Whenever people hear about automation or manufacturing technology, they always respond with “robots?”. Reading mainstream media where writers discuss manufacturing without a clue, they also seem fixated on robots. And most all of this ranges from partial information to misinformation. I seldom write about robotics because the typical SCARA or six-axis robots are still doing the same things they’ve always done—pick-and-place, welding, painting, material handling. They are better, faster, more connected, and in different industries, but in the end it’s still the same thing.
That is why I’m a fan of Rethink Robotics. These engineers are out there trying new paradigms and applications. Here is a recent release that I think bears watching. This news is especially relevant in the context of the visit I made last week to Oakland University and conversations with some students.
Rethink Robotics unveiled the Sawyer Software Development Kit (SDK), a software upgrade designed for researchers and students to build and test programs on the Sawyer robot. With a wide range of uses for university research teams and corporate R&D laboratories around the world, Sawyer SDK offers further compatibility with ROS and state-of-art Open Source robotics tools, as well as an affordable solution to increase access to advanced robotics in the classroom.
Sawyer SDK includes several advanced features that allow users to visualize and control how the robot interacts with its environment. Sawyer SDK now integrates with the popular Gazebo Simulator, which creates a simulated world that will visualize the robot and its contact with the environment, allowing researchers to run and test code in the simulation before running it on the robot. Sawyer’s Gazebo integration is completely open source, allowing students to run simulations from their individual laptops without a robot until they’re ready to test the code in real time. This approach allows professors to provide students with access to the industry-leading collaborative robots.
In addition to the Gazebo integration, Sawyer SDK includes a new motion interface that allows researchers to program the robot in Cartesian space. This development lowers the barriers for motion planning for programmers without a full robotics background. The new release also allows researchers to leverage new impedance and force control. Sawyer SDK also includes support for ClickSmart, the family of gripper kits that Rethink announced in 2017 to create a fully integrated robotic solution.
“Rethink’s robots are used in the world’s leading research institutions, which provides us with a wealth of feedback on what our research customers really want,” said Scott Eckert, president and CEO, Rethink Robotics. “As we have with all of our SDK releases, we’re continuing to set the standard in research with industry-leading features that allow universities and corporate labs to push the field of robotics forward and publish their research faster.”
Sawyer SDK is being piloted in robotics programs at multiple universities, including Stanford University, University of California at Berkeley, Georgia Institute of Technology and Northwestern University. Stanford’s Vision and Learning Lab works on endowing robots with diverse skills for both industrial and day-to-day personal robotics applications.
“Robotics is a field that combines technological and engineering skills with creativity, and the inventiveness our students have shown so far with the robots has been astounding,” said Dr. Animesh Garg, postdoctoral researcher in the Stanford University department of computer science. Animesh and his team of researchers have put Sawyer to use executing tasks directly from virtual reality (VR) input using automatic decomposition in simpler activities. Sawyer is also used for ongoing work in learning to use simple tools, such as hammers and screwdrivers.
Stanford University’s Experimental Robotics class allows students to think beyond day-to-day industrial tasks. They’ve trained Sawyer to draw, and track moving targets and hovering drones. Rethink’s Sawyer has enabled faster learning curves for researchers and students alike, making it easier than ever with the Sawyer SDK release.
The SDK will be available on all Sawyer robots, allowing access to both the Intera manufacturing software and the SDK software, starting in March 2018.
A small group of journalists and writers trekked to the Detroit area March 12-13 to glimpse the future of Manufacturing in America sponsored by Siemens Industry and its local distributor/partner Electro-Matic. We toured the local Founders Brewery facility, visited with faculty and students of Industrial and Systems Engineering at Oakland University, and attended the annual thought leadership panel.
Food and Beverage
Founders Brewery, craft brewery founded in Grand Rapids, MI, built a smaller version of brewery/restaurant in downtown Detroit not far from Ford Field and Greektown. The automated part of the brewery and instrumentation was supplied by Siemens. We toured the brewery, had an awesome sandwich, and sampled some of the many craft beers from founders.
A complete change of pace (well, maybe not as I remember my college days) took us north to Rochester, MI to Oakland University. Robert Van Til, Ph.D., Pawley Professor of Lean Studies and Chair of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISE), introduced us to his program and several students who explained their experiences both in class and working in local factories.
