Robots and AI Spell Change Not Replacement for Workers

Robots and AI Spell Change Not Replacement for Workers

Here, finally, is someone who writes sensibly about automation. Dystopian writers about a robot apocalypse get lots of clicks and attention, but reality will be far different.

Elliot Dinkin, president and CEO of Cowden Associates: What automation appears to have in store for the job market is not massive downsizing, but changes in job description and reallocation of some repetitive chores.

I don’t know how I got on the mailing list of this PR firm, but the following article is worth it.

In late 2017, the McKinsey Global Institute released a report estimating that the relentless march of automation could eliminate up to 73 million jobs in the U.S. by 2030. “Automation is certainly a factor in the future of the workforce,” says Elliot Dinkin, a nationally known expert in actuarial, compensation, and employee benefits issues. “There are indications, however that its effect on downsizing may be less than what has been predicted. The largest corporate layoffs of this century to date, for example, seem primarily to have been caused not by advanced technology, but by market changes, mergers, and plain old bad business decisions.”

This assessment was echoed by participants in a recent conference on the future of the worker held at the Stanford School of Business. In 1950, the U.S. Census Bureau listed 250 separate jobs; of these, the conference noted, only one, that being elevator operator, has been completely eliminated. (And some of the elevator operator’s tasks, like greeting visitors and guiding them to the right office, have been redistributed to receptionists and security guards.) Conferees also pointed out that automation has its limits. Elon Musk, founder and chief executive of Tesla Motors, said, “Excessive automation at Tesla was a mistake. To be precise, my mistake. Humans are underrated.”

One reason automation and computerization may loom so large in near-future predictions, industry experts suggest, is the spectacular increase in availability, and decrease in cost, of computer power. Given the capabilities of even an average smartphone, it is easy to forget that the underlying procedures—the algorithms that drive functions like big data and machine learning—have not changed significantly in more than 40 years.

It is also, Dinkin notes, easy to forget that under the right circumstances, automation facilitates business growth and thus stimulates employment rather than threatening it. The Ford Motor Company introduced the auto assembly line in 1913, reducing assembly time from 12 hours per car to about one and one-half hours—and enabling an enormous upsurge in production.5 Since then, the auto industry has continued to embrace automation, along with job-changing concepts like lean manufacturing. It has also continued to hire people; between 2011 and 2017, auto making and auto supplies employment increased by almost 50%, adding nearly 130,000 jobs in the U.S.

Another too often overlooked aspect of the future labor market, says Dinkin, is worker availability. Hal Varian, chief economist at Google, points out that while most popular discussions of technology center around replacing people with machines, current demographic trends point to a coming substantial drop in the supply of labor. According to Varian, the demographic effect on the labor market is 53% larger than the automation effect—meaning that when both are considered, both employment and real wages are more likely to increase than decrease.

“In the future as in the past,” says Dinkin, “workforce reductions will always be a possibility. In the future as in the past, automation will play a role in these decisions—but only as one of a number of factors, all of which need to be taken into account. What matters is to understand the situation, and to handle it in a manner fair to all parties. In our own business practice, we urge both labor representatives and corporate management to approach workforce decisions with as little passion and as much analysis as possible.”

Cowden Associates, Inc., headquartered in Pittsburgh, PA, was created in 2001 by the merger of Halliwell and Associates and MMC&P Spectrum Benefits, which was founded by Jere Cowden in 1986. Currently led by President & CEO Elliot Dinkin, Cowden Associates specializes in helping corporate clients find the best solutions, both for the enterprise and for its employees, with regard to compensation, healthcare benefits, retirement and pension issues, and Taft-Hartley fund consulting. Winning Workplaces and The Wall Street Journal have recognized Cowden Associates as a “Top Small Workplace,” a lifetime designation awarded to executives for their ability to build and lead savvy organizations. For more information, visit www.cowdenassociates.com

Sources:
McCarthy, Niall, “Automation Could Eliminate 73 Million U.S. Jobs By 2030,” Forbes, November 30, 2017.
Whiteman, Doug, “The Biggest Corporate Layoffs of the Century (So Far),” Moneywise, February 11, 2019.
Snyder, Bill, “Our Misplaced Fear of Job-Stealing Robots,” Stanford Business Insights, March 7, 2019.
Kosko, Bart, “What Do You Think About Machines That Think?,” Edge Foundation, 2019.
Boisset, Fabrice, “The History of Industrial Automation in Manufacturing,” kingstar.com, May 9, 2018.
“State of the U.S. Automotive Industry,” American Automotive Policy Council, August 2018.
“Productivity, Technology, and Demographics,” International Monetary Fund IMF Blog, May 5, 2017.

