Collaborative Robots Assume Tedious Tasks

Collaborative Robots Assume Tedious Tasks

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.

Collaborative Robots Assume Tedious Tasks

Predictive Software for Sustainable Hydro Power Generation

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.

School versus Learning

School versus Learning

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.

Seth Godin recently addressed this idea. And he takes my idea to a whole different level. That’s what he does.

He writes:

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. School usually has a different flavor than learning.

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.

Godin continues:

Perhaps, instead of organizing school around data acquisition and regurgitation, we could identify what the skills are and separate them out, teaching domain knowledge in conjunctionwith the skill, not the other way around.

It turns out that the typical school spends most of its time on just one of those skills (obedience through comportment and regurgitation).

What would happen if we taught each skill separately?

Obedience
Management
Leadership/cooperation
Problem-solving
Mindfulness
Creativity
Analysis

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.

Collaborative Robots Assume Tedious Tasks

Selling Excess Manufacturing Capacity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How To Read a Book

How To Read a Book

Just to keep you on your toes, I occasionally throw in a post on personal growth or productivity. Listening to a recent Tim Ferris’s podcast, reference was made to a book a read a long time ago. It brought back memories.

How To Read a Book is a book by Mortimer J. Adler. It was required reading for incoming freshmen at the University of Dayton when I was a high school senior. Dad bought the books for me at that time. He wanted me to go to UD. I chose arch-rival (at the time) University of Cincinnati because of the co-op program. That was a mistake, but live and learn. I remember there were three books on the list. I don’t remember the other two. This one was worth reading.

Mortimer J. Adler was a philosophy professor. He was notable for editing a set of books called The Great Books of the Western World. I bought that set with my second paycheck after college and still have it. The first paycheck went toward a good guitar–once again, that’s another story.

Adler was also the foil of Robert Pirsig at the University of Chicago in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Oh, how to read a book? (This is a good thinking skill.)

You will not want to do his entire methodology for every book. But if you pick a few books a year with some meat to them (and I hope you do), try this.

Every good writer has an outline. How do you figure out her outline? Check the Table of Contents.

Then scan the book. Look, for example, at the first and last paragraphs of each chapter. You will then have an idea of where the author is taking you.

As you read, write your version of the outline including important points to remember. I also tend to stop occasionally and recheck the TOC to get a sense of where I am, where I’ve been, and where I’m going.

Think of the argument the author is making and whether it is sound or has some gaps of logic.

Think about the book when you finish.

I believe the thinking part is the important part. It allows you to digest the information and consider the validity of the argument.

Oh, yes, and I’ve read almost all of the Great Books set. Some several times.

Flexibility In Changing Circumstances

Flexibility In Changing Circumstances

Heraclitus lived even before Socrates in Ancient Greece. He perceived that everything changes. “You cannot set foot in the same river twice.”

Indeed, we see in our lives constant change. The kids grow. Jobs change. We must learn to adapt and, in this sense, go with the flow.

On the other hand, seen from a different perspective, say from 30,000 feet in an airplane, the river is where it has been more or less for millennia.

How do you maintain flexibility is a word that continually changes.

I’ve changed employers nine times in my career. And even while with one employer saw many changes. This is probably not unique.

But, I’ve had the opportunity to experience many organizations, styles, management practices. It certainly informs my coaching ability.

One must cultivate awareness, an open mind, willingness to learn something new every day.

We can wish that things never change.

Kind of like that 1964 Bacharach/David song made popular by Dusty Springfield

Cause wishin’ and hopin’ and thinkin’ and prayin’ 
Plannin’ and dreamin’ his kisses will start 
That won’t get you into his heart 

The best plan is to take action realizing that there are things we cannot change, but we can make the best of where we are.

[I bet you never thought I could go from Heraclitus to Dusty Springfield in one blog post. ;-)]