Controlled Flying Birds and Workforce Development Highlight Festo Hannover Announcements

I remember the first trip I made to Festo in Germany many years ago. I thought, this is “just” a pneumatics company. What could be interesting about this trip? Then I witnessed what their R&D engineers did with pneumatics. And saw that the company if far deeper than “just” pneumatics.

Even though we could not experience in the flesh, so to speak, this year’s press conference and demonstrations did not disappoint. The company discusses financial results, strategy, general information, an application – assembly of insulin injection pen, workforce issues, and the always delightful demonstration of pneumatic/electronic far-out thinking with this year being a bionic swift (bird).

Most companies I work with have an education and training component. Festo has a division that is dedicated to education from children to adults. Check out the Festo Didactic information below. Maybe you can purchase a bionic bird education kit for your local school’s science and technology program (see information below). I’m living in a new community, but I’m looking for local contacts to help out.

Financial years 2020/2021

Festo’s results were stable despite the pandemic. The Festo Group had to cope with a 7.5% decline in turnover in the 2020 financial year due to the pandemic. Turnover was 2.84 billion euros (previous year 3.07 billion euros). Overall, however, thanks to forward-looking cost-cutting measures and employment protection, the operating result in 2020 was slightly higher than in the previous year.

“This has enabled us to guide our workforce safely through the crisis year and to create a good basis for being ready for the global economy to pick up again. At the same time, it gives us the financial freedom to invest in our future now as well,” said the Chairman of the Management Board, Dipl.-Ing. Dr. h.c. Oliver Jung.

As in the previous year, the company’s R&D ratio was 8% of turnover. 

For 2021, the company expects a catch-up year. “We started the year well, with strong growth in the first quarter. Nevertheless, the end of the pandemic cannot yet be estimated. We are therefore continuing our savings course. At the same time, we continue to invest in our growth and innovation strategy,” Jung affirmed.

Strategy 2025+

Digitalisation and AI determine the product roadmap with smart and intelligent products as enablers for energy efficiency and sustainability in customer solutions.

Festo is focusing on the capability shift upgrading employees’ skills in the digital transformation.

The need for home schooling and virtual training (Digital Education) is growing rapidly in the pandemic. In the lockdown, Festo Didactic successfully launched its new digital learning platform, Festo LX, for technical education and provided a free homeschooling version for mechatronics courses in schools.  

The LifeTech business segment with medical technology and laboratory automation is experiencing a real boom with growth rates of over 100%. Festo is continuously expanding its Technical Engineering Center for LifeTech in Boston, which opened in 2018 and is one of the world’s most important development locations for life science, in order to further develop this promising growth market.

Festo’s products make an important contribution to the fight against COVID 19. In particular, laboratory automation enables high throughput in COVID 19 tests.  Automation is also key in vaccine development and production.

Sustainability needs automation and education

“As a company and society, we have to manage the balancing act in the pandemic of simultaneously finding ways out of the crisis and focusing our future activities on sustainability. Automation and technical education are a key to this. We also have a high social responsibility for sustainable development here,” said Jung. The goal is to gradually develop production in the direction of a circular economy.

“At Festo, we are convinced that pneumatics in particular offers massive advantages over electrics in many areas, and that no other technology can match it. We are currently developing this further in the direction of smart and digital pneumatics. There is still a lot of potential here,” confirmed Jung.

In 2020, Festo has also made great progress internally in climate protection and thus towards its climate target of saving at least 30% CO2 by 2025 (Scope 1 and 2).

Festo has the greatest leverage for climate protection with its customers, through the appropriate product selection of pneumatics and electrics (Scope 3). This is because around 90% of CO2 emissions are generated during product operation and only around 10% during production. Smart products and services, digitalization and AI are giving new impetus to energy efficiency on the way to CO2-neutral production.

As a family-owned company, Festo thinks and acts responsibly and with a long-term perspective. Festo stands for clear values, utmost quality and customer-oriented innovation. It has set standards in industrial automation technology and technical education ever since its establishment, thereby making a contribution to sustainable development of the environment, the economy and society.

Festo is advancing digitalisation in all its corporate divisions. Festo is leading its customers and employees into the digital future. To this end, the company is developing new future-oriented concepts founded on the triad of innovative and energy-efficient technologies, intuitive human-machine collaboration, and education and further training.