Revitalizing Manufacturing in Detroit

Revitalizing Manufacturing in Detroit

There are few things I find as exciting as exploring revitalizing manufacturing or production facility. When people and technology come together to make useful products in a clean and safe manner is art to me.

Therefore, I was happy that my Siemens contacts talked me into driving up to Detroit earlier than I planned to tour the Ford Livonia Transmission plant on March 19. I planned to come up for the noon tour at FlexNGate, but the changed plans worked wonderfully.

Ford Powertrain was a customer of mine in the 80s when I worked for a company that designed and built automated machines and then through the 90s when I was a sales engineer solving problems and selling automation and electrical equipment. So, I witnessed the beginnings of the evolution of these manufacturing plants from dark, dirty, smelly, oily, dangerous, loud environments to today’s clean, efficient, professional facilities.

Ford Livonia Transmission Plant

Mike Bastian, Advanced Engineering Manager Ford Powertrain, explained Ford’s journey from 2000 to present to increase use of digital in manufacturing—The Digital Manufacturing Strategy. He told me that since beginning the present system journey in 2008, they were doing IIoT before there was an IIoT.

Ford Livonia Tranmissions

Bob Groden, plant manager, described the journey that began with removing several obsolete lines, gutting the facility, painting and cleaning, and preparing for additional transmission assembly lines. This plant is huge. And he walks it three times a day greeting people and asking how things are going. As he told me, “I get my steps in.”

The three themes include people working together, safety, and quality. An important note: The plant continuously added people over the rebuild time all the while increasing automation. three themes; added people continuously all the while automating the plant. Groden and UAW Local President Keith Miller talk to every new employee class and then follow up with each later on the line.

Jon Guske, manufacturing engineering manager-feasibility, described a system the team built beyond the computer-aided engineering system—discrete event throughput simulation. It can connect to VR to help OEMs understand the process and product before beginning machine design. It even models chip removal in machining processes to improve manufacturing process.

  • Following are pieces of the Digital Manufacturing Strategy as bullet points:
  • Standard Hardware Architecture
  • IP65–removed all the large enclosures in the plant (aside, using Siemens because it could do it; one company went to management and flat out told them that Bastian was wrong, management said don’t ever say he’s wrong; another company gets to the spec via a work-around he didn’t like)
  • Common PLC/CNC
  • Common configuration and programming software
  • Integrated safety
  • Virtual commissioning
  • Obsolescence management (upgrade path)

Network Standard

Ethernet, specifically Profinet—called Control Production Network

  • Software Standard—Ford Automation Software Template
  • Standard function blocks
  • Standard HMI Screens
  • Standard linkages
  • OEMs are trained and must adhere
  • Lean Manufacturing Assistant
  • Process Configuration Management System
  • Condition Monitoring
  • Part Tracking System, extensive use of RFID

I had an opportunity during the tour to talk with Scott King, IT Lead, Advanced Manufacturing Powertrain, Solutions Development. I asked about the mythic IT/OT split and convergence. He basically said, “What split?” He sits with engineering advanced manufacturing lead and they discuss projects and problems daily. Plant projects teams include these roles—IT Solutions, Engineering, Product Lead, Operations. They’ve been working together for six years.

FlexNGate

FlexNGate is a Tier One supplier of stamped metal and injection molded plastic parts. The company has $6.5 B sales, 70 plants, and presence in many countries. It just built a 454,000 sq. ft. plant in burned-out Detroit neighborhood manufacturing parts for Ford Ranger. It is the largest investment in the city of Detroit in 20 years.

There were a couple of determining factors in the plant location. Ford wanted supplier to be local. The city wanted plants to locate in distressed areas that would also hire locally to provide jobs and hope to the area. They pledged 250 jobs, have 350 full time and 250 temporary and the plant is just a year old and still stabilizing processes after the significant production ramp up.

