IMTS has been a huge show for many years. As you might expect from a trade show, the theme is broad. Exhibitors are a diverse lot. Things I saw indicating a new wave of technologies including machines designed to work with humans (so-called “cobots”) and various aspects of Industrial Internet of Things. Following are a few specifics.
Formerly the International Machine Tool Show and now the International Manufacturing Technology Show, the South Hall of Chicago’s McCormick Place is still filled with huge machining centers. The North Hall was packed with robotics, components, and other automation products. Much of this flows over to the East Hall where several aisles were devoted to Hannover Messe automation companies—my sweet spot. Even the West Hall was packed.
Beckhoff proclaimed, “Solve the IoT hardware, software and networking puzzle.”
The company introduced ultra-compact Industrial PCs (IPCs). These IPCs are Microsoft Azure Certified and can work just as easily with other major cloud platforms such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) and SAP HANA.
Significant updates will span three key areas of the TwinCAT software suite: new HTML5-enabled TwinCAT HMI for industrial displays and mobile devices, important data processing expansions in the TwinCAT Analytics offering, and TwinCAT 3 Motion Designer, which adds a deep set of valuable tools to commission entire motor, drive and mechanical systems in software. Motion Designer can be integrated into the standard TwinCAT 3 software platform or it can be used as a stand-alone motion system engineering tool.
EK1000 EtherCAT TSN Coupler expands the industrial Ethernet capabilities of the EtherCAT I/O system to utilize TSN (Time-Sensitive Networking) technology. The EK1000 enables communication among high-performance EtherCAT segments with remote EtherCAT controllers via heterogeneous Ethernet networks.
Ideagen plc, the UK-based software firm, announced the acquisition of American quality inspection software provider, InspectionXpert. Based in Raleigh, North Carolina, InspectionXpert currently generates $2.8 million in revenue and will bring more than 1,000 clients including Boeing, Kohler and Pratt & Whitney to Ideagen’s existing customer base.
Speaking at IMTS, Chicago, Ideagen CEO, Ben Dorks, said: “As well as significantly enhancing our manufacturing supply chain product suite, the acquisition of InspectionXpert provides Ideagen with a fantastic opportunity for growth by broadening upsell and cross-selling opportunities, increasing our customer footprint and expanding our geographical reach.”
InspectionXpert’s products, InspectionXpert and QualityXpert, enable organizations in the precision manufacturing industry and associated supply chains to simplify inspection planning, execution and reporting and general quality through digitalization of paper-based processes.
InspectionXpert and QualityXpert will be integrated into Ideagen’s existing software suite, which will enhance Software as a Service (SaaS) revenues and provide excellent opportunities for future growth.
Energid released Actin 5, an update to its robot software development kit (SDK). Called the industry’s only real-time adaptive motion control software, it allows robotic system developers to focus on the robot’s task rather than joint movement and paths. It responds in real time to sensory input and directs the robot on the most efficient path while avoiding collisions. The robot motion is updated dynamically without requiring reprogramming, even in dynamic, mission-critical environments.
Forcam develops software solutions in the area of MES, IIoT, and OEE. It leans into the trend of developing platforms. Its platform is built with open APIs with the latest programming languages and tools. It supports Microsoft Azure Cloud, SAP ERP, Maximo maintenance/asset applications, and Apple iPads for input. The platform helps reduce integration time and expense.
I came across the Dell Technologies booth in the automation hall. The big news was a collaboration with Tridium and Intel for IIoT solutions.
The IIoT solution is built on the Niagara Framework, Tridium’s open technology platform, and combines software and consulting services to help customers begin the digital transformation of their businesses.
The Niagara-based IIoT solution built with Dell and Intel technology will comprise a complete hardware and software stack delivered as a finished solution for ease of adoption, and will encompass consulting services from subject matter experts to support implementation. The application layer of the IIoT solution is being developed and supported by Tridium and will expand over time with solutions designed for the telecom and energy sectors.
Developing digitalization using standards from plant design engineering through the entire production process and extending to the supply chain remains core to my interests. My past work with MIMOSA pointed to this. Siemens strategic moves are fascinating in this regard.
I started this post just when my project sucked all of my energy and then I went to IMTS. This is significant. Especially competitively. I see Rockwell Automation doing nothing like this—only the investment with PTC gaining a seat on the board and a connection to ThingWorx and Kepware within the company. Meanwhile I just interviewed Gary Freburger and Peter Martin from Schneider Electric process business, and they talked some about the integration with AVEVA along these same lines.
