Automate Forward Keynote Speakers, Agenda Announced

This announcement for Automate Forward, the conference and trade show of the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), popped into my inbox this morning. The conference part of pandemic-era events draws many excellent speakers. The technology has greatly improved over the years to at least not getting in the way, if not improving the experience. Networking and trade show visiting still lag, but I’ve seen strides in the booth visitation area. 

A personal observation from an old guy. I remember past lives where each of the areas of this trade show were large events in themselves. Industry and technology consolidation have reduced the size, but the importance to manufacturing remains.

In the spring of 2021, the Robotic Industries Association (RIA),  AIA – Advancing Vision + Imaging, Motion Control & Motor Association (MCMA), and A3 Mexico  will become the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), the global advocate for the benefits of automating. A3 promotes automation technologies and ideas that transform the way business is done. Combined, these associations represent over 1,100 automation manufacturers, component suppliers, system integrators, end users, research groups and consulting firms from throughout the world that drive automation forward.

A3 hosts a number of industry-leading events, including the new virtual Automate Forward (March 22-26, 2021) and the Automate Show & Conference (June 6-9, 2022, in Detroit, MI).

More than 80 global experts will speak at Automate Forward, the world’s premier virtual automation trade show and conference set for March 22-26, 2021.  The event also features more than 250 leading companies in an expanded exhibit area, enhanced networking opportunities, and a look at innovative automation startups.

Speakers include senior executives from companies such as 3M, General Motors, Intel, Microsoft, UPS, IBM, GE, FedEx, Siemens, and Proctor & Gamble.

“With the adoption of automation accelerating, and the impossibility of holding large in-person shows in the US at the moment, Automate Forward will play a critical role in educating companies about how robotics, AI, machine vision, motion control, and related automation technologies can immediately help improve product quality, productivity, competitiveness, and worker safety,” said Jeff Burnstein, President of the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), the event’s host.

Automate Forward will include a robust virtual exhibit hall and networking center where attendees can connect directly with companies and experts to solve their automation solutions and get immediate answers. The trade show will be open daily from 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM ET for attendees to learn about products and systems that can help with unique challenges.

A3 will share a sneak peek of the association’s new brand identity at 9:30 am ET on Monday, March 22 exclusively for Automate Forward attendees. Join live to learn about how its four current brands – RIA, AIA, MCMA, and A3 Mexico – are combing to create the new A3 representing over 1100 global companies and organizations active in automation.

Automate Forward Keynote Sessions

Monday, March 22

10 AM ET PANEL: The New Industries Driving The Growth of Automation and Robotics
Robert Little, CEO, ATI Industrial Automation
Mark Lewandowski, Director – Robotics Innovation, Procter & Gamble
John Dulchinos, Vice President, Jabil
Ted Dengel, Managing Director, Operations Technology and Innovation, FedEx Ground
John Bubnikovich, Chief Regional Officer – North America, KUKA Robotics

11 AM ET: The Competitive Advantage is Here and It’s All About Digital
Raj Batra, President, Digital Industries, Siemens

1:30 PM ET: Moving Automation Forward: What is required?

Greg Brown, Vice President of Strategy and R&D, UPS

Tuesday, March 23

10 AM ET PANEL: The 2021 State of the Automation Industry Executive Roundtable
Mike Cicco, President & CEO, FANUC AMERICA
Patrick McDermott, President North America, B&R Automation
Dr. Thomas Evans, CTO Robotics, Honeywell Intelligrated
Christine Boles, Vice President, Internet of Things Group – General Manager, Industrial Solutions Division, Intel
Sebastien Schmitt, North American Robotics Division Manager, Stäubli

11 AM ET: Human Aware Robot Software and Tools for Delivering it
Rodney Brooks, Co-Founder and CTO, Robust.AI

1:30 PM ET: 3M’s Automation Journey: Driving Growth & Productivity
Debarati Sen, Vice President & General Manager Abrasive Systems Division Safety & Industrial Business Group, 3M

Wednesday, March 24

10 AM ET PANEL: The Rise of Smart Automation
Rashmi Misra, GM AI Platforms, Business Development, Microsoft
Jorge Ramirez, Global Director Automation and Chief Mfg. Cybersecurity Officer, General Motors
Rishi Vaish, CTO and VP, IBM AI Applications, IBM
John Lizzi, Executive Leader – Robotics, GE

Tom Panzarella, Senior Director of Perception, Seegrid

11 AM ET: Using Deep Learning and Simulation to Teach Robots Manipulation in Complex Environments
Dieter Fox, Senior Director of Robotics Research, NVIDIA

