Collaborative Robots Just Keep Getting More Interesting

Collaborative Robots Just Keep Getting More Interesting

This entire area of collaborative robots (cobots) just keeps getting more interesting. The idea of humans and robots working collaboratively is intuitive but has been difficult to achieve. Cobots have ramifications far beyond industrial applications. But even here, they can lead the way to better productivity and effectiveness.

In this latest piece of news, Universal Robots (UR) announced the immediate availability of the UR16e which boasts an impressive 16 kg (35 lbs) payload capability.

This cobot combines the high payload with a reach of 900 mm and pose repeatability of +/- 0.05 mm making it ideal for automating tasks such as heavy-duty material handling, heavy-part handling, palletizing, and machine tending.

“In today’s uncertain economic climate manufacturers need to look at flexible solutions to stay competitive,” said Jürgen von Hollen, President of Universal Robots. “With UR16e, we meet the need for a collaborative robot that can tackle heavy-duty tasks reliably and efficiently. This launch significantly expands the versatility of our product portfolio and gives manufacturers even more ways to improve performance, overcome labor challenges, and grow their business.”

Developed on UR’s e-Series platform, the UR16e offers these benefits:

·        Fast and frictionless deployment with easy programming and a small footprint

UR16e makes accelerating automation easy and fast. Programming and integration is simple – regardless of the user’s experience or knowledge base. Like all UR’s cobots, UR16e can be unpacked, mounted and programmed to perform a task within less than an hour. With a small footprint and 900 mm reach, UR16e easily integrates into any production environment without disruption. 

·        Addresses ergonomic challenges while lowering cost

With its 16 kg payload, UR16e eliminates the ergonomic and productivity challenges associated with lifting and moving heavy parts and products, lowering costs, and reducing downtime.  

·        Ideal for heavy-duty material handling and machine tending

Rugged and reliable, UR16e is ideal for automating high-payload and CNC machine tending applications, including multi-part handling, without compromising on precision.

“At Universal Robots we continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible with collaborative automation,” continued von Hollen. “Today, we’re making it easier than ever for every manufacturer to capitalize on the power of automation by bringing a cobot to market that is built to do more, as it delivers more payload than our other cobots.”

Like with UR’s other e-Series cobots; UR3e, UR5e and UR10e, the UR16e includes built-in force sensing, 17 configurable safety functions, including customizable stopping time and stopping distance, and an intuitive programming flow. UR16e meets the most demanding compliance regulations and safety standards for unobstructed human-robot collaboration, including EN ISO 13849-1, PLd, Category 3, and full EN ISO 10218-1.

Collaborative Robots Just Keep Getting More Interesting

Collaborative Robotics Offer Flexible Packaging Automation

That engineers would develop ways for humans and robots to co-exist, yes even collaborate, seemed inevitable. Why should we consign robots to cages as safety hazards when the future assuredly requires close collaboration. Therefore the burgeoning area of collaborative robotics or cobots.

I’m thinking not just about industrial applications. Robots surely will assist an aging population cope with everyday tasks in our (near) future of fewer people to populate those jobs.

Several of the “old guard” robotics companies have developed “co-bots” but I’ve watched the development of Universal Robots for some time. The company sponsored this blog for a while a few years ago. Here I’ve picked up on a couple of items. The UR marketing team was a bit surprised to discover that I have more than a passing interest in packaging. As a matter of fact, I noticed packaging as a likely growth area for automation about 18 years ago, and that feeling has been borne out.

One story concerns a packaging demonstration with a socially worthwhile goal mixed in. The other reports on a recent market study by ABI Research.

Universal Robots Solves Random Picking Challenge, Providing Food for At-Risk Youth

The challenge: Pick six differently sized food items randomly oriented on a moving conveyor and place each of these items into the same pouch. Then do this again 1,199 more times, ensuring each pouch has the same six items. This is the challenge Universal Robots and Allied Technology will address, quickly identifying and picking items – ranging widely from packs of Craisins to cans of beef ravioli – in Pack Expo’s Robotics Zone during the three-day show.

“Random picking is quickly becoming one of the most sought-after automation tasks from industries such as e-commerce, fulfillment centers and warehousing,” says Regional Sales Director of Universal Robots’ Americas division, Stuart Shepherd. “At Pack Expo, Universal Robots and Allied Technology will demonstrate how UR cobots can be quickly deployed in a compact, modular system, handling the entire process from box erecting, to vision-guided conveyor tracking, part picking, tote assembly, pouch filling and sealing, kitting and palletizing,” he says, adding how the packaging line is also a testament to the capabilities of Universal Robots’ growing number of Certified System Integrators (CSIs). “Allied Technology was able to quickly create this fully-automated solution. We are delighted to see our cobots competently integrated in so many new packaging applications now.”

