Companies Merge To Form Next Gen Collaborative Robotics

Companies Merge To Form Next Gen Collaborative Robotics

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.

McKinsey Study Finds Huge Gap Between Trying and Applying Digital Manufacturing

McKinsey Study Finds Huge Gap Between Trying and Applying Digital Manufacturing

Most companies think they lead their Industry 4.0 competitors in AI and robotic technologies. This sounds like Garrison Keillor describing the mythic village of Lake Wobegon, MN where “all the children are above average.” I’m finding increased interest in digital manufacturing, Industry 4.0, smart manufacturing, or whatever the initiative is called locally.

As always, hype exceeds reality until that point in time when we suddenly realize that everyone is doing it rather than talking about it. Cloud computing falls into that category.

A huge confidence gap exists between the number of companies that try digital manufacturing strategies and those that successfully apply them, a new McKinsey & Co. survey found. In the 2018 Manufacturing Global Expert Survey, 92 percent of respondents think they lead or are on par with competitors in Industry 4.0 manufacturing strategies.

The survey consisted of 700 companies in seven nations. Each had at least 50 employees and $10 million in annual revenue. It found that two-thirds rank digitizing the production value chain as a top priority. Industry 4.0 pursuits fall in three areas:

Connectivity – Using digital performance management and augmented reality to move the right information to the right people in real time. These tactics help communicate interactive work instructions and standard operating procedures.

Intelligence – Advanced analytics and artificial intelligence are fostering better decision making.  Examples: Predictive maintenance; digital quality management and AI-driven demand forecasting.

Flexible Automation – New robotic technologies are safer and improve productivity. Human-machine interactive “cobots” and driverless guided vehicles are changing life on the factory floor.

“Despite this focus and enthusiasm, companies are experiencing ‘pilot purgatory.,’ They have significant activities underway. But they are not seeing meaningful bottom-line results,” said Richard Kelly, a McKinsey partner.

China, India and the United States think they lead their competition in digital manufacturing. Japan was an outlier. Its view for the potential of digital manufacturing dropped from over 90 percent in 2017 to 75 percent. Japan’s loss of enthusiasm was far greater than declines in the other three countries.  Even so, the success in implementing Industry 4.0 solutions rose significantly in Japan, China and the U.S. while stagnating in Germany.

Digital manufacturing topped the operations-strategy agenda at 68 percent of companies. India led China and Brazil in setting an Industry 4.0 agenda. At 63 percent, the U.S. was 5 percentage points below the 68 percent average.

Companies are piloting an average of eight different Industry 4.0 solutions. India leads with 10.6 digital pilots. China had 10.2 and Brazil had 8.9. The U.S. was fourth at 8.5.

“The challenge is to roll out successful pilot projects to the entire organization,” Kelly said. “That’s what makes transformation happen.”

Across business sectors, connectivity, intelligence and flexible automation solutions showed relevance. Pilots under way trailed that sentiment by 16 to 19 points.

A bigger drop off came when comparing pilot programs in the three areas with those that made it to scale. Only 30 percent rolled out companywide.  Industrial automation, software and semiconductors fared best. Healthcare, automotive components and paper and packaging trailed.

In Germany, the U.S., Japan and China, optimism toward digital manufacturing fell after an all-time high in 2017.

“It is quite possible companies still believe in the potential of the various technologies of Industry 4.0,” Kelly said. “But pilot purgatory has been demoralizing. Many are less hopeful about their individual chances of reaping benefits at scale. But we’re seeing great success in the number pilot projects being launched, and the general attitude toward digital manufacturing is quite positive.”

More Partnership News from Security Firm Claroty

More Partnership News from Security Firm Claroty

Claroty has been busy. Following the news of investments and partnership with Rockwell Automation, Claroty and Siemens announced a global partnership. Siemens will leverage Claroty’s advanced behavioral analysis technology in Siemens’ recently announced Industrial Anomaly Detection solution.

Siemens, through its global venture firm Next47, also invested in Claroty, joining a global syndicate of industrial giants that invested $60 million in the company’s Series B round, bringing the company’s total investment to date to $93 million.

Siemens initiated the Charter of Trust in February 2018, gaining the support of other giant companies in the global fight against the rising cybersecurity threat to industrial systems. Siemens also continues to expand its cybersecurity portfolio, debuting at the 2018 Hannover Messe industrial automation conference a new Industrial Anomaly Detection solution, which will deliver significant value for both operations and cybersecurity teams. Operations teams receive a detailed inventory of industrial assets and changes to the network. Cybersecurity teams can continuously monitor these critical networks for vulnerabilities, malicious activity, and high-risk changes, across distributed industrial sites.