1:30 PM ET: Automation and the Future of Manufacturing
Indranil Sircar, CTO, Manufacturing Industry, Microsoft

Thursday, March 25

10 AM ET PANEL: How Collaborative Automation is Driving Productivity
Co-sponsored by the International Federation of Robotics
Milton Guerry, President, Schunk USA
Joe Gemma, Global Vice President of Sales & Marketing, Calvary Robotics
Greg Smith, President of the Industrial Automation Group at Teredyne
David Robers, Robotics Sales Manager – Americas, Denso Robotics

11 AM ET: Value Chain Integration and Optimization Through Robotics in Consumer segments and Retail
Marc Segura, Executive Global Business Line Leader – Consumer Segment Service Robotics, ABB Robotics and Machine Automation

Friday, March 26

10 AM ET PANEL: Autonomous Mobile Robots: How to Get Started
Karen Leavitt, Chief Marketing Officer, Locus Robotics

Søren E. Nielsen, President, Mobile Industrial Robots
Matt Rendall, CEO and Co-Founder, OTTO Motors
Rob Sullivan, President, AutoGuide Mobile Robots
Melonee Wise, CEO and Founder, Fetch Robotics

11 AM ET: Using an End-to-End Workflow to Build, Iterate, and Operationalize Deep Learning-Powered Visual Inspection Projects

Andrew Ng, CEO & Founder, Landing AI

ABB Launches Next Generation Cobots, Touts Energy Saving Motors and Drives

ABB has undergone significant divesting but retains a broad portfolio of industrial technologies. I have two pieces of news that fit today’s trends. The exciting things right now in robotics is collaborative robots, called cobots. ABB has upgraded its products. I remember trying to sell drives for energy savings in the 90s, and no one cared that much. Now under the guise of sustainability, energy savings is hot.

ABB is expanding its collaborative robot (cobot) portfolio with the new GoFa and SWIFTI cobot families, offering higher payloads and speeds, to complement YuMi and Single Arm YuMi in ABB’s cobot line-up. These stronger, faster and more capable cobots will accelerate the company’s expansion in high-growth segments including electronics, healthcare, consumer goods, logistics and food and beverage, among others, meeting the growing demand for automation across multiple industries.  

GoFa and SWIFTI are intuitively designed so customers need not rely on in-house programming specialists. This will unlock industries that have low levels of automation, with customers able to operate their cobot within minutes of installation, straight out of the box, with no specialized training. 

“Our new cobot portfolio is the most diverse on the market, offering the potential to transform workplaces and help our customers achieve new levels of operational performance and growth.” said Sami Atiya, President of ABB’s Robotics & Discrete Automation Business Area.  “They are easy to use and configure and backed by our global network of on-call, on-line service experts to ensure that businesses of all sizes and new sectors of the economy, far beyond manufacturing, can embrace robots for the first time.” 

ABB’s cobot portfolio expansion is engineered to help existing and new robot users accelerate automation amid four key megatrends including individualized consumers, labor shortages, digitalization and uncertainty that are transforming business and driving automation into new sectors of the economy.  The expansion follows the Business Area’s focus on high-growth segments through portfolio innovation, helping to drive profitable growth.   

Cobots are designed to operate in the presence of workers without the need for physical safety measures such as fences and to be very easy to use and install. In 2019, more than 22,000 new collaborative robots were deployed globally, up 19 percent compared to the previous year. The demand for collaborative robots is estimated to grow at a CAGR of 17 percent between 2020 and 2025 while the value of global cobot sales is expected to increase from an estimated ~$0.7 billion in 2019 to ~$1.4bn by 2025. The global market for all industrial robots is projected to grow from ~$45 billion in 2020 to ~$58 billion by 2023 (CAGR of 9 percent).

GoFa and SWIFTI are engineered to help businesses automate processes to assist workers with tasks including material handling, machine tending​, component assembly​ and packaging in manufacturing, medical laboratories, logistics hubs and warehouses, workshops, and small production facilities.

Users comfortable with operating a tablet or smartphone will be able to program and re-program the new cobots with ease, using ABB’s fast set-up tools. Customers will also benefit from ABB’s global industry and application expertise, which has been developed from installing more than 500,000 robot solutions since 1974 and supported by ABB’s network of over 1,000 global partners.

ABB urges greater adoption of high-efficiency motors and drives to combat climate change – global electricity consumption to be reduced by 10%

In a new whitepaper published this week, ABB reveals potential for significant energy efficiency improvements in industry and infrastructure enabled by the latest and most high-efficiency motors and variable speed drives. ABB calls on governments and industry to accelerate adoption of the technology to help combat climate change.

