Automation in manufacturing continues to grow and redefine the shop floor. Evolving at an ever-increasing pace, robotics, and automation, by some predictions, will assume 30% of the tasks in 60% of the industrial occupations over the next few decades. And with all the benefits of automation—including higher production, fewer errors, and increased safety—it’s not surprising that automation will handle more of the tasks previously assigned to human workers.
In this blog, we’re bringing you some of the automation innovations and news we found notable this spring.
US SMEs’ investment in robots and automation is down
A new MIT study, Manufacturing in America: A View from the Field, found that SME manufacturers in the US are not adopting robots and automation at rates needed to be truly competitive with foreign competitors. Major reasons for this include the costs associated with developing a large enough workforce with the required skills and hesitancy to make large capital investments in new equipment.
The researchers also uncovered a prevailing view among the SMEs studied of robots as static machines designed for a single task, and as challenging to reprogram or repurpose. Because these companies often focus on low volume-high mix manufacturing, the idea of spending large amounts of money on a machine for a single task is risky. “There is a strong fear that the robot will become a paper weight after the job it was initially bought for ends. A stationary robot is not making money for anyone,” notes Robot Business Review’s analysis of the study.
Clearly it’s time to get the word out to SME’s that today’s robots are more flexible thanks to vastly simplified programming and a variety of tooling options.
Of course, they still face the time and expense of training workers to make the most use of this flexibility. The study also found that while several manufacturing development programs exist in the US, which could be a powerful resource for upgrading skills, a majority of SMEs do not participate in them.
You can read more here about the MIT research.
No need to sacrifice performance for durability in the shop floor IPC
Unfortunately, the harsh environments in industrial settings are not particularly kind to the electronics and controllers that support robotics and automation. The violent vibrations of heavy machinery or the extreme temperatures of a foundry operation can hurt the industrial PC (IPC) on the factory floor. Here is the latest solution:
Electronic devices and IPCs used on the factory floor have been “ruggedized” to withstand unforgiving environmental conditions. Using sturdier computing components and concealed connectors, the devices can endure vibration, shock, humidity, and high temperatures.
However, a trade-off exists between this durability and the performance capabilities in the form of less processing power. In other words, ensuring that the device will hold up under harsh conditions meant settling for an IPC that meets only the minimum performance requirements.
Fortunately, IPC manufacturers are starting to keep pace with the evolving requirements of industrial control. One such manufacturer, Emerson, has come up with a unit capable of withstanding shock, vibrations, and temperatures ranging from -40 to 70 degrees Celsius—all without compromising on computing performance. The RXi2-BP IPC is a highly compact unit, ideally suited for the shop floor environment.
A robot that finds hidden objects
Over the past few years, robots have acquired artificial vision, touch, and even smell. And while this human-like perception from them has given a boost to manufacturing, an MIT Associate Professor reports that “We’re (now) trying to give robots superhuman perception.”
Fadel Adib claims that he and his team have developed a robot that uses radio waves to pass through walls to sense obstructed objects. RF-Grasp, as the robot is called, uses this potent sensing ability and combines it with traditional computer vision to locate and grasp items that would otherwise be blocked from view.
RF Grasp finds and grabs tagged objects using a camera and radio-frequency reader, even when they are totally blocked from the camera’s view. It has a robotic arm attached to a grasping hand while the camera sits on the robot’s wrist. Adib believes the advance could eventually enhance fulfillment tasks in warehouses or help a machine pick out a screwdriver from a cluttered toolbox.
Automation news: Yaskawa Motoman has sold 500,000 industrial robots
Yaskawa Motoman is one of the world’s largest industrial automation companies. In February of 2021, it marked a milestone by hitting the cumulative shipment total of 500,000 industrial robots.
Founded in 1915, the company shipped its first all-electric industrial robot, the Motoman-L10, in 1977. Responding to diversifying manufacturing needs in 2018, Yaskawa launched Motoman-HC 10 