Management Core, an application in the Asset Management and Integrity family. The second concerns strengthened industrial network support in CENTUM in the Control and Safety System family of solutions.

OpreX Robot Management Core

Yokogawa Electric Corp. announces the development and release of OpreX Robot Management Core, a software application in the OpreX Asset Management and Integrity family.

OpreX Robot Management Core is a key product in the Yokogawa robot operations solution. By integrating the management of various types of robots that perform plant maintenance tasks conventionally carried out by humans, this software will help customers maintain their facilities in a safer and more efficient manner. In addition, when connected to a plant’s control and safety systems, it enables the utilization of manufacturing site data that has been acquired by robots, and the issuing of procedural instructions to robots, thus enabling the first step to be taken toward autonomous plant operations.

In plants that have been designed around people, there is a need for the efficient management of different types of robots to carry out a variety of tasks. In response to this need, Yokogawa began discussions with robot manufacturers in 2019 and in the following year went on to develop a prototype robot management and operations platform that has since been used in proof-of-concept field tests with several customers. Leveraging the experience gained through these tests, Yokogawa has developed this software to make it easier to introduce robots in plants.

OpreX Robot Management Core is a software application that improves safety and efficiency in plant maintenance operations by facilitating the utilization of robots. Depending on customer requirements, it can be provided for use in either an on-premises or cloud environment.

1. Integrated management of different types of robots

This software enables the registration, management, and operation of multiple types of robots in a unified manner. It supports the Spot four-legged robot from Boston Dynamics and the EX ROVR autonomous, explosion-proof, plant inspection robot from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. The software’s management screen, which allows users to check the status of individual robots, is viewed in a web browser, enabling remote operations.

2. Connection with other systems

This product was developed with the ability to link to Yokogawa’s OpreX Collaborative Information Server. When doing so, the data collected by robots can be combined with data from control systems, safety instrumented systems, and integrated asset management systems for centralized management. This means that application development and data analysis can also be performed easily not just for maintenance tasks, but other operational tasks too. If an interface for robot utilization is built on the OpreX Collaborative Information Server, this enables the dispatch of robots to plant sites and the performance of safety inspections based on alarms detected.

The development of OpreX Robot Management Core enables Yokogawa to fully rollout its robot operations solution aimed at increasing workplace safety. By providing consulting, assistance in the selection and procurement of hardware and software from strategic partners and other sources, and engineering, operational support and other services, Yokogawa is able to help customers resolve issues encountered in their businesses and can develop specific robot and drone applications. Through this one-stop solution, Yokogawa will ensure the reliability, availability, and sustainability of robot operations and help to achieve autonomous plant operations.

Yokogawa Upgrades the CENTUM VP Integrated Production Control System

Yokogawa Electric Corp. announces the May 31, 2024 release of CENTUM VP R6.11.10, an enhanced version of the CENTUM VP integrated production control system that is a core product in the OpreX Control and Safety System family of solutions.

With this new version of CENTUM VP, plant uptime is improved through the addition of a redundancy function to a new IO card that supports communications via the PROFINET communications protocol for industrial networks. Furthermore, to reduce project costs and improve efficiency in plant operations, functional enhancements have been made to the Unified Alarms and Conditions Server (UACS) and the CCC Inside for the Yokogawa CENTUM VP compressor control solution.

Yokogawa has developed a new PROFINET IO card that supports a redundancy function, and by doing so, has made high reliability and high uptime a reality.

AI Comes to Vision Software

Vision software for guiding robots news goes along with the burst of robot news. In this case, AI meets vision software. 

AI software company Micropsi Industries today announced MIRAI 2, the latest generation of its AI-vision software for robotic automation. MIRAI 2 comes with five new features that enhance manufacturers’ ability to reliably solve automation tasks with variance in position, shape, color, lighting or background. 

What sets the MIRAI 2 AI-Vision Software apart from traditional vision solutions is the ability to operate with real factory data without the need for CAD data, controlled light, visual-feature predefinition or extensive knowledge of computer vision.

Gary Jackson, CEO of Micropsi Industries, noted, “Recognizing the complexities of implementing advanced AI in robotic systems, we’ve assembled expert teams that combine our in-house talent with select system integration partners to ensure that our customers’ projects are supported successfully, no matter how complex the requirements.”

MIRAI is an advanced AI-vision software system that enables robots to dynamically respond to varying conditions within their factory environment, including variance in position, shape, color, lighting and background. What sets MIRAI apart from traditional vision solutions is the ability to operate with real factory data without the need for CAD data, controlled light, visual-feature predefinition or extensive knowledge of computer vision.

The five new features that will be available to MIRAI 2 users are:

Robot skill-sharing: This new feature allows users to share skills between multiple robots, at the same site or elsewhere. If conditions are identical (lighting, background, etc.), very little or no additional training is required in additional installations. MIRAI can also handle small differences in conditions by recording data from multiple installations into a single, robust skill. 

Semi-automatic data recording: Semi-automatic training allows users to record episodes (of data) for skills without having to hand-guide the robot, reducing the workload on users and increasing the quality of the recorded data. MIRAI can now automatically record all the relevant data—users only need to prepare the training situations and corresponding robot target poses.

No F/T sensor: Training and running skills is now possible without ever connecting a Force/Torque sensor. This reduces cost, simplifies tool geometry and cabling setup, and overall makes skill applications more robust and easier to train.

Abnormal condition detection: MIRAI can now be configured to stop skills when unexpected conditions are encountered, allowing users to handle these exceptions in their robot program or alert a human operator.

Industrial PC: The MIRAI software can now be run on a selection of industrial-grade hardware for higher dependability in rough factory conditions.

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