Siemens and Bentley Systems Announcement
In the companies’ latest Alliance Board meeting, Bentley Systems and Siemens decided to further strengthen their strategic alliance. The two companies have decided to extend their existing agreement, to further develop their joint business cooperation and commercial initiatives. Therefore, the joint innovation investment program will be increased from the initial €50 million funding to €100 million. In addition, as a result of the continuous investment of Siemens into secondary shares of Bentley’s common stock the Siemens stake in Bentley Systems now exceeds 9%.
Klaus Helmrich, member of the Managing Board of Siemens AG, said: “I’m very pleased with how strong our alliance started. Now we are investing in the next collaboration level with Bentley, where for instance we will strengthen their engineering and project management tools with Siemens enterprise wide collaboration platform Teamcenter to create a full Digital Twin for the engineering and construction world.”
He added: “Integrated company-wide data handling and IoT connectivity via MindSphere will enable our mutual customers to benefit from the holistic Digital Twins.”
Greg Bentley, Bentley Systems CEO, said: “In our joint investment activities with Siemens to date, we have progressed worthwhile opportunities together with virtually every Siemens business for ‘going digital’ in infrastructure and industrial advancement. As our new jointly offered products and cloud services now come to market, we are enthusiastically prioritizing further digital co-ventures. We have also welcomed Siemens’ recurring purchases of non-voting Bentley Systems stock on the NASDAQ Private Market, which we facilitate in order to enhance liquidity, primarily for our retiring colleagues.”
Podcast 178 What Problem Are You Solving
It has been said that computers are great at generating questions. They just can’t figure out the right question. Engineers are problem solvers. That is 99% of their education. Thing is—are they solving the right problem?
Businesses have adopted the open office architecture for many years. It solves a business cost problem—get more people per square foot. They publicly justify it, though, as solving the people collaboration problem. But they create a people productivity problem. The signal v noise blog from BaseCamp called Library Rules
[https://m.signalvnoise.com/library-rules-how-to-make-an-open-office-plan-work-f9f6d69a2d4c] proposes an interesting solution. The open office has existed for centuries. And it works fantastically. It’s called a library. Check out library rules for your open office dilemma.
My grandkids naturally collaborate on iPads with Minecraft.
Solving technology problems is a lot of fun for engineers. They look at everything as a technology problem. But then there are problems that are not technology. Such as people problems. Take a look at Facebook’s problems right now. They are not technology; they are ethical.
A generation of engineers have worked hard at solving process control problems. I reflect on a chat I had with Schneider Electric process automation leaders Gary Freburger and Peter Martin about solving business problems in addition to technology problems.
Enrico Krog Iversen, former CEO of the industry-leading collaborative robot pioneer, Universal Robots, along with the Danish Growth Fund, is addressing the next challenge in automation with the merger of three innovative end-of-arm tooling companies to facilitate the ongoing growth of collaborative robotics; an industry expected to reach $8.5 billion by 2025.
The new company combines U.S.-based Perception Robotics, Hungary-based OptoForce, and Denmark-based On Robot to become OnRobot, which will drive innovation and ease-of-use for robotic end-of-arm tooling. OnRobot’s headquarters will be located in Denmark under the management of Enrico Krog Iversen, and the three entities will continue their individual operations and development as well. In addition, OnRobot’s global network of distributors will have access to local sales support, technical assistance and product training from the company’s regional offices in Germany, China, U.S., Malaysia, and Hungary. More offices to come in 2018.
“The aim is to build a world-leading organization in development and production of end-of-arm tooling. Through further acquisitions and collaborations, we expect to reach a revenue exceeding one hundred million dollars in a few years,” says Iversen and continues: “Safe, cost-effective, and versatile cobots are becoming increasingly common because they offer sophisticated and intuitive programming that enables them to be easily deployed and redeployed. Easy-to-integrate end-of-arm tooling, such as grippers and sensors, become vital elements in adapting these powerful automation tools for a wide range of applications.”
In 2015 Enrico Krog Iversen and the Danish Growth Fund sold the Danish cobot pioneer company Universal Robots to U.S.-based Teradyne for $285 million. With their new venture, the two investors now further strengthen Denmark’s global position in the robotics field.