Productivity – Festo’s core competency

Innovation for the best possible productivity, a global presence and close, long-term partnerships with its customers are the hallmarks of Festo. In the 1950s, Festo became the first company in Europe to use compressed air as a drive medium in automation. The company now offers over 30,000 products and system solutions for pneumatic and electrical automation technology which, thanks to a large variety of modular systems, can be tailored to specific customer applications in many different factory and process automation industry segments.

Added value through digitalisation
           
Smart products, connectivity, the mining and interpretation of data, including via the cloud, and dashboards for visualisation, already offer added value for customers. Products like the energy efficiency module E2M, IO-Link-capable components, the CPX-IOT gateway or interfaces like OPC-UA contribute to this process. Another basic requirement for successful and consistent digitalisation is mechanical, electrical and intelligent connectivity through software solutions, enabling all customers to find their bearings quickly and intuitively. 

Festo is promoting this with an open automation architecture and a large product portfolio made up of axes, motors and controllers. Standardised software tools are also being developed: configurators for smart engineering, the Festo Automation Suite for easy commissioning and the digital maintenance manager Smartenance for reliable operation. Digitalised pneumatics such as the Festo Motion Terminal VTEM makes pneumatics more flexible than ever before. The reason: apps define the function, the hardware remains the same.

In addition, data analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence are shaping the agile product development of the future. Since 2018, the competence in the field of AI has been strongly expanded. The Festo AX (Festo Automation Experience) software platform is an AI-based software solution that allows production processes to be improved, e.g. with preventive maintenance of assets and machines, monitoring of quality in production or energy consumption.

With AI-based solutions for operations and maintenance processes, the overall equipment efficiency (OEE) of customers is to be improved.

Qualification in the digital transformation

As a leading provider of technical education and training, Festo Didactic is responding to current megatrends such as digitalisation and the energy transition. Because these trends are changing industry and production processes. Festo Didactic supports its customers with learning solutions and supports them to ensure the employability and productivity of employees and companies.

Festo Didactic offers a comprehensive range of learning solutions. Learners acquire technology knowledge and soft skills both in team-oriented and practical training on physical learning systems with industrial components, but also location- and time-independent through digital online learning opportunities. The new digital learning portal Festo Learning Experience (Festo LX) creates individual learning experiences for learners and teachers.

The fast way to a safe insulin pen

Syntegon’s assembly system for medical technology with the Festo automation platform 

Diabetes is on the rise worldwide with around 10 million people being diagnosed with the disease every year. This pushes up the demand for insulin pens for self-injection. Syntegon’s Danish subsidiary has developed an automated system for assembling these pens using the Festo automation platform.

“I have a dream,” says Michael Andersen, Sales Director of Syntegon Technology Sandved in Denmark. “I have a dream of our machines doing on-the-fly format changes. That would be the culmination of our philosophy of flexibility and agility that we strive for in our company,” adds the automation expert.

Flexibility and agility

“By using the Festo automation platform, which includes the servo press kit, we are already very close to making this dream come true,” says Andersen. In fact, Festo’s servo press kit YJKP – a preconfigured modular system consisting of software, controllers and standard electrical drives – can be easily integrated in the plant and offers a high degree of flexibility thanks to the preinstalled software. This means that the modular press system with servo drive for electric pressing and joining up to 17 kN is ready for immediate use and, compared to similar solutions on the market, is both intuitively to parameterize and cost-effective.

“We have installed more than a 100 servo press kits in the automated assembly lines for insulin pens,” says Ulrik Keldke, Head of Syntegon’s engineering department in Sandved. The precisely adjustable pressing and joining forces ensure consistent quality and low reject rates. “What we particularly like about the Festo servo press kit is that it’s quick and easy to commission, and the machine operators don’t need to be trained to use it,” explains chief engineer Keldke.

Quality and safety

“Automating the assembly line is a prerequisite for meeting the requirements for the end product: the insulin pens must be safe and user-friendly,” says Andersen. The pens must not break when used by the patients, as that would put them at risk. The Servo Press Kit keeps the tension and pressure constant. “The glass of the syringes should never be subjected to irregular pressure as they would break,” Keldke says. The automated systems ensure that the insulin pens are always in order and can deliver the exact amount of insulin.

Depending on the machine type, Syntegon’s assembly lines produce up to 300 pens per minute. The degree of automation is scalable according to requirements and can also be adapted at a later date. The machine concepts are based either on a rotary table for low to medium outputs or on a linear transport system for high outputs. The system can be expanded with automatic feeders and stations to increase output and the degree of automation.

