That engineers would develop ways for humans and robots to co-exist, yes even collaborate, seemed inevitable. Why should we consign robots to cages as safety hazards when the future assuredly requires close collaboration. Therefore the burgeoning area of collaborative robotics or cobots.
I’m thinking not just about industrial applications. Robots surely will assist an aging population cope with everyday tasks in our (near) future of fewer people to populate those jobs.
Several of the “old guard” robotics companies have developed “co-bots” but I’ve watched the development of Universal Robots for some time. The company sponsored this blog for a while a few years ago. Here I’ve picked up on a couple of items. The UR marketing team was a bit surprised to discover that I have more than a passing interest in packaging. As a matter of fact, I noticed packaging as a likely growth area for automation about 18 years ago, and that feeling has been borne out.
One story concerns a packaging demonstration with a socially worthwhile goal mixed in. The other reports on a recent market study by ABI Research.
Universal Robots Solves Random Picking Challenge, Providing Food for At-Risk Youth
The challenge: Pick six differently sized food items randomly oriented on a moving conveyor and place each of these items into the same pouch. Then do this again 1,199 more times, ensuring each pouch has the same six items. This is the challenge Universal Robots and Allied Technology will address, quickly identifying and picking items – ranging widely from packs of Craisins to cans of beef ravioli – in Pack Expo’s Robotics Zone during the three-day show.
“Random picking is quickly becoming one of the most sought-after automation tasks from industries such as e-commerce, fulfillment centers and warehousing,” says Regional Sales Director of Universal Robots’ Americas division, Stuart Shepherd. “At Pack Expo, Universal Robots and Allied Technology will demonstrate how UR cobots can be quickly deployed in a compact, modular system, handling the entire process from box erecting, to vision-guided conveyor tracking, part picking, tote assembly, pouch filling and sealing, kitting and palletizing,” he says, adding how the packaging line is also a testament to the capabilities of Universal Robots’ growing number of Certified System Integrators (CSIs). “Allied Technology was able to quickly create this fully-automated solution. We are delighted to see our cobots competently integrated in so many new packaging applications now.”
Allied Technology and Universal Robots’ packaging line features four UR cobots equipped with products from the UR+ platform that certifies grippers, vision cameras, software, and other peripherals to work seamlessly with UR’s collaborative robot arms. The latest flexible grasping technology will be showcased by a UR5e with Piab’s new Kenos® KCS vacuum gripper guided by a vision camera from UR+ partner Cognex.
Once completed, the 1,200 bags of food will be delivered to “Blessings in a Backpack” a leader in the movement to end childhood hunger, ensuring that children receiving free or subsidized school lunches during the week do not go hungry over the weekends. “We look forward to showcasing this demo that is meaningful in so many ways,” says Shepherd. “We are excited to partner with Blessings in a Backpack while also addressing the needs of the packaging industry with solutions that will simplify and fast-track cobot deployment on their lines.”
Unlike traditional robots caged away from show attendees, visitors to the UR booth are able to walk right up to the UR cobots and interact with them. The booth “playpen area” will feature several cobot arms including a U53e with Robotiq’s new UR+ certified E-Pick Vacuum Gripper, allowing attendees to explore on-the-spot programming. The gripper is one of the recent additions in a rapidly expanding UR+ product portfolio that now includes no less than 195 UR+ certified products with 400+ companies participating in the UR+ developer program.
This news originates with ABI Research. There are well over 50 manufacturers of collaborative robots (cobots) worldwide, but only a handful of these companies have so far deployed cobots on any meaningful level of scale. Tens of thousands of cobots have been sold as of 2019 and earned US$500 million in annual revenue for world markets. In its new Industrial Collaborative Robots Competitive Assessment, global tech market advisory firm, ABI Research finds Universal Robots (UR) to be the clear forerunner, particularly in implementation.
The Industrial Collaborative Robots Competitive Assessment analyzed and ranked 12 collaborative robot vendors in the industry – ABB, Aubo Robotics, Automata, Doosan Robotics, FANUC, Franka Emika, Kuka AG, Precise Automation, Productive Robotics, Techman Robot, Universal Robots, and Yaskawa Motoman – using ABI Research’s proven, unbiased innovation/implementation criteria framework. For this competitive assessment, innovation criteria included payload, software, Ergonomics and human-machine interaction, experimentation and safety; implementation criteria focused on units and revenue, cost and ROI, partnerships, value-added services, and the number of employees.