According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), industry accounts for 37% of global energy use and some 30% of global energy is consumed in buildings.

While mostly hidden from public view, electric motors – and the variable speed drives which optimize their operation – are embedded in almost every built environment. They power a vast range of applications fundamental to our modern way of life, from industrial pumps, fans and conveyors for manufacturing and propulsion systems for transportation to compressors for electrical appliances and heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems in buildings.

Motor and drive technologies have seen exceptionally rapid advancement in the past decade, with today’s innovative designs delivering remarkable energy efficiencies. However, a significant number of industrial electric motor-driven systems in operation today – in the region of 300 million globally – are inefficient or consume much more power than required, resulting in monumental energy wastage.

Independent research estimates that if these systems were replaced with optimized, high-efficiency equipment, the gains to be realized could reduce global electricity consumption by up to 10%. In turn, this would account for a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions needed to meet the 2040 climate goals established by the Paris Agreement.

“Industrial energy efficiency, more than any other challenge, has the single greatest capacity for combatting the climate emergency.  It is essentially the world’s invisible climate solution.”, said Morten Wierod, President ABB Motion. “For ABB, sustainability is a key part of our company Purpose and of the value that we create for all of our stakeholders. By far the biggest impact we can have in reducing greenhouse gas emissions is through our leading technologies, which reduce energy use in industry, buildings and transport.

Considerable steps have already been taken to support the uptake of electric vehicles and renewable energy sources. ABB believes it is time to do the same for an industrial technology that will deliver even greater benefits for the environment and the global economy.

To take advantage of the tremendous opportunities afforded by energy efficient drives and motors to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, ABB says all stakeholders have a critical role to play:

  • Public decision makers and government regulators need to incentivize their rapid adoption,
  • Businesses, cities, and countries need to be aware of both the cost savings and environmental advantages and be willing to make the investment, and
  • Investors need to reallocate capital towards companies better prepared to address the climate risk.

“While our role at ABB is to always provide the most efficient technologies, products and services to our customers, and continue to innovate for ever greater efficiency, that in itself is not enough. All stakeholders need to work together to bring about a holistic transformation in how we use energy. By acting and innovating together, we can keep critical services up and running while saving energy and combatting climate change”, concludes Morten Wierod.

ABB’s white paper “Achieving the Paris Agreement: The Vital Role of High-Efficiency Motors and Drives in Reducing Energy Consumption” can be downloaded here.

Save the Date Automation Webinar Moderated by Me

Join me on March 24 at 1 PM CDT as I moderate a discussion during an automation webinar of an application of Bosch Rexroth’s new ctrlX CORE controller by DWFritz Automation. Experts from both companies will come together to discuss how they implemented a concurrent design/build project for a complex, high speed “factory of the future” automated assembly line. During the webinar, attendees will learn how Bosch Rexroth can transform current manufacturing lines into the future. 

DWFritz Automation
designs and manufactures custom automation systems for advanced manufacturing in the medical device, aerospace, consumer electronics, energy storage, automotive, semiconductor, and other industries. 

The discussion will explore the challenges as well as the engineering and technology solutions used to successfully speed up the process for getting a high-precision consumer electronics assembly line to market.

In addition to engineering support, Bosch Rexroth provided a multi-technology offering from its Automation and Electrification, Linear Motion and Assembly Technology business units.

The automation platform included the new ctrlX CORE controller from Bosch Rexroth’s recently introduced ctrlX AUTOMATION system. With its open and flexible architecture, ctrlX CORE removes the boundaries between IPC, embedded system and drive-based technology platforms.

Relevant to anyone responsible for managing complex machine automation projects, the panel of experts will cover several areas, including:

  • Simplifying a complex design/build process to shorten lead times and accelerate time to market
  • Successful collaboration for engineering, logistics and fulfillment
  • Realization of advanced automation, linear motion and assembly technology and components

In addition, this free, one-hour webinar will open up for attendee Q&A.

For more information and to register for “Rexroth ON LOCATION — The Future of Factory Automation.”

Schneider Electric Updates EcoStruxure Automation Expert, Forges Strategic Agreement with Wood

Schneider Electric presented a couple of news items to us at the ARC Industry Forum a couple of weeks ago. It continues to push its evangelization of software-defined control using IEC 61499. It also announced a strategic agreement with Wood plc. I just got off a Webcast billed as customers using Automation Expert. Instead, it was a deep dive into the product—which is OK. 

Interesting note (to me, anyway) that the speaker called IEC 61499 a new standard written with Industry 4.0 in mind. I pulled a book from my library a couple of weeks ago that I reviewed in 2001, “Modeling Control Systems Using IEC 61499”.  Anyway, this really is a step in the right direction. The Open Process Automation group uses this standard, among others. One last weird note—they call Automation Expert new, but they just released version 21.0?