They run the new hires through training from such things as showing up on time every day, following work instructions, safety, and quality.

Two impressive facilities in one day. That’s a pretty good day.

Collaborative Robot Advances in the News

Collaborative Robot Advances in the News

The trade shows are piling up one atop the other, and I’ve decided that I can’t possibly make them all. So, I’m going on vacation for the first time in a while. I missed ATX in February (same time as ARC). I will miss Hannover next week and Automate the week after.

However, Universal Robots has supplied me with news from ATX and then in two weeks at Automate. The collaborative robot, or cobot, is cool. The genre is dinged for being slow, but many other capabilities and features make up for that. Check out these news items.

Universal Robots and VersaBuilt to launch new direct interface for cobots and CNC machines

Manufacturers struggling to get CNC machines to communicate directly with their collaborative robot now have a solution: VersaBuilt’s CNC Communication URCap is a simple yet powerful interface for machine tending applications with Universal Robots. URCap allows a UR cobot to easily execute any machining program stored on the CNC directly through the cobot’s own teach pendant. Initially launching for Haas CNC machines, VersaBuilt will develop UR interfaces for other popular CNC makes later this year.

The Haas CNC Communication URCap will soon be available through the UR+ platform, a showroom of products all certified to integrate seamlessly with UR cobots. The URCap maintains all Haas safety interlock features and works with Haas, VersaBuilt, and other third-party automatic door openers.

“VersaBuilt is excited to partner with Universal Robots to provide machine shops with automation solutions designed for high mix CNC manufacturers,” says Albert Youngwerth, CEO of VersaBuilt Robotics, a company helping machine shops automate thousands of part numbers of all shapes and sizes in turning and milling applications.

VersaBuilt’s patented MultiGrip workholding system will soon be available through the UR+ platform. MultiGrip includes an automatic vise, machinable jaws and an end-of-arm tool for the UR robot. MultiGrip was developed to address the frustration experienced when working with traditional robot grippers and CNC vises.

Regional Sales Director for Universal Robots’ Americas Division, Stuart Shepherd, emphasizes the importance of better integration tools for cobots and CNCs. “CNC machine tending is one of the most popular tasks to automate with collaborative robots,” he says. “But there’s still hurdles to overcome in achieving seamless integration. VersaBuilt’s two new products are important tools in addressing this. We’re excited to welcome them to the UR ecosystem and share their solutions with the ATX audience.”

Visumatic’s showcases cobot-controlled screw driving

Joining VersaBuilt in the UR+ pipeline is Visumatic’s VCM-3X.2 Collaborative Screw Driving Package delivering repeatable joining operations handled directly through the UR cobot’s teach pendant. The system communicates to a screw driver control that handles a wide range of different screw driving feeds and routines. The VCM is bundled with pre-programmed fault recovery logic and Visumatic’s field-proven power bit advance, bit position sensors and fastener delivery confirmation.

XPAK ROBOX – first solution for random case erecting

The XPAK ROBOX box erector, powered by a UR10e cobot arm allows packagers to randomly erect any box in their suite on-demand without changeover. The collaborative design not only enables the operator to safely and intuitively interface with the machine, ROBOX also realizes approximately 60% reduction in terms of the footprint required for a similar machine using more conventional robotic technology requiring fencing.

Solutions for Fast-Growing Applications in Industries Facing Labor Shortages

When U.S. manufacturers were asked to describe their primary business challenge, it wasn’t the increase of raw materials cost, trade uncertainties, or rising health insurance expenses that topped their lists. Close to 70 percent of manufacturers in the National Association of Manufacturers’ 2018 fourth-quarter outlook survey responded that attracting and retaining a quality workforce was their number one concern while the Society of Manufacturing Engineers reported that 89 percent of manufacturers have difficulty finding workers.

The labor shortage is especially prevalent in jobs with many repetitive and ergonomically unfavorable tasks. “These are jobs that we like to refer to as the ‘3D jobs’ – the Dirty, the Dull and the Dangerous,” says Stuart Shepherd, Regional Sales Director of Universal Robots’ Americas Region. “Collaborative robots are now increasingly handling these types of tasks in manufacturing settings. Our booth at Automate will showcase how we work with our rapidly expanding partner network to develop solutions tailored to address the industries and applications hardest hit by labor shortages.”