“Market leaders in cobots generally have well-developed cobot rosters, in many cases backed up by an ecosystem platform that integrates applications, accessories, and end-of-arm-tooling (EOAT) solutions in with the base hardware,” said Rian Whitton, Senior Analyst at ABI Research. With 37,000 cobots sold so far, UR leads, followed by Taiwanese provider Techman with 10,000, and Korea-based Doosan with over 2,000. Precise Automation, which uses an advanced direct drive solution to develop faster collaborative robots, was cited as the most innovative of the 12 providers, just edging out Universal Robots, who claimed the overall top spot due to their significant lead in implementation.
There are several companies that are too young to be challenging the dominant parties in the cobot market but are developing new and disruptive technologies that will allow them rise to prominence in the years to come. Productive Robotics is a case-in-point. The California-based developer has an arm with inbuilt vision, 7 axes for superior flexibility, long reach, and a very affordable price point, but has yet to deploy at scale. Automata, a British company that develops a ‘desk-top’ cobot costing less than US$7,000, is significantly lowering the barriers to entry for smaller actors and is championing the use of open-source middleware like ROS to program cobots for industrial use-cases. Germany-based Franka Emika and Chinese-American provider Aubo Robotics also represent relatively new entrants to the market who are building on the success of Universal Robots and are beginning to compete with them.
Perhaps surprisingly, while the major industrial robotics providers have developed cobot lines, they have generally been less successful in marketing them or gaining market traction relative to the pure-cobot developers. In part, this is down to focus. While collaborative robots are valuable, they generally suit deployments and use-cases with smaller shipments and a wider variety of small and large end-users. For industrial players like ABB, FANUC, KUKA AG and Yaskawa Motoman, their client-base tends to be large industrial players who buy fixed automation solution through bulk orders. Aside from this, all four of these companies are competing extensively for greater shipment figures in China, where the cobot oppurtunity relative to the market for traditional industrial systems is much less apparent than in Europe or North America.
“Though many of the cobots deployed by these companies are impressive, and they have a lot of software services, the high-cost and lack of easy use among their systems largely defeat the current value proposition of cobots, making them the laggards in this competitive assessment.” says Whitton.
Looking forward, the larger industrial players are likely to improve their relative position, as future growth in cobots rests on scaling up and large deployments. “Universal Robots, though likely to remain the market leader for the foreseeable future, will be increasingly competing on an even footing with near-peer cobot developers, who are already developing second-generation cobots with significant hardware improvements. Meanwhile, some more innovative companies will be able to accelerate adoption through price decreases, improved flexibility, and common platforms to retrofit collaborative capability on industrial robots,” Whitton concluded.
These findings are from ABI Research’s Industrial Collaborative Robots Competitive Assessment report. This report is part of the company’s Industrial Solution, which includes research, data, and analyst insights. Competitive Assessment reports offer comprehensive analysis of implementation strategies and innovation, coupled with market share analysis, to offer unparalleled insight into a company’s performance and standing in comparison to its competitors.
You may have heard of “back of the napkin” thinking where some people are talking at a diner. One pulls out a (hopefully paper) napkin and draws something to explain a point.
Supposedly according to myth, President Reagan’s economic policy known as the Laffer Curve or “Trickle Down Economics” was drawn on the back of a napkin and to this day explains the economic theory of some politicians.
Drawing out thoughts helps us think through a problem. Maybe we won’t set government policy, but maybe we will understand something better or help our organization solve a problem or raise funds.
This book has been around for a while. I’ve heard the author interviewed on several podcasts. I’ve read a little in the past. I recommend this book. Written with wit and insight, it will help you think.
I also use a form of drawing when I take notes during presentations or interviews (like I’ll be doing this afternoon about an Internet of Things survey). I’ll jot down a thought and then use lines or circles to connect thoughts.
By the way, I use pen and a notebook. I love the Uniball Signo Micro 207 pen. It is inexpensive and writes first time, every time with a smooth line. Studies show people writing by hand have better retention than those taking notes on a computer. Plus, it’s hard to draw connecting lines on a computer.
I also recommend learning to use mind maps. Better than traditional outlining for organizing a longer paper.
I started out in a small shop. I had roles that encompassed purchasing, production/inventory control, manufacturing engineering, and even worked production when something needed done.
So it was that one day I was trimming parts from a vacuum-formed plastic sheet using a bandsaw. Probably illegal today, may have been back then for all I know. Occasionally I would catch my mind drifting away. A guitar player, I’d pause and count fingers just to be sure.
Humans want jobs. But jobs that don’t challenge creativity and problem-solving but are only tedious, repetitive, mind-numbing can lead to tragedy.
A major reason robots gained such wide use especially in automotive manufacturing was that very problem along with removing humans from unsafe environments. Use robots when the task is dirty, dull, or dangerous.
The new breed of collaborative robots, or cobots, help expand robot’s usage into new areas of industry.