Consistency and reliability

Syntegon Technology, formerly Bosch Packaging Technology, sees itself as a provider of integrated solutions. The assembly line for insulin pens can be expanded into a complete line with other systems from the company. Pharmaceutical manufacturers can thus be provided with machines for all process steps, from filling, capping, assembly, testing, to labelling and packaging – preconfigured and from a single source.

The machine control system is based on electrical and pneumatic components and modules from the Festo automation platform. This ensures a consistency of supply since Festo products are available worldwide and offer open interfaces to higher-level controllers. The CPX-E-CEC module from Festo establishes the connection to the process control level, allowing it to be used with Profinet or, for other customers in Europe, with EtherCat. Especially for North American customers, however, the system could also be supplied with an Ethernet/IP module.

Bionic Swift: A Bionically Inspired Robotic Bird

So, the cool demonstration this year was the Bionic Swift. This year’s engineering innovation has been incorporated into the “Bionics4Education” program. Its target market is high school education and also industrial training. 

It is one of the oldest dreams of mankind: flying like a bird. The lift and propulsion of birds have been ingeniously achieved by nature. Birds measure, control and regulate their movements continuously and completely autonomously. The inspiration for the development of the Bionic Swift educational kit came from the Bionic Learning Network, a research association with universities, institutes and development companies whose goal is to produce novel technology carriers through the application of bionics. In 2020, the BionicSwift was presented to the public for the first time. Festo Didactic wants to bring the world of bionics together with the education sector in order to promote working in interdisciplinary project teams as well as problem-oriented learning and creativity at schools.

The Bionic Swift is a robotic bird inspired by the bird world. Festo based its development on the natural model of the swallow. With the experimental set, scientific and technical correlations as well as the fascination of bird flight and the topics of lightweight construction, energy efficiency and aerodynamics can be impressively conveyed in STEAM lessons using a project-based approach.

The mechanisms of action of the flap of the wings can be explored in a playful way by students in class. Weighing less than 45 grams, the ultra-light flying object Bionic Swift shows particularly agile flight behaviour. Due to its extreme manoeuvrability, even tight turns can be realised. The Bionic Swift experimental set is recommended for up to three learners and from the age of 15. 

The references to biology and technology that can be taught in STEAM lessons or at extracurricular learning venues are numerous and reach from the structure of tubular bones to wing take-off and landing to the basics of movements in the air. This allows teachers to teach technical learning content via a new, cross-curricular educational learning path. Accompanying teaching material, as well as the assembly manual, can be downloaded free of charge from our website

Aspen Technology, L&T Technology Services Partner

The better path to providing more solutions to your customer these days includes bringing in partners rather than developing or acquiring your own additional technology. This news comes from Aspen Technology who is partnering with L&T Technology Services to provide cloud services for its aspenONE Engineering software.

LTTS will enable cloud migration and virtualization and provide end-to-end experience that can help engineers access applications securely and at scale

L&T Technology Services Limited, a global pure play engineering services company, has partnered with Aspen Technology Inc., a global leader in asset optimization software, to offer a complete suite of digital engineering solutions across global enterprises which will empower customers to optimize the performance of their assets and achieve operational excellence through cloud hosting and virtualization.

The partnership between LTTS and Aspen Technology will enable enterprises to “bring their own licenses” for AspenTech’s aspenONE Engineering software suite to be run via LTTS’ managed cloud. Supported software offerings are detailed here. This will help accelerate customers’ Industry 4.0 adoption and help them align rapidly with the changing market conditions. By offering AspenTech’s engineering desktop suite via cloud, capital-intensive organizations will improve on operational efficiency and boost margin by leveraging the speed and scale of cloud technologies. Furthermore, this collaboration will reduce the total cost of ownership and improve the customer’s business agility especially during uncertain and volatile market conditions.

As an AspenTech Managed Hosting partner, LTTS’ cloud engineering services will provide design, delivery and support for compute, storage and virtual network infrastructure in the cloud. As an AspenTech Implementation Service Provider, LTTS will also bring its proven digital engineering capabilities and domain expertise across the entire engineering and manufacturing life cycle to leverage artificial intelligence, machine learning, IoT services and analytics.

Antonio Pietri, President & CEO, Aspen Technology said, “The process manufacturing industry is undergoing a significant change as more companies take advantage of advanced technologies like AI, machine learning and the cloud to better operate their critical assets. Our partnership with LTTS is about giving our joint customers the capabilities they need to optimize their operations and improve their engineering capabilities, so we feel that this partnership will help process manufacturing companies accelerate their digital transformation journeys and adapt to changing conditions when needed.”