Allied Technology and Universal Robots’ packaging line features four UR cobots equipped with products from the UR+ platform that certifies grippers, vision cameras, software, and other peripherals to work seamlessly with UR’s collaborative robot arms. The latest flexible grasping technology will be showcased by a UR5e with Piab’s new Kenos® KCS vacuum gripper  guided by a vision camera from UR+ partner Cognex.

Once completed, the 1,200 bags of food will be delivered to “Blessings in a Backpack” a leader in the movement to end childhood hunger, ensuring that children receiving free or subsidized school lunches during the week do not go hungry over the weekends. “We look forward to showcasing this demo that is meaningful in so many ways,” says Shepherd. “We are excited to partner with Blessings in a Backpack while also addressing the needs of the packaging industry with solutions that will simplify and fast-track cobot deployment on their lines.”

Unlike traditional robots caged away from show attendees, visitors to the UR booth are able to walk right up to the UR cobots and interact with them. The booth “playpen area” will feature several cobot arms including a U53e with Robotiq’s new UR+ certified E-Pick Vacuum Gripper, allowing attendees to explore on-the-spot programming. The gripper is one of the recent additions in a rapidly expanding UR+ product portfolio that now includes no less than 195 UR+ certified products with 400+ companies participating in the UR+ developer program.

Market Leadership

Meanwhile, Universal Robots maintains top spot in ABI Research’s Ranking of Cobot Companies in Industrial Applications; Doosan, Techman Robot, and Precise Automation are closing in.

This news originates with ABI Research. There are well over 50 manufacturers of collaborative robots (cobots) worldwide, but only a handful of these companies have so far deployed cobots on any meaningful level of scale. Tens of thousands of cobots have been sold as of 2019 and earned US$500 million in annual revenue for world markets. In its new Industrial Collaborative Robots Competitive Assessment, global tech market advisory firm, ABI Research finds Universal Robots (UR) to be the clear forerunner, particularly in implementation.

The Industrial Collaborative Robots Competitive Assessment analyzed and ranked 12 collaborative robot vendors in the industry – ABB, Aubo Robotics, Automata, Doosan Robotics, FANUC, Franka Emika, Kuka AG, Precise Automation, Productive Robotics, Techman Robot, Universal Robots, and Yaskawa Motoman – using ABI Research’s proven, unbiased innovation/implementation criteria framework. For this competitive assessment, innovation criteria included payload, software, Ergonomics and human-machine interaction, experimentation and safety; implementation criteria focused on units and revenue, cost and ROI, partnerships, value-added services, and the number of employees.

“Market leaders in cobots generally have well-developed cobot rosters, in many cases backed up by an ecosystem platform that integrates applications, accessories, and end-of-arm-tooling (EOAT) solutions in with the base hardware,” said Rian Whitton, Senior Analyst at ABI Research. With 37,000 cobots sold so far, UR leads, followed by Taiwanese provider Techman with 10,000, and Korea-based Doosan with over 2,000. Precise Automation, which uses an advanced direct drive solution to develop faster collaborative robots, was cited as the most innovative of the 12 providers, just edging out Universal Robots, who claimed the overall top spot due to their significant lead in implementation.

There are several companies that are too young to be challenging the dominant parties in the cobot market but are developing new and disruptive technologies that will allow them rise to prominence in the years to come. Productive Robotics is a case-in-point. The California-based developer has an arm with inbuilt vision, 7 axes for superior flexibility, long reach, and a very affordable price point, but has yet to deploy at scale. Automata, a British company that develops a ‘desk-top’ cobot costing less than US$7,000, is significantly lowering the barriers to entry for smaller actors and is championing the use of open-source middleware like ROS to program cobots for industrial use-cases. Germany-based Franka Emika and Chinese-American provider Aubo Robotics also represent relatively new entrants to the market who are building on the success of Universal Robots and are beginning to compete with them.