Universal Robots’ booth #7154 at Automate 2019, the largest automation solutions event in North America held in Chicago April 8-11, features four different application clusters for machine tending, packaging, assembly and processing.

UR+ is a platform that connects UR cobot users to an ecosystem of partners providing UR-certified, ready-to-use cobot accessories such as grippers, vision systems and software. Debuting in the packaging application area as UR+ products are Dorner’s 2200 Series Conveyor and SKF Motion Technologies’ LIFTKIT.

The Dorner conveyors are designed to be the infeed and discharge to Universal Robots and feature the first plug-and-play conveyor-tracking solution for collaborative robots.

The LIFTKIT is a vertical positioning system, adding a 7th axis to the UR10e cobot that will be palletizing with the Schmalz FXB vacuum gripper. The liftkit comes ready to install including a telescopic pillar, controller, and UR+ software plugin.

Dispelling cobot myths The screw-driving applications cover the full range of UR cobot capabilities, from the UR3e table-top cobot assembling PCB boards, UR5e cobots equipped with Robotiq’s 2F-140 grippers performing screw insertion in electrical cabinets, to the UR10e utilizing an Atlas Copco Nutrunner to install bolts into a six-cylinder engine block provided by an active UR customer.

Another myth UR is seeking to dispel is the notion that cobots are not suited for processing applications such as spraying, polishing, dispensing, and sanding. A recent example is Dynabrade’s robotic sanders that come in a UR+ kit including vacuum-ready pneumatic sanders, robot mount, and a solenoid enabling robotic operation.

Mobile Industrial Analytics and Machine Learning Come to Android

Mobile Industrial Analytics and Machine Learning Come to Android

FogHorn comes up more and more often in my research on Internet of Things (IoT). And as we know, IoT is nothing without analytics and mobile. Today’s release touts FogHorn’s release of Lightning Mobile, an edge computing solution built specifically for industrial mobile devices.

According GSMA Intelligence, Industrial IoT connections will overtake consumer IoT connections in 2023, increasing more than five-fold to 13.8 billion in 2025. This is driven by a number of factors, including the emergence of LTE-M, NB-IoT and 5G, the benefits of leveraging battery powered, low cost devices, portability and re-configuration flexibility, growth in high-density deployments and the coverage and security benefits of mobile technologies.

Lightning Mobile empowers operational technology (OT) and field professionals with real-time analytics, machine learning (ML) and AI on mobile, battery-powered devices, without having to rely on connectivity to the cloud, speeding decision making and industrial workflow. This approach enables a new class of edge intelligence applications not possible with devices restricted to fixed locations, while making it easy to build and market off-the-shelf common solutions using FogHorn’s software. Additionally, support for edge-based deep learning model inferencing solves critical issues such as image recognition of bar codes and health and battery monitoring of high-volume deployments of mobile devices. The company has also launched a broad ecosystem initiative to expand the universe of applications that can run on Lightning Mobile.

“Over 85% of mobile operating systems worldwide are Android,” said Mike Guilfoyle, Director of Research at ARC Advisory Group. “For FogHorn’s customers, more of their operations technology staff can leverage edge intelligence for real-time analytics in the field, without the restriction of fixed-position devices. By enabling OT-staff access to edge computing on handheld Android devices, it will expand the pool of thinking about what is possible at the edge. This will inevitably lead to new use cases for industrial and commercial organizations.”

FogHorn’s Android App, in addition to providing the core analytics and ML capability on the live data, supports ingestion of all the Android event data coming from various sources. This provides an operator-friendly view of actionable insights right on the device, and a delivers highly efficient way to process digital, audio, video and image-based content.

“We are extremely excited to bring FogHorn’s next wave of edge computing innovation to market with Lightning Mobile, pushing real time analytics and AI to OT professionals through their mobile devices.” said Sastry Malladi, CTO at FogHorn. “This will unleash a wave of new industrial use cases including next-generation bar code scanners, portable factory environmental monitors, manufacturing using a high-density of devices such as smart screwdrivers, advanced fleet applications and more. We see a tremendous global opportunity for this technology.”

ERP Installation Pain A Thing of the Past

ERP Installation Pain A Thing of the Past

I grew up on (ERP) pain. The quickest way to find unemployment was to be selected to be the program manager implementing the company’s new ERP system. Actually, in reality the death was long, slow, and painful. A new study conducted by my old friend Cindy Jutras lays the old myth to rest.