Siemens has donated much software and equipment to the program. Students explained how they had been trained in Siemens PLM software and used the simulation application to model real-world problems. They impressed me with a maturity I doubt that I had at that age, but also with how smoothly they integrated Lean Manufacturing concepts with their factory cell simulations.
-> An important point. I hold the impression left over from some years ago that young people view manufacturing negatively—as dark, dirty, unsafe, backwards places to work. Much to the contrary, these students all viewed manufacturing as a place to use their technical training to make an impact. They see how they can contribute to an organization immediately. I guess the work we’ve done over the past 20 years to clean up our factories and apply technology are being rewarded.
Nothing beats an early morning meeting to talk finance. Actually, it’s not that bad. Before the Wednesday summit meeting, we met with the Siemens Finance team. Note: we did this last year, as well.
Siemens has identified six challenges for manufacturers on the journey to Industry 4.0. Challenge No. 2 identifies access to finance for the scale of investment over time that manufacturers need to make in digital and automated technology platforms.
The team has released a white paper, “Practical Pathways to Industry 4.0 in the USA.” This would be Finance 4.0 for Industry 4.0. Snipping one section, “Integrated Strategic Finance,” here are a few points:
- Evaluate potential sources of finance for both OPEX and CAPEX
- Consider how you’ll finance all aspects of digital transformation
- Align with strategic growth vision and technology investment
- Find financing partners with willingness and skills for this journey
- Is your CFO a ‘virtuoso’ in linking initiatives to financial outcomes
Siemens Finance has many financial instruments in place to help from brownfield upgrades to greenfield projects—and for complete equipment financing, not only Siemens equipment.
Thought Leadership Summit
Raj Batra, President of Digital Factory for Siemens Industry Inc., took the ball from MC Eddie Murray (former NFL kicker), discussing how manufacturing executives in the US are very optimistic about the near future for manufacturing. One large problem is finding talented people to fill the positions. He also discussed Siemens technology and how it is helping manufacturers, for example like adidas who in this “order the latest fashion online” world need to shrink the 18 month timeline from concept to delivery of new shoes. Siemens PLM to the rescue.
Greg LaMay, Director Global. PLM Implementation for KUKA NA, showed how his team is using Siemens PLM applications to break silos within the company to improve time to ship and customer experiences.
John Greaves, IoT, RF, and Blockchain Solutions Architect (with a portfolio like that, he could probably bring the world to an end 😉 ) at Lowry Solutions, showed how Blockchain (the technology used by Bitcoin, for example) is already used for critical supply chain applications.
Alan Beaulieau, Ph.D., Economist, and President of ITR Economics (check it out, he wrote a column for me at Automation World for several years and he’s a great speaker), gave his usual well researched and reasoned view of the economic scene. Hint: it’s better than you might think reading the newspapers or listening to TV. itreconomics.com
Two things I know–First, this is, and always has been, a blog. That means that it’s personal and written by me. On the other hand, I’ll gladly quote anyone relevant. Second, people who work for PR agencies are under great pressure. Evidently they get paid per placement rather than collaboration and effectiveness. Either they or their marketing clients have read about the great Search Engine Optimization (SEO) of “guest posts” on blogs. I am inundated with requests–mostly from people who have no clue what my market is.
This is one such request from an agency I don’t know about a company I don’t know. I seldom write about robots for a variety of reasons. Mostly it’s because there hasn’t been much that is news. But robots are greatly misunderstood especially by writers in mainstream media who have no clue but do have lots of readers. So this request, with a somewhat poorly written intro, contained an “infographic” (something I also dislike) busting some myths. It’s worth a scan. The company is Acieta. Following is the intro.
Flying cars and moon colonies might still be a ways off, but the future is here in a lot of ways. Anyone old enough to remember watching “The Jetsons” can recall a world in which human beings have it easy because robots are doing all the dirty work. We might not be at the point where robots are doing everything we don’t want to do ourselves. Nonetheless, in the manufacturing sector, robots now make up a significant portion of the “manpower” used to make the items we use every day. Modern manufacturing as we know it today wouldn’t be possible without the contributions of robots. However, there’s a lot of information most people don’t know about them. They may be concerned that robots will make human beings in the manufacturing sector obsolete. They may be worried that robots create an unsafe working environment for people. Or, they may even be concerned that one day robots will become smart and independent enough to take over the world.