“In recent years Denmark has successfully established itself as a global hub for robotic technologies. Universal Robots was a pioneer, and since then many more strong and innovative companies have been formed with roots in Odense, Denmark. The new OnRobot has the potential to become not only a world-leading company, but also a catalyst for further development of the Danish robotics cluster. We are pleased to promote this trend through our investments and invite both companies and investors from around the world to come join us,” says Christian Motzfeldt, CEO of the Danish Growth Fund.
Collaborative robots, which work safely alongside humans in applications such as packaging, quality testing, material handling, machine tending, assembly and welding, currently represent 3% of global robot sales, according to the International Federation of Robotics, but the share is expected to rise to 34% of a $25 billion market by 2025.
“This growth will most definitely depend on cobots being used in more applications,” Iversen added. “Their small footprint and ability to work safely alongside humans make them ideal for small and medium-sized manufacturers who need to compete globally. Cobots are also increasingly integrated into very large manufacturers such as automotive plants, where they are taking over processes that can’t be automated using traditional robotics. As the types of cobot applications expand, so does the need for new tooling that can be quickly and easily integrated into the cobot’s user interface. The new OnRobot is championing a current mega trend in the field of automation. Combining the unique capabilities of these end-of-arm technologies under one umbrella company that is led by some of the smartest minds in the robotics industry will make them even easier to implement and program. By the way, the new OnRobot is currently looking to add employees in R&D,” says Iversen.
Companies Chosen for Synergies, Ease of Integration, Vision
The three companies that will form the new OnRobot were chosen because of their synergistic end-of-arm technologies, the ability of these technologies to easily integrate to provide improved support and the long-term vision and capabilities of each company’s founders.
• On Robot, founded in 2015, provides plug-and-play electric grippers — RG2 and RG6 — that mount directly on the robot arm, are highly flexible and are simple enough to be programmed and operated from the same interface as the robot without the need of engineers.
• OptoForce, founded in 2012, provides force/torque sensors that bring the sense of touch to industrial robots so that they can automate tasks that would otherwise require the dexterity of the human hand.
• Perception Robotics, founded in 2012 and based in Los Angeles, develops bio-inspired robot grippers: 1) a gecko-inspired gripper for handling large, flat objects and 2) a tactile gripper with compliant rubber tactile sensors (“skin”) to give robots a sense of touch. Its first grippers will be available this year.
OnRobot presented its first new products at automatica 2018. The Gecko Gripper, Polyskin Tactile Gripper, RG2-FT gripper and a technical upgrade of the HEX force-torque sensor product line based on OptoForce technology will open up new applications for collaborative robotics and make implementation even easier. In this fast-growing market segment, OnRobot has positioned itself from the ground up as the innovative provider for collaborative grippers and end-of-arm tooling.
“Collaborative robots have the potential to become the comprehensive standard in industrial automation,” says Enrico Krog Iversen, CEO of OnRobot. “We want to unleash this potential by making collaborative applications even easier to implement and to carry them into completely new applications – that is the idea behind all our new products that we are presenting here at automatica.”
The Gecko Gripper, developed by Perception Robotics, was inspired by nature and uses the same adhesive system for gripping as the feet of a gecko, with millions of fine fibers that adhere to the surface of the workpiece and generate strong van der Waals forces. For the Gecko Gripper technology, OnRobot licenses a concept originally developed by the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and brought it to market maturity.￼
This unique and fast-moving solution for handling large, flat objects makes vacuum grippers and their compressed air system unnecessary. In contrast to vacuum grippers, the Gecko Gripper can also handle perforated or porous workpieces such as printed circuit boards without any problems. The gripper is compatible with Universal Robots and Kawasaki robotic arms.
The Polyskin Tactile Gripper also comes from the innovation forge of Perception Robotics. The solution specializes in sensitive gripping: Both fingers can be individually aligned and have integrated tactile sensors at the fingertips. This allows the gripper to precisely measure the condition of the surface of workpieces and align its gripping processes accordingly. These properties take tactile gripping to a whole new level, especially when working with sensitive or irregular workpieces. The Polyskin Tactile Gripper is also compatible with Universal Robots and Kawasaki.