Ultra Consultants, an independent enterprise solution consulting firm serving the manufacturing and distribution sector, published an industry survey conducted by Mint Jutras, researchers specializing in analyzing the business impact of enterprise applications. The in-depth report resulting from the survey is titled The Real Facts about ERP Implementation: Busting the Myth of Failure, But Are You Overrating Your Success?

In late 2018, Mint Jutras surveyed more than 300 North American manufacturers and distributors, focusing on the success of their ERP implementations in terms of schedule, cost and return on investment (ROI). The study of ERP implementation success by manufacturers and distributors found 67 percent rate their implementations as successful or very successful.

The report findings show that previous statistics related to lack of ERP implementation success rates are out of date, and “flip the script” on often cited success rates from previous years. Highlights of the study include:

  • The Mint Jutras/Ultra Consultants study found that the primary reasons for success had to do with people and process, and not just software. Key success factors include top management support and change management.
  • Reasons for lack of implementation success include inadequate business process re-engineering and inadequate project planning.
  • While many ERP implementations meet expectations in terms of schedule, budget and ROI, the Mint Jutras/Ultra Consultants study shows a significant number of manufacturing and distribution companies over-rate their success and leave additional attainable returns on the table.

“ERP project disasters were quite common in the early days of ERP. It’s noteworthy that this study reveals as myth the once-cited high rates of failure in terms of schedules, costs and payback,” notes Cindy Jutras, President of Mint Jutras. “Solutions today are far more technology-enabled, easier to implement and use. Equally important is management support of the project, and change management initiatives.”

Notes Jeff Carr, Founder and CEO of Ultra Consultants, “This research study reflects the performance of current offerings of modern ERP systems now available to manufacturers and distributors. The report shows that the majority of ERP implementations drive value, are on time and meet budget expectations. It also reveals the importance of setting goals for a project, and putting the focus on people and processes, not just technology.”

Eclipse in Open Source IoT Leadership

Eclipse in Open Source IoT Leadership

The greater IT community makes abundant use of open source projects. These projects have proven great worth in operating systems, networking, and applications. The OT community, well, not so much. Maybe some. Microsoft and Dell Technologies, among many others, have donated millions of lines of code to open source projects.

However, the Internet of Things has proven to be one of the places where IT and OT can come together.

Meanwhile, The Eclipse Foundation has been a favorite of mine for probably 20 years. I remember downloading and playing with the Eclipse IDE for Java a long time ago. The foundation makes the news again this year announcing open source advancements in IoT.

It announced major milestones that make Eclipse IoT a leading collaboration of vendors working together to define an open, modular architecture to accelerate commercial IoT adoption. Similar to the early days of the Internet–where open source and vendor collaboration on standard building blocks brought the web to ubiquity–industry leaders including Bosch, Red Hat, Cloudera, and Eurotech are collaborating to standardize open source, modular IoT architecture components within the Eclipse IoT Working Group.

In 2011, the Eclipse IoT Working Group was launched with three projects aimed at reducing the complexity of developing Machine-to-Machine IoT solutions. Eclipse IoT quickly evolved as vendors signed up to collaborate on IoT’s end-to-end interoperability and performance challenges across key areas like constrained devices, device gateways, and scalable cloud platforms. Today the Eclipse IoT community has grown to 37 projects, 41 member companies, and 350 contributors who are building IoT solutions based on Eclipse IoT code.

In a recent case study, Bosch Software Innovations detailed the reasons why it decided in 2015 to participate in Eclipse IoT and the major advantages that open source community involvement has brought to its cloud-based IoT platform, the Bosch IoT Suite. Bosch today has more than 60 developers working on Eclipse IoT projects and has contributed around 1.5 million lines of code. The Bosch IoT Suite is based on the Eclipse Ditto, Eclipse hawkBit, Eclipse Hono, and Eclipse Vorto open source projects.

“We have accomplished so much since we began our open source strategy at Bosch,” added Caroline Buck, Product Owner, Bosch IoT Suite. “Open source development has enabled us to transform how we build software internally and it is making our organization a better product company. Any company that is serious about IoT should consider an ‘open source first’ strategy. If you are planning to do open source IoT, then Eclipse IoT is THE community we recommend.”