Schneider Electric announced EcoStruxure Automation Expert version 21.0, the next in an ongoing series of updates and enhancements for the world’s first software-centric system. 

Schneider Electric is implementing Agile software development methodology to deliver a new EcoStruxure Automation Expert release, based on direct customer feedback, every six months.

“Keeping pace with rapid innovation while still maintaining the capability to be 100% future proof is a key benefit of EcoStruxure Automation Expert for our customers,” said Fabrice Jadot, senior vice president, next generation automation, Schneider Electric. “In the space of a couple months we’ve added features and functions that will enhance the user experience and directly address high-demand customer needs. Our best-in-class implementation of agile mode project delivery¾along with an overall agile mindset¾helps us provide an always-current experience for our users.”

IEC 61499 adoption

EcoStruxure Automation Expert, first launched to the public in November 2020, is the world’s first universal automation offer, based on the IEC61499 standard for interoperability and portability. 

Early interest in this new category of industrial automation is strong. The company reports that its integrator partners see enormous benefit in being able to add value beyond traditional PLC control. Early adopters are innovating to provide comprehensive, more capable solutions by combining technologies for their customers.

“This is not the same automation platform from 30 or 40 years ago, so there’s an initial learning curve for adjusting to IEC61499-based technology,” said Jadot. “But we’re finding that once customers and partners dive into the technology, they see real returns in flexibility and speed of engineering unlike anything they’ve experienced before. When users realize the full value of EcoStruxure Automation Expert, the most common response is, ‘This is a game changer.’”

EcoStruxure Automation Expert is particularly drawing interest from businesses in the consumer packaged goods and logistics sectors where the added flexibility is needed to react quickly to changing market dynamics, take advantage of new opportunities, or rapidly mitigate potential risk.

Next-generation technology

Enhancements in EcoStruxure Automation Expert V21.0 include:

  • EtherNet/IP scanner for software programmable automation controller
  • ASi-5 gateway
  • Position control with Lexium 32 servo drives

and updates include:

  • Common function library improvements 
  • Improved user interface
  • Ability to define supported function blocks in logical devices
  • Physical view enhancements
  • Other quality, performance, security and usability enhancements

Universal automation

Universal automation is the world of plug and produce automation software components based on the IEC61499 standard that solve specific customer problems in a proven way. Adoption of a universal automation layer, common across vendors, will provide limitless opportunities for growth and modernization across industry. 

By greatly extending the capabilities of existing IEC61131-based systems and enabling an app-store-like model for automation software components, the advancements possible in the Fourth Industrial Revolution will be fully realized. As its benefits become visible, Schneider Electric believes other vendors will adopt universal automation, and end users will soon begin to demand it from their automation suppliers and ecosystem.

Schneider Electric and Wood Forge Strategic Agreement

Schneider Electric has formed a strategic relationship with Wood, a global leader in delivering automation solutions for projects, operations and consulting services to energy, industrial, and several other vertical markets, to make open and interoperable automation a reality for customers.

The memorandum of understanding agreement provides Wood’s automation and control group access to Schneider Electric’s IEC61499-based software, helping them deliver open, standards-based automation solutions to their global energy and industrial customers. Using object-oriented, event-based programming, where hardware and software lifecycles are decoupled and engineering efficiency is optimized, Schneider Electric and Wood are now able to provide mutual clients with next-generation, open automation and control, which can deliver step-change operational improvements today while also simplifying upgrades in the future.

“With closed systems, the full potential of Industry 4.0 remains untapped,” said Fabrice Jadot, Senior Vice President, Industrial Automation, Schneider Electric. “To accelerate industrial digital transformation, we must prioritize portability of automation applications. Today, agility and resilience are paramount. The IEC61499 standard delivers that needed interoperability and that’s why it is fundamental to the shift towards more flexible automation. We are delighted to be working with Wood, an industry innovator that has been leveraging the benefits of IEC61499, to deliver the next-generation automation solutions that end users need to thrive in the digital economy.”

“By combining our diverse capabilities and domain expertise in automation with the IEC61499 technology, we can unlock unprecedented innovation for our customers,” said Bridget Fitzpatrick, Global Process Automation Authority, Wood. “The siloed nature of industry is holding us all back. We agree that collaboration is essential to next-generation industries, and IEC61499 is the enabler. We look forward to continuing to bring greater value to our customers’ projects and welcoming a new era of open automation.”