Amit Chadha Deputy CEO & Member of the Board, L&T Technology Services said, “As the world’s leading engineering R&D services provider, LTTS brings to the table conceptual engineering design, enhanced security features and digital tools that can facilitate remote and agile operations on the shopfloor. LTTS’ partnership with AspenTech will provide holistic, end-to-end solutions in delivering asset performance and enhancing operational efficiency. LTTS is excited to combine its engineering domain expertise across critical industries with AspenTech’s purpose-built software platforms to deliver higher returns over the entire asset lifecycle”.

AFTER A TOUGH TWO YEARS, INDUSTRIAL ROBOTS ARE BACK ON TRACK

  • 2019-20: unprecedented events caused continuous negative growth for the first time for the industrial robotics sector
  • Swift recovery predicted: 9%+ growth forecast for 2021; CAGR of 4.6% predicted for 21-24
  • Uneven recovery for different regions and classes of robot – China to lead global revival
  • Semi-conductors, chemicals, and food & beverage industries to be major drivers of sector

We’ve seen the market report on robot sales from the trade association. Here is an independent analysis from London-based Interact Analysis. This new report on industrial robotics shows that the industrial robots sector is on track to deliver a swift recovery after a recent unprecedented two-year downturn.

During the economic slow-down in 2019 the industrial robotics sector saw shipments fall by 5.4%. The pandemic of 2020 saw a further fall of 5.9% as 80,000 fewer units were shipped than previously forecast. This was a difficult time for the sector, and it will take time to recover. Interact Analysis acknowledges that pre-COVID estimates of growth up to 2024 have now gone out of the window, but it has identified strong drivers for growth as economies emerge from the pandemic. The company’s in-depth research has concluded that new industry applications for robotics and more advanced technologies coupled with reducing prices will cause an acceleration in revenues in 2021, with an increase of 9.2% in revenue terms, and 9.6% in shipment terms. This will be followed by sustained growth up to 2024. 

Articulated robots are predicted to be the slowest to recover to 2019 levels, given that the industry where they are predominantly used – automotive – has been hit so badly by the pandemic. Sales of SCARA robots, used in light duty pick and place and assembly operations are predicted to recover as their potential for use in different applications is recognised. The collaborative robot market, which saw negative growth for the first time in 2020, is forecast to bounce back with an impressive 15-20% year-on-year growth rate up to 2028. 

The expected pattern of regional recovery for the industrial robot sector is familiar. The virus started in Asia, and then moved to Europe and North America, and the infection continues to spread. As a result, normal business operations will resume earlier in Asia, and this will impact on robot shipments in those areas, most notably in China, where the virus was brought under control by May 2020. The Chinese market is the only one forecast to surpass 2019 levels by 2021. This is in the main due to the large domestic demand coming from China itself, rather than an increase in China’s export markets which are, of course, still badly hit by COVID. 

Jan Zhang, senior director at Interact Analysis says: “The downturn of 2019 and the shock of the pandemic tripped up the industrial robotics market, but it only stumbled. Factors such as staff shortages, social distancing, the ever-pressing need for efficiency and speed, and the realisation of the need to build in resilience in the face of world shocks such as COVID-19 mean that now more than ever, industries across the globe recognise the value of robotics. We believe the next few years will see the sector recover its footing and thrive.”  

About the report

During the process of compiling this report, the Interact Analysis team conducted over 30 hours of interviews with 30 key industry personnel at leading robot companies and end-users. These were conducted face-to-face or by phone. Banks of data were collected and analysed, some direct from companies and held confidentially, some, such as company reports, from public sources. It must be emphasised that this report, more than any other, is an organic and evolving tool, offering a newly introduced product tracking service, ensuring users of the report have the latest data.

About Interact Analysis

Interact Analysis is an international provider of market research for the Intelligent Automation sector. Our team of experienced industry analysts delivers research into three core sectors: industrial automation, robotics and warehouse automation, and commercial vehicles. Intelligent Automation – which is the integration of artificial intelligence and automation – will change virtually every industry imaginable. This combination enables greater efficiencies, productivity, convenience, and scale. It has the potential to drastically alter the outlook for many traditional industries such as manufacturing, healthcare and automotive as well as to lead to the emergence of entirely new industries.