For example, this partnership just announced between Phillips Corp. and Universal Robots for loading and unloading CNC machines. Phillips Corporation, the largest global distributor of Haas CNC machines, offers a fast track to spindle uptime using Universal’s cobots.
“Having an expensive machine sit idle and missing out on orders due to lack of staffing is every manufacturer’s nightmare,” says Stu Shepherd, Regional Sales Director for the Americas division of Universal Robots (UR) that has already sold more than 1,000 UR cobots for tending Haas CNC machines. “This partnership between the largest distributor of the leading CNC brand and the leading collaborative robot brand offers a huge advantage for manufacturers, helping them solve staffing issues and stay competitive. We expect this new partnership to fast-track cobots in this sector, with significant advantages for manufacturers.”
With 9 offices representing 12 states throughout the South and Mid-Atlantic regions, Phillips Corporation boasts an installed base of more than 19,000 Haas CNC machines. “There is tremendous potential both for retrofitting existing installations with UR cobots and for getting through the door to new customers, offering turn-key solutions,” says president of Phillips Corporation’s commercial division, Michael Garner, who is also the chairman of Haas Automation’s North American distributor council. “We see a significant demand for cobots, which address labor shortages and also support manufacturers who need flexible automation tools they can operate without safety caging,” adds the Phillips president, stressing the UR cobots’ ease of programming. “There is no hardwiring or complex coding involved in getting a Universal Robot to communicate with a Haas machine since UR has solutions like the VersaBuilt software that facilitates two-way communication between the UR cobot and the CNC.”
VersaBuilt’s Haas CNC Integration Kit is a simple yet powerful interface that enables UR cobots to easily execute any machining program stored on the Haas CNC directly through the cobot’s own teach pendant, maintaining all Haas safety interlock features. Versabuilt is available through the UR+ platform, a showroom of products all certified to integrate seamlessly with UR cobots.
More than 60 different Haas models can be automated Universal Robots’ cobot arms. UR’s Stu Shepherd emphasizes how fast integration also means fast ROI. “Machine tending applications have consistently delivered an ROI of less than a year, sometimes even paying themselves back in a few months. A Haas-UR solution offered with Phillips’ CNC expertise and application know-how will help further improve that payback time.
Moving to sustainable sources of energy to generate electrical power, as Europe has, requires a balancing act. Solar and wind generation provide an imbalance of power since they only operate when proper atmospheric conditions exist—i.e. sunlight or wind. Hydro generation provides a necessary balance, explained Pier-Vittorio Rebba, technology manager power generation for ABB.
But many hydro plants are aging. Management realizes the need to digitalize operations to obtain the best use of Asset Performance Management applications as well as best optimization of plant assets. ABB and its customer Enel Green Power partnered to digitalize operations delivering predictive maintenance solutions that will lower maintenance costs and transform the performance, reliability, and energy efficiency of its hydropower plants throughout Italy.
The three-year contract will enable 33 of Enel Green Power’s hydroelectric plants, comprised of about 100 units, to move from hours-based maintenance to predictive and condition-based maintenance, leveraging the ABB Ability Asset Performance Management solution. With operations in five continents, the Enel Group’s renewable business line, Enel Green Power, is a global leader in the green energy sector, with a managed capacity of more than 43 GW.
“We are privileged to be partnering with Enel Green Power, a digital pioneer, in their move from hours-based to predictive maintenance utilizing ABB Ability technologies for big data, machine learning and advanced analytics,” said Kevin Kosisko, Managing Director, Energy Industries, ABB. “Predictive maintenance and asset performance management must become a key component of plant operators’ strategies to optimize maintenance operations, minimize risk, improve resilience and reduce costs. The results are more competitive electricity rates, in a more sustainable way.”
Collaborating closely since early 2018, the two companies have jointly developed and tested predictive maintenance and advanced solutions (PresAGHO) via a pilot on five Enel plants in Italy and Spain, including Presenzano, a 1,000-megawatt plant near Naples.
The new contract includes digital software solutions and services that will provide analysis of over 190,000 signals and the deployment of about 800 digital asset models, aimed at improving plant operational performance, reducing unplanned failures and enabling more efficient planned maintenance practices through predictive maintenance. The integration is expected to yield savings in fleet maintenance costs and increase plant productivity.
The ABB Ability Collaborative Operations Center for power generation and water will help bring wider benefits of digitalization and engagement, supporting informed decision-making, real-time solutions and cost savings. The center already provides similar digital solutions and advanced applications for more than 700 power plants, water facilities and electric vehicle charging stations globally.
“With personnel retirements resulting in knowledge gaps and more competitive electricity marketplaces, we believe that many power generation customers globally can benefit from this kind of digital transformation around maintenance and operations,” said Mr Kosisko.