Update from OMAC—Organization for Machine Automation and Control

OMAC, now dubbed Organization for Machine Automation and Control and a part of PMMI, first zapped to my attention at the 1998 ARC Forum. I’ve followed it for the ensuing 23 years through some ups and downs. It never successfully came up with a PLC built entirely from standards to put pressure on the major companies to bring prices down. On the other hand, a lot of the standardization discussions led activists in a variety of beneficial directions. Plus, a group of packaging end users and suppliers devised PackML and other standards that brought organization to control logic and HMI for packaging machines.

This is ARC Forum week, but none of us made the trip to Orlando this year. I had not heard from the organization for some time, so I reached out to Bryan Griffen, who is now Director of Industry Services for PMMI (Packaging Machinery Manufacturers Institute) and leader of OMAC, for an update. Griffen was previously director of engineering for an end user and implementer of the standard.

OMAC is still going strong. 2020 was a bit of a down year in terms of visibility since there were no events in which we could participate to get some exposure. However, we got a lot of things accomplished last year that are being rolled out now. Here are a few of the highlights:

• We completed an update of the ISA-TR88.00.02 (PackML). We slightly updated the state model, added several new PackTags, and improved the overall document content. The update is currently being reviewed by ISA for official publication. We hope to have it out in next couple of months. Yaskawa led this activity.

• We developed a new HMI and stacklight guideline for use with PackML implementations. It provides a common look and feel to operator interfaces in order to facilitate training, operations and maintenance activities. Mettler Toledo led this activity.

• We developed an new OEE guideline and new PackTags for implementing automatic OEE calculations on a PackML enabled line. ProMach led this activity.

• We just completed a new white paper on best practices for remote access to enable data collection, troubleshooting, upgrades and other remote activities. This effort was led by ei3.

• We are just now finishing up the design and migration to a new web platform. The new website will go live on March 1 and will include pages for all of the items above.

We are also just starting the election process for three open seats on the Board of Directors. This process will continue through March. We are planning a virtual General Session meeting in early April to announce the new board members, highlights from 2020, officially unveil the new website and so forth. The date for the General Session will be posted on the website as soon as we have nailed it down. The meeting is open to anyone, not just OMAC members.

HoloLens 2 Industrial Edition brings mixed reality to regulated environments

Many companies have been prototyping applications with Microsoft’s HoloLens augmented reality “glasses.” I have experienced many of these at a variety of trade shows (remember those?). Microsoft recently sent a link to some news from  Charlie Han. Principal Program Manager at Microsoft regarding updates.

It’s been an energizing first year, in-market, for HoloLens 2. We loved seeing the ways HoloLens 2 has empowered customers across industries to increase productivity and innovate with purpose.

  • Lockheed Martin is using HoloLens 2 to build the Orion spacecraft and reduce touch labor—what used to require an eight-hour shift can now be completed in just 45 minutes.
  • Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust is using HoloLens 2 to limit healthcare employee’s exposure to patients with COVID-19, reducing the time staff are exposed to the disease by as much as 83 percent.
  • Mercedes-Benz USA is using HoloLens 2 to improve service technician efficiency and reduce time to problem resolution, realizing a 35 to 40 percent decrease in service technician travel.

As part of listening, and always learning, we heard strong demand for HoloLens 2 to operate in environments that have rigorous requirements or are regulated by industry certifications. In the semiconductor and pharmaceutical industries, partners require a device that meets particle emissions standards to enter and operate in their highly controlled clean room environments. In the energy sector, partners need a device that can function safely in potentially hazardous environments.

Enhance worker productivity and accelerate innovation

We are announcing the HoloLens 2 Industrial Edition, an untethered mixed reality device designed, built, and tested to support regulated industrial environments.

In addition to the industrial standards ratings, HoloLens 2 Industrial Edition is supported with a two-year warranty and a Rapid Replacement Program. The Rapid Replacement program minimizes downtime, with advance exchange and expedited shipping.

With HoloLens 2 Industrial Edition, customers can now use HoloLens 2 in restricted environments without modifying your space, protocols, or workflows. Supported with a robust ecosystem of first and third party mixed reality applications that are backed by the reliability, security, and scale of Azure, HoloLens 2 Industrial Edition will empower enterprises operating in regulated environments to:

  • Provide workers with access to remote experts any time they need it.
  • Complete tasks faster and more accurately than ever before with interactive 3D guides.
  • Train and onboard new employees faster with a “learning by doing” approach.

HoloLens 2 Industrial Edition is open for pre-order in select markets where HoloLens 2 is available, and shipments will begin in Spring 2021. Learn more or reach out to your Microsoft channel supplier for more details.