OnRobot is launching a variation of its established RG2 gripper, the RG2-FT with integrated force-torque sensors and a proximity sensor, which also accurately detects the condition of objects. The gripper detects the danger of objects slipping off even before it happens, making handling even safer – for workers as well as for the workpiece. This gripper model is particularly suitable for use in precision assembly and is compatible with lightweight robots from Universal Robots and KUKA.
The OnRobot product line for force-torque sensors based on OptoForce HEX technology has received a substantial technical upgrade, making installation and handling of the sensors even easier and faster. Mounting is now up to 30 percent faster, partly thanks to overload protection integrated in the sensor, which no longer has to be removed and mounted separately when attaching to the robot arm. Furthermore, the weight of the sensor can be reduced by 20 percent. A new, improved sealing ring also protects the HEX products better against dust or water in the environment.
As manufacturing shifts towards smart factories, with interconnected production systems and automation, engineers at the University of Nottingham are leading a £1.9m project to develop a predictive toolkit to optimise productivity and communication between human workers and robots.
This research fits in with much other reporting I’ve done including the work of Dell Technologies on “human-machine partnerships.”
DigiTOP is one of seven national projects to create novel digital tools, techniques and processes to support the translation of digital capabilities into the manufacturing sector, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).
It comes following the industry-led Made Smarter review, chaired by Siemens Chief Executive Juergen Maier, which stated that industrial digitalisation could be worth as much as £455bn to UK manufacturing over the next decade.
DigiTOP officially started on 1st July with the first month dedicated to project set up activities culminating in our internal kick off meeting at the end of the month, after which we should have a more outward focus. The project will take 39 months and complete on 30 September 2021. The twitter account @DigiTOP_Project will be regularly updated, and they are in the process of setting up a website to aid dissemination of progress.
A digital toolkit for the optimisation of operators and technology in manufacturing partnerships, DigiTOP will be led by Professor Sarah Sharples at the University of Nottingham in collaboration with Loughborough University, Cranfield University, University of the West of England, BAE Systems, Babcock International, Synertial Labs Ltd, Artinis Medical Systems B.V., High Value Manufacturing (HVM) Catapult and Jaguar Land Rover Ltd.
The toolkit will focus on using human factor theories and data to digitally capture and predict the impact of digital manufacturing on future working practices. Demonstrators will be used to test the implementation of sensing technologies that will capture and evaluate performance change and build predictive models of system performance.
The project will also provide an understanding of the ethical, organisational and social impact of the introduction of digital manufacturing tools and digital sensor-based tools to evaluate work performance in the future workplace.
DigiTOP’s findings will help companies that are planning to implement digital manufacturing technologies to understand how it will alter working practices, and how to optimise workplace designs to take these changes into account.
The tools developed within DigiTOP will help industry to design future work which might take place with a human and robot working in collaboration to complete a task or help with understanding how to design a data visualisation which shows how current parts of the factory are performing, and where maintenance or systems change might be needed in the short or long-term future.
Professor Sharples said: “The manufacturing industry, with the drive towards ‘Industrie 4.0’, is experiencing a significant shift towards digital manufacturing. This increased digitisation and interconnectivity of manufacturing processes is inevitably going to bring substantial change to worker roles and manual tasks by introducing new digital manufacturing technologies to shop floor processes.
“It may not be enough to simply assume that workers will adopt new roles bestowed upon them; to ensure successful worker acceptance and operational performance of a new system it is important to incorporate user requirements into digital manufacturing technologies design.
“New approaches to capture and predict the impact of the changes that these new types of technologies, such as robotics, rapidly evolvable workspaces, and data-driven systems are required,” adds Professor Sharples, who is Associate Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research and Knowledge Exchange for Engineering at Nottingham.
“These approaches consist of embedded sensor technologies for capture of workplace performance, machine learning and data analytics to synthesise and analyse these data, and new methods of visualisation to support decisions made, potentially in real-time, as to how digital manufacturing workplaces should function.”
The EPSRC investment arose out of work conducted by the Connected Everything Network Plus, which was established to create a multidisciplinary community focussed on industrial systems in the digital age.
EPSRC’s Executive Chair, Professor Philip Nelson, said: “The adoption of advanced ICT techniques in manufacturing provides an enormous opportunity to improve growth and productivity within the UK.
“The effective implementation of these new technologies requires a multidisciplinary approach and these projects will see academic researchers working with a large number of industrial partners to fully harness their potential, which could generate impact across many sectors.”