Knowing some of the basic facts about today’s modern manufacturing robots can do a lot to help alleviate those concerns, however. For instance, even though robots do much of the heavy and dangerous jobs in the modern manufacturing facility that humans used to risk life and limb to do, they still can’t do everything themselves. Human beings still are needed on the production floor for many tasks involved in the manufacturing process, as well as programming and servicing the robots themselves.
There’s also no reason to worry about manufacturing robots deciding they don’t need people anymore. Although advancements in artificial intelligence are being made seemingly every day, the robots found in manufacturing environments by and large are only capable of doing what they are programmed to do. What’s more, today’s robots are so sophisticated that they can recognize when an unsafe condition occurs and stop what they’re doing immediately until people are out of harm’s way.
The following guide dispels some of the most common myths about robots. If you’re concerned about robots’ place in the modern manufacturing landscape, take a look and have your questions answered. The future is here, and it may be better than you think.
Digital Transformation has generated so much news that company executives have begun ordering projects and task forces within the company to begin that transformation. The pressure on engineers and IT people increases with each new directive. To help clients deal with these new directives, ARC Advisory Group launched the Digital Transformation Council (DTC) at its 2018 Forum.
The council is a member community for industry, energy, and public-sector professionals. Membership is by invitation only and restricted to end users of digital transformation technology, such as professionals working for manufacturers, utilities, and municipalities. There is no fee to join.
“As data-driven market disruption grows, professionals across similar industries need to connect and learn from one another,” according to Jesus Flores-Cerrillo, Associated R&D Director at Praxair, one of the world’s largest providers of industrial gases. He added, “It’s becoming mission-critical to understand how to use data to develop services and products and optimize operations and assets. That can only be accomplished by understanding the possibilities provided by modern data tools such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and digital twins.”
“We are delighted to support the Digital Transformation Council by bringing members together in person and online,” commented Greg Gorbach, Vice President at ARC Advisory Group. “This community will enable individuals and companies to get up to speed quickly on digital transformation innovations and share ideas about what provides value and what doesn’t.”
Each February, a member-only meeting, anchored to the annual ARC Industry Forum, will bring the Council together to set the focus and agenda for the coming year. Members will also gather via virtual quarterly meetings to discuss research findings, activities, and other topics.
In addition to annual in-person meetings and quarterly virtual meetings, Digital Transformation Council members will have year-round access to research and fellow members via an online community. ARC Advisory Group’s role will be to conduct research, organize meetings, provide venues, and facilitate peer-to-peer discussions. ARC will also deliver technical support for the group’s online presence.
The DTC will address topics such as analytics, industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), artificial intelligence and machine learning, cybersecurity, and additive manufacturing.
I’m thinking about changing my tag line to “where IT meets OT” since that seems to be where things are (finally) going thanks to Internet of Things (IoT) discussions. Back for a third year, the hottest spot in this space right now is the Industry of Things World USA conference held in San Diego, this year from March 7-9.
WeConnect, a company based in Germany, puts this event on plus many other such events globally. I’ve always been impressed at the quality of speakers and attendees they can attract working from their Berlin offices.
This year’s key themes at Industry of Things World USA 2018 include:
- From smart factories to sentient ecosystems: how to build-in intelligence from the smallest sensors to the global enterpris
- Leadership and excellence in an uncertain world: should be talking about IoT standards and regulations or “trust”, and good corporate governance?
- How to sell IIoT investments to senior management, boards, investors, and governments
- Getting IT architectures future-proofed: MASA, Microservices, Web-app, Edge, UA, Open, and developments in MTConnect
- Retrofitting legacy systems and dumb assets: quick hacks for a smart and connected factory
- Product Life-cycle Analytics and closed-loop product and service models
- Assets that talk, factories that communicate: virtualization, digital twins, and real-time monitoring
- What are governments, policy makers and institutions doing to pave the way for Industry 4.0 market adoption
- Securing Industry 4.0: security by design for an interconnected worldAdapting society, economic models, the workforce and education for teh future of smart manufacturing
Sponsors include Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Rockwell Automation, Accenture, OPC Foundation, Beckhoff, WindRiver, Microsoft, and several more.
I’ll be there again this year. Heck a trip to San Diego in March has its own rewards for someone from the north. See you there.