Claroty was selected by Siemens following an intensive technical evaluation. “In selecting our security partner for Industrial Anomaly Detection, we reviewed the market, conducted a detailed evaluation, and rigorously tested possible technology in our industrial lab environment,” said Dr. Thomas Moser, CEO of the Siemens Customer Services business unit. “Claroty’s advanced behavioral analysis provides a significant advantage to our customers in reducing risk to their OT environment.”

“Our mission is to help our customers secure industrial networks so they can avoid costly operations downtime, and maintain the safety of people and expensive assets,” said Amir Zilberstein, Claroty Co-founder and CEO. “Siemens’ selection of Claroty as a strategic partner and their investment in our company is further validation of our technology, our team, and our ability to deliver world-class, enterprise-level protection.”

Siemens uses Claroty in a pre-packaged offering enabling customers to quickly and safely deploy anomaly detection in their operations. Siemens brings the offering to the market based on pre-installed packages on Siemens IPC. In the future, it is planned to also offer this based on Siemens switches with an Application Processing engine provided by the Ruggedcom RX1500 series.

Siemens, as owner and operator of nearly 300 factories, heavily leverages digitalizing for efficiency gains. Responsible digitalization must go hand in hand with cybersecurity. Therefore, Siemens is implementing a defense-in-depth security concept in its factories. Industrial Anomaly Detection is an important element of this concept.

The Claroty Platform is comprised of multiple integrated products, built on Claroty’s advanced CoreX technology. The products provide the full range of cybersecurity protection, control, detection, and response. Claroty has received multiple industry awards in recent months. It was recently named an Energy Innovation Pioneer at CERAWeek 2018, and the company’s flagship Continuous Threat Detection product won the ICS Detection Challenge during the S4x18 conference in Miami.

Networking and Industrial Software Partnerships

Networking and Industrial Software Partnerships

Partnerships are huge. Especially with industrial automation and software suppliers extending their reach into the enterprise. Here, press releases from rivals Rockwell Automation and Siemens exemplify the pattern. Additionally, this week, I’ve also interviewed Cisco and Intel. Things are getting interesting this spring. We’ll see what I can report back from next week’s Hannover Messe.

Rockwell Automation and Cisco have released new network design guides and white papers to help companies connect mobile devices and deploy end-to-end cloud connectivity while maintaining security best practices. The guides give companies best practices for wired and wireless network architectures when deploying cloud and mobile industrial IoT solutions. The free resources are the latest addition to the Converged Plantwide Ethernet (CPwE) program.

Secure Mobile Connections

The new Identity and Mobility Services guide will help companies connect mobile devices in a way that manages security risks. The guide, based on the Cisco Identity Services Engine platform, supports industrial security by identifying, authorizing and posturing mobile connections at three levels: device, application and user. The guide also helps users establish unified and autonomous WLAN architectures and manage self-service wireless access.

“Mobile devices are changing how we see and manage production,” said Gregory Wilcox, global technology and business development manager, Rockwell Automation. “Workers are accessing analytics on tablets to make better production decisions, even when they’re away from equipment. And they’re using innovations like the FactoryTalk TeamONE app from Rockwell Automation to collaborate through their smartphones. The Identity and Mobility Services guide will help bring these capabilities to life in their facilities while maintaining a strong security stance.”

Connect to the Cloud

The new Cloud Connectivity guide provides guidance for using the FactoryTalk Cloud gateway to establish a more secure connection from the plant floor to cloud-based applications, like FactoryTalk Analytics for Machines. This end-to-end connectivity is essential to deploying capabilities like remote monitoring and support. The design guide addresses the varying levels of security measures that should be considered for small to large companies.

“Industrial companies sometimes focus a lot of their attention on creating an information pathway to the cloud but overlook critical security needs,” said Todd Gurela, senior director, Industry Solutions Group, Cisco. “The Cloud Connectivity design guide will help companies establish end-to-end cloud connectivity while protecting both data paths and the plant network against cyber threats.”

Meanwhile Orange and Siemens

Orange Business Services and Siemens have joined forces to drive the adoption of the Internet of Things (IoT) in the industrial sector by simplifying integration and promoting IoT innovation. The initial focus will be to develop solutions around asset tracking and asset monitoring to optimize the supply chain and improve efficiencies, as well as to develop digitally enhanced products to increase customer satisfaction and create new business models.

The partnership will help businesses connect their machines and physical infrastructure to the digital world, allowing them to translate the wealth of data they produce into business results. Advanced analytics and digital services will help them increase productivity and efficiency across their business.

Orange Business Services brings its global cellular connectivity, consulting, system integration and application development skills to the partnership. The alliance is built around Siemens’ MindSphere, the cloud-based open IoT operating system, and Datavenue, the Orange IoT and data analytics modular offering.