Communication Service Providers Fail To Support 5G Needs for SMEs

By not investing enough time and resource into the SME market, CSPs are discounting an estimated $433 billion worth of 5G revenue, a significant missed opportunity for B2B 5G growth in 2021 and beyond

In further small-to-medium-sized (SME) business news, here is a report of research done for the 5G market and communication service providers (CSP) evidently ignoring a sizable market opportunity.

BearingPoint//Beyond, in collaboration with Omdiareleased a report highlighting the potential of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) as a major source of future 5G revenue for communications service providers (CSPs). The study, commissioned by BearingPoint//Beyond and conducted by Omdia, reveals that, despite SMEs representing 99% of the world’s businesses – a SME services market estimated to be worth $433 billion by 2025 – the market segment remains vast and untapped with the majority of CSPs focusing 70% of their resources on the 1% enterprise market. Despite this revelation, not enough CSPs are recognizing SMEs as a major source of B2B revenue, especially on 5G. Yet SMEs, many of which already see value in 5G, perceive CSPs as their trusted 5G go-to partner with 42% prioritizing them to execute their 5G strategies.

Currently CSPs identify large multinational enterprises as the segment that will drive 5G revenues, but the large enterprises surveyed do not regard CSPs as their primary 5G provider. In fact, the report finds that 72% of enterprises will prefer to work with a service provider that is not a CSP. Findings show that 31% of large multinational enterprises will choose cloud service providers to execute their 5G strategies and 34% even favor taking a D.I.Y. approach.

“CSPs are still trying to approach 5G the same way they approached 4G, with a clear focus on consumer and enterprise. However, 5G opens new opportunities for CSPs and one of them is the SME segment. Digitalization and COVID-19 have transformed the needs of SMEs and their awareness of the impact that new technologies such as 5G, IoT, and AI can have on their business to enhance productivity and efficiency, and boost sales. In fact, our previous research highlighted that on average 73% of global SMEs see 5G as important to their business. However, it’s clear that it’s not 5G technology that they’re after, instead SMEs understand that 5G is one part of a broader technology solution that they need. In fact, 93% of SMEs told us that it’s more important for CSPs to collaborate with an ecosystem of partners to build solutions that better fit their needs than to simply provision 5G services,” said Angus Ward, CEO, BearingPoint//Beyond. 

The report emphasizes that CSPs should not squander the opportunity to support SMEs in realizing their 5G ambitions, as SMEs digitalized their business amidst the deeply transformational impact of COVID-19. CSPs are encouraged to consider the business needs of SMEs and assess how 5G can improve productivity and efficiency or enable them to grow their business. Yet today, most 5G offers for SMEs are “Consumer Up”, re-sleeved consumer offers. 5G’s real value for this lucrative market lies in the creation of partner ecosystems to aid them in achieving significant strategic shifts to sell more services and reach larger audiences. 

“We’re looking at a new type of SME, one that is seeking a partner that will orchestrate comprehensive partner ecosystems to co-create solutions to provide them with a better service. For CSPs, this is a unique opportunity, especially considering SMEs see them as a strong candidate to fulfil this role. However, to realize this opportunity, CSPs will have to address the different types of SMEs out there, their unique needs and the vertical context. This will mean gradually developing a growing number of solutions with an increasing number of technology partners and vertical specialists. Using a digital marketplace will enable the orchestration of these multi-partner solutions, while also simplifying the complexity for the SME user. This marketplace needs to allow CSPs the speed and the scale to grow from selling a few SME solutions, to selling multiple solutions as more partners and customers come on board,” continues Ward. 

CSPs orchestrating the right partner ecosystems appears to be the way forward as 5G alone will not be the ultimate differentiator. Rather, the ability for those CSPs to create a more complex value proposition across vertical industries will be key in today’s competitive environment. 

“SMEs are aware of the benefits 5G can bring to their businesses and already view CSPs as their trusted 5G partners. It’s therefore critical that CSPs enable 5G to triage SMEs’ business context and industry solutions with outcome-based value propositions, to reap the rewards of this customer base. In some cases, global CSPs have launched programs that are capitalizing on the SME opportunity. Vodafone Spain offers an all-inclusive value proposition providing SMEs with compelling mobile-first productivity tools. SK Telecom is partnering with the Korea Smart Factory Data Association and software developer, BISTel, to offer a 5G-based big data analysis service to manufacturing SMEs. These types of collaborative approaches demonstrate how CSPs can marry 5G capabilities and other assets with ecosystem players to deliver profound value to SMEs,” said Camille Mendler, Chief Analyst, Enterprise Services, Service Provider & Communication, Omdia.