In a recent report–Eclipse Foundation’s Open Source IoT Activity Reaches Critical Mass–industry analyst firm 451 Research concluded: “It is time to take a look at what Eclipse IoT has to offer as organizations that choose vendor-specific (proprietary) alternatives to get started begin to run into challenges regarding scale, complexity or cost that has them interested in open source alternatives. While it is not necessarily easier to get an IoT project up and running using open source software, the long-term advantages once an IoT system reaches critical scale are clear–more predictable costs and avoidance of vendor lock-in–and they are driving enterprises to investigate open source options.”

“We are proud that Eclipse IoT is the open source community of choice for commercial-grade IoT innovation,” said Mike Milinkovich, Executive Director of the Eclipse Foundation. “Eclipse IoT projects are where industry leaders collaborate on developing the production-ready, interoperable, and flexible open source building blocks needed for the market adoption IoT. Our members are at the forefront of accelerating IoT innovation with the quality and sustainability that the Eclipse Foundation is known for.”

On Eclipse Foundation’s blog, Milinkovich described how–similar to the early trajectory of the commercial Internet, and the importance of the LAMP stack in particular–industrial IoT’s progress is being catalyzed by open source standards and interoperability that allow vendors to drive solutions forward while competing above the common infrastructure level. Eclipse IoT represents the largest open source community that’s driving these open, interoperable, and flexible components.

Eclipse IoT projects are broadly grouped under three categories of innovation critical for building an end-to-end IoT architecture:

  • Constrained Devices — the set of libraries that can be deployed on a constrained embedded device to provide a complete IoT development stack.
  • Edge Device Gateways — projects that provide capabilities to coordinate the connectivity of a group of sensors and actuators to each other and to external networks.
  • IoT Cloud Platform — projects that deliver the highly scalable, multi-cloud software infrastructure and services required to manage and integrate devices and their data. These technologies support deployment flexibility for running IoT workloads at the edge, on any of the leading cloud platforms (e.g. Amazon Web services, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud), or in enterprise data centers. These projects also facilitate the interoperability of Eclipse IoT-based solutions with existing enterprise applications and other IoT solutions.

In addition to the Bosch IoT Suite, Eclipse IoT technologies are powering production-ready, commercial IoT offerings from other leading vendors. Eurotech’s award-winning Everyware IoT integrated IoT portfolio is based on Eclipse IoT projects. Everyware Software Framework is an enterprise-ready IoT edge framework based on Eclipse Kura, a Java/OSGi middleware for IoT gateways. Everyware Cloud, an enterprise-ready edition of Eclipse Kapua, offers an open, modular, and microservices-based IoT cloud platform.

“The market adoption of new business models is driving the demand for more agile, secure, and flexible solutions based on open standards and open source technologies. This trend contributed to Eurotech’s decision, in 2012, to become a founding member of the Eclipse IoT Working Group hosted by the Eclipse Foundation”, said Giuseppe Surace, Chief Product and Marketing Officer at Eurotech. “The Eclipse Foundation is the place where industry leaders collaborate to deliver innovative and extensible tools, frameworks, and runtime components for an open development environment. Within Eclipse IoT, Eurotech is working with Cloudera, Red Hat, and others to develop key IoT runtimes and other enabling technologies that will deliver an integrated, end-to-end open IoT architecture. Eurotech was the original contributor to the Eclipse Kura and Eclipse Kapua projects within the IoT Working Group. Our core objective is to ensure that when customers are ready to deploy IoT, the solutions will be there.”

IoT ecosystem leaders join Eclipse IoT to take advantage of the following opportunities:

  • Participate in industry collaborations to develop common open IoT platforms for Industrial IoT, Industry 4.0, Smart Home, Edge Computing, and more.
  • Ensure the quality and sustainability of an end-to-end enterprise IoT architecture fully based on open source and open standards
  • Play a role in defining Eclipse IoT strategic priorities
  • Gain insights into the Eclipse IoT technology roadmap and direction
  • Benchmark and learn best practices from peers for leveraging open IoT technologies to accelerate product development and improve time-to-revenue

Learn more about joining the Eclipse IoT or participating in any of its projects.

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