Customers have the option of pre-packaged offerings such as asset tracking, or customized solutions and applications. Orange Business Services will initially provide connectivity components from Datavenue, including cellular and Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) networks. Other Datavenue components will follow.

The partnership will initially focus on Europe, starting with solutions to be rolled out in Germany and Austria.

Industrial Technology Supplier State of the Business

Industrial Technology Supplier State of the Business

A tale of the business state of two industrial technology supplier companies–GE and ABB.

This is a great article tracing the heritage and woes of GE. While the company is still strong in all the basic industrial categories, it’s moves deeper in to financial and entertainment industries have cost it dearly. Not to mention decades of financial sleight-of-hand. When I was at Minds + Machines last fall, I wondered if this might be the last. The new CEO hinted at changes in GE Digital at the conference. Shortly afterwards, the shoe dropped. GE Digital was to be essentially gutted. No more grandiose plans for a huge software platform that would be the solution of everything digital. Smaller applications and partnerships were to be the new direction. There will be some GE people at ARC this week, I’ll see what else I can learn.

Meanwhile, ABB released its full year 2017 financial results. It has been in the midst of restructuring since Ulrich Spiesshofer assumed the reins in 2013 succeeding GE alum Joe Hogan. ABB touts its progress in this report.

Ulrich Spiesshofer, ABB CEO

“In the transition year 2017, we shaped a streamlined and strengthened ABB. Now, our digital-first portfolio for customers in utilities, industry and transport and infrastructure is based on two clear value propositions: bringing electricity from any power plant to any plug, and automating industries from natural resources to finished products,” said Spiesshofer. “The annual results include the dampening effect of our massive transformation. With our targeted actions to shift our center of gravity, we have improved competitiveness, addressed higher-growth segments and de-risked ABB. We delivered four consecutive quarters of increasing base-order growth. The momentum we have built in 2017 positions us for profitable growth as the global markets are improving. Today’s proposal to increase the dividend for the 9th consecutive year demonstrates our confidence in the future.”

Full-year 2017 Group Results

ABB delivered a steady financial performance in 2017 despite market headwinds and its ongoing transformation. Total orders were steady (steady in US dollars). Base-order growth (base orders are classified as orders below $15 million) showed increasing momentum each quarter, and for the full year increased 5 percent (6 percent in US dollars), mitigating the effect of lower large orders. The large order share of total orders in 2017 was 8.5 percent, versus 13.5 percent in 2016, in part as a consequence of ABB’s business model shift. Total service orders grew 8 percent (8 percent in US dollars) to 20 percent of total group orders.

The order backlog at the end of December 2017 was $22,414 million, 4 percent lower (2 percent in US dollars) compared with the prior year. The book-to-bill ratio2 was 0.97x for 2017, compared with 0.99x in 2016.

Revenues improved 1 percent (1 percent in US dollars) to $34,312 million, with positive contributions from Electrification Products and Robotics and Motion more than offsetting the declines in Industrial Automation and Power Grids. Total services revenues grew 3 percent (3 percent in US dollars) and now stand at 18 percent of total group revenues.

ABB executed on its Next Level strategy throughout 2017. The company launched ABB Ability, its digital solutions offering, and continued to invest in digital, sales, branding and research & development. It delivered strong cost savings in White Collar Productivity and supply chain/operational excellence and completed or announced a number of important transactions. It continued to de-risk its portfolio by divesting non-core businesses, and taking actions to implement its EPC (Engineering, Procurement and Construction) business model change. These activities impacted full year results. The company’s operational EBITA declined 2 percent (1 percent in US dollars) to $4,130 million, inclusive of approximately $140 million of charges related to the EPC businesses. The reported operational EBITA margin was 12.1 percent, 30 basis points lower due to charges related to the EPC businesses and would have been steady without these charges.

Net income in 2017 rose 17 percent compared with the previous year to $2,213 million, reflecting primarily lower transformation-related restructuring and restructuring-related expenses and net gains recorded on the business divestments in the year. Basic earnings per share grew 17 percent to $1.04. Operational EPS2 was $1.25, 1 percent lower in constant currency4

Cash flow from operating activities was steady compared with 2016 at $3,799 million for the full year. ABB continued to benefit from improvements in net working capital which generated approximately $600 million of cash during 2017. Net working capital as a percentage of revenue was reduced to 11.3 percent, a 10 basis point improvement year on year. Capital expenditures for the group were $949 million during 2017. Free cash flow of $2,926 million was 5 percent lower than 2016 and the company’s cash return on invested capital (CROI) was 12.4 percent2, mainly impacted by the acquisition of B&R.

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