More than 50% of the science and electronics that I know are self-taught. In fact, all of the electronics that I know I learned on my own. It formed the foundation of my career. Perhaps half of the math I know came the same way. And everything about computers.
I’ve always had this love/hate relationship with schools and education. Public education is important for the building of a democratic society. But so much of the regimentation of schools is off-putting to me. I had 17 years of formal education and the thought of finishing a Ph.D. in the field I was in ceased to be appealing (International Politics–engineering is much better).
Schools, including universities, need to teach reading, written/oral communication, thinking. Maybe throw in creativity. Memorizing all the subject matter stuff—well, that’s important, too, but not so much if you can’t do the other stuff.
For the longest time, school has been organized around subjects. Fifth graders go to math class and then English class and then geography.
Mostly, those classes don’t teach what they say they teach. Sure, there are some facts, but mostly it’s the methods of instruction that are on offer.Schoolusually has a different flavor thanlearning.
There was a story about a boy in school staring out the window. The teacher asked, “Little boy, what are you doing?”
“Thinking,” he answered.
“Don’t you know you’re not supposed to think in school,” replied the teacher before realizing the joke in what was said.
Perhaps, instead of organizing school around data acquisition and regurgitation, we could identify what the skills are and separate them out, teaching domain knowledge inconjunctionwith the skill, not the other way around.
It turns out that the typical school spends most of its time on justoneof those skills (obediencethrough comportment and regurgitation).
What would happen if we taught each skill separately?
When I teach people to be soccer referees, it’s only a little about the Laws of the Game. Mostly it’s looking and being professional, making decisions, handling people, managing a game. These are sometimes called “soft skills.” I beg to differ (my favorite phrase in high school!). These are “hard” skills. Hard to learn, hard to master, essential for maturity.
I receive many pitches every day. Many just don’t fit my interests. How could I pass up this one? “Just as Airbnb helps millions of people around the world instantly find a great place to stay for the night. What if car makers could use a similar model to easily order and manufacture lightweight 3D printed parts?”
So, I bit. And wound up with an interview with CEO of Xponential Works/Vice Chairman of Techniplas Prime Avi Reichental. His LinkedIn bio includes “parallel entrepreneur, board director, futurist, venturist, inventor, philanthropist”. He’s a busy guy. Wonder how he found time to chat with me.
In short, what is a supplier to do when it needs extra capacity but its capital assets are expensive—as in a large injection molding machine? On the other hand, what if you are a small supplier and have trouble landing consistent, long-term contracts leaving you with excess capacity?
Using digital technologies for communication, design, production, and quality, the two companies can link. The larger company with long-term contracts and capacity needs forges an agreement to “rent” the machines of the smaller company.
Geography becomes a second benefit. OEMs like having suppliers close to the plant. The Tier 1 has the flexibility to find a partner within desired range of the customer’s plant and use digital technology to send drawings, production orders, and other required documentation to the new remote plant.
As Reichental explained, “We have factories, associates, platforms, quality management systems, and brand recognition. Our problem is how to become agile and deliver on-time plus expanding our sales. We’re in a capital intensive industry. The answer was to extend to a group of smaller companies who don’t have the systems required by the OEMs but they have assets. We have created the equivalent of one additional factory per year by adding partnerships with these smaller companies shipping the equivalent of 1,000 tractor-trailers of product per month. Plus we now have the advantage of localizing production to the customer.”
Not stopping with injection molding, Reichental and his team have extensive additive manufacturing (3D printing) expertise. He adds, “Now we are layering additive/3D printing capabilities. Now there can be one-click to request, upload, get instant quote, through the cloud, process the order, get the manufacturing design, delivered physically by approved supplier with approved supply chain.”
Techniplas Prime has introduced a new approach to its e-manufacturing that is enabling the production of 40 million parts per year for BMW, Daimler, Ford, and other top auto manufacturers, or the equivalent of 1,000 truckloads of car parts per month, without the need to open a single new factory.
Five years in operation, it has revenues above $80 million out of parent company’s $500 million and is the fastest growing segment of the company. They proved it out internally before going out to 3rd parties. OEMs want to work with fewer suppliers. Techniplas Prime serves as aggregator for many suppliers so that OEM only needs to interact with it.
XponentialWorks is a venture investment, corporate advisory and product development company, specializing in artificial intelligence, digital manufacturing, 3D printing, robotics, and the digital transformation of traditional businesses. As a curator of leaders in Industry 4.0, the firm has built a unique ecosystem that unites the forces of early-stage companies with the experience and deep market knowledge of mature companies. XponentialWorks invests in and mentors the growth and success of promising early stage companies and acts as an edge organization for the benefit of larger, mid-market companies undertaking digital transformation.
Reichental concludes, “In the end, business innovation is more important than technology innovation.”