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.”

For First Time Yearly Non-Automotive Robotic Orders Higher Than Automotive Orders

I have noticed over the past several years that the share of sales of automation vendors from the automotive sector has been declining. If nothing else points to that trend, it would be sales of that automotive technology mainstay—robots. Welding robots populating automotive assembly lines were synonyms for automation. If you looked at sales by industry and application, those have led the list for a long time.

Things have changed. For the first time, yearly orders of robots from non-automotive sectors surpassed automotive robot orders, as sales of robotic units in North America increased 3.5% in 2020 from 2019. This growth was driven by a strong Q4 that was the second-best quarter ever for North American robotic sales with a 63.6% increase over Q4 2019.

So say Industry statistics – released recently by the Robotic Industries Association (RIA), part of the Association for Advancing Automation (A3) – show that North American companies ordered 31,044 robotic units, valued at $1.572 billion in 2020. In Q4, companies ordered 9,972 units valued at $479 million. 

“The surge in robot orders that we’re seeing, despite the pandemic, demonstrates the growing interest in robotic and automation solutions,” said Jeff Burnstein, A3 President. “It’s promising to see the growth of robotics in new applications and reaching a wider group of users than ever before.”

Year-over-year orders in life sciences increased by 69%, food and consumer goods grew by 56%, and plastics and rubber saw a 51% increase. Automotive orders increased 39% in 2020.

“In 2020, we saw two trends in particular that propelled growth in non-automotive orders for robotics technology,” said John Bubnikovich, Chief Regional Officer – North America, KUKA Robotics. “First, the automation competence level in general industry has grown, and that matured into greater demand for the technology. Second, consumer behavior shifted significantly and the expectations created by this shift were tough to satisfy without automation.”

At the same time, Bubnikovich said, supply chain disruptions and instability in the workforce made industries accelerate automation strategies.

The same trends are being noticed by other major robot manufacturers.

“With the changes in people’s personal buying behavior caused by COVID, robots have been utilized in record numbers to allow for the fulfillment of orders in the e-commerce space while allowing for correct social distancing practices,” said Dean Elkins, Segment Leader – Handling, Yaskawa Motoman. “In addition, robots largely aided in the production of personal protection and testing equipment and the medical devices needed to keep our society healthy and safe.”

“We have seen a substantial increase in activity in non-automotive sectors, as customers focus on making their production lines more flexible and better able to efficiently achieve high mix, lower volume production in response to constantly evolving customer demands,” says Mark Joppru, Vice President – Consumer Segment & Service Robotics, US ABB Robotics and Machine Automation.  “In food applications, for example, where robots were traditionally used to automate simpler processes like case loading, they are increasingly being commissioned for higher value processes, like directly preparing food, resulting in improvements to food safety and hygiene.  While these trends have existed for several years, COVID has changed perceptions and priorities for customers, accelerating the adoption of robotic automation.”

In August of 2020, A3 reported on the strain to supply chains and economic uncertainty due to COVID-19. Alex Shikany, A3 Vice President, Membership & Business Intelligence, noted that despite a drop in orders, industry leaders showed optimism about the remainder of 2020, and accurately predicted the strong finish to 2020.

“The pandemic has created a sense of urgency for manufacturing companies to invest in automation like never before,” said Mike Cicco, President and CEO of FANUC America. “Traditionally, companies have implemented automation to reduce cost, increase output, and improve quality.  However, the pandemic has added an additional factor that is driving manufacturers to re-examine their supply chain to increase flexibility, minimize disruptions, and move it closer to their customers. With this mindset, there are more opportunities for scaling robotic applications across multiple facilities, especially for larger companies. The untapped potential for automation is a promising sign for our industry; the opportunities for automation today are truly limitless.”

To help educate users and potential users about how to successfully apply robotics and automation, A3 will hold Automate Forward, the premier virtual automation trade show and conference. Register free and join industry peers March 22-26 to hear from more than 80 speakers and see the latest technologies from more than 160 leading automation suppliers.

About Association for Advancing Automation (A3)

In the spring of 2021, the Robotic Industries Association (RIA) 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. RIA is one of four allied associations, including AIA – Advancing Vision + Imaging, Motion Control & Motor Association (MCMA), and A3 Mexico, that will transform into A3. 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.