Perhaps surprisingly, while the major industrial robotics providers have developed cobot lines, they have generally been less successful in marketing them or gaining market traction relative to the pure-cobot developers. In part, this is down to focus. While collaborative robots are valuable, they generally suit deployments and use-cases with smaller shipments and a wider variety of small and large end-users. For industrial players like ABB, FANUC, KUKA AG and Yaskawa Motoman, their client-base tends to be large industrial players who buy fixed automation solution through bulk orders. Aside from this, all four of these companies are competing extensively for greater shipment figures in China, where the cobot oppurtunity relative to the market for traditional industrial systems is much less apparent than in Europe or North America.

“Though many of the cobots deployed by these companies are impressive, and they have a lot of software services, the high-cost and lack of easy use among their systems largely defeat the current value proposition of cobots, making them the laggards in this competitive assessment.” says Whitton.

Looking forward, the larger industrial players are likely to improve their relative position, as future growth in cobots rests on scaling up and large deployments. “Universal Robots, though likely to remain the market leader for the foreseeable future, will be increasingly competing on an even footing with near-peer cobot developers, who are already developing second-generation cobots with significant hardware improvements. Meanwhile, some more innovative companies will be able to accelerate adoption through price decreases, improved flexibility, and common platforms to retrofit collaborative capability on industrial robots,” Whitton concluded.

These findings are from ABI Research’s Industrial Collaborative Robots Competitive Assessment report. This report is part of the company’s Industrial Solution, which includes research, data, and analyst insights. Competitive Assessment reports offer comprehensive analysis of implementation strategies and innovation, coupled with market share analysis, to offer unparalleled insight into a company’s performance and standing in comparison to its competitors.

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

Selling Excess Manufacturing Capacity

I receive many pitches every day. Many just don’t fit my interests. How could I pass up this one? “Just as Airbnb helps millions of people around the world instantly find a great place to stay for the night. What if car makers could use a similar model to easily order and manufacture lightweight 3D printed parts?”

So, I bit. And wound up with an interview with CEO of Xponential Works/Vice Chairman of Techniplas Prime Avi Reichental. His LinkedIn bio includes “parallel entrepreneur, board director, futurist, venturist, inventor, philanthropist”. He’s a busy guy. Wonder how he found time to chat with me.

In short, what is a supplier to do when it needs extra capacity but its capital assets are expensive—as in a large injection molding machine? On the other hand, what if you are a small supplier and have trouble landing consistent, long-term contracts leaving you with excess capacity?

Using digital technologies for communication, design, production, and quality, the two companies can link. The larger company with long-term contracts and capacity needs forges an agreement to “rent” the machines of the smaller company.

Geography becomes a second benefit. OEMs like having suppliers close to the plant. The Tier 1 has the flexibility to find a partner within desired range of the customer’s plant and use digital technology to send drawings, production orders, and other required documentation to the new remote plant.

As Reichental explained, “We have factories, associates, platforms, quality management systems, and brand recognition. Our problem is how to become agile and deliver on-time plus expanding our sales. We’re in a capital intensive industry. The answer was to extend to a group of smaller companies who don’t have the systems required by the OEMs but they have assets. We have created the equivalent of one additional factory per year by adding partnerships with these smaller companies shipping the equivalent of 1,000 tractor-trailers of product per month. Plus we now have the advantage of localizing production to the customer.”

Not stopping with injection molding, Reichental and his team have extensive additive manufacturing (3D printing) expertise. He adds, “Now we are layering additive/3D printing capabilities. Now there can be one-click to request, upload, get instant quote, through the cloud, process the order, get the manufacturing design, delivered physically by approved supplier with approved supply chain.”

Techniplas Prime has introduced a new approach to its e-manufacturing that is enabling the production of 40 million parts per year for BMW, Daimler, Ford, and other top auto manufacturers, or the equivalent of 1,000 truckloads of car parts per month, without the need to open a single new factory.

Five years in operation, it has revenues above $80 million out of parent company’s $500 million and is the fastest growing segment of the company. They proved it out internally before going out to 3rd parties. OEMs want to work with fewer suppliers. Techniplas Prime serves as aggregator for many suppliers so that OEM only needs to interact with it.

XponentialWorks is a venture investment, corporate advisory and product development company, specializing in artificial intelligence, digital manufacturing, 3D printing, robotics, and the digital transformation of traditional businesses. As a curator of leaders in Industry 4.0, the firm has built a unique ecosystem that unites the forces of early-stage companies with the experience and deep market knowledge of mature companies. XponentialWorks invests in and mentors the growth and success of promising early stage companies and acts as an edge organization for the benefit of larger, mid-market companies undertaking digital transformation.

Reichental concludes, “In the end, business innovation is more important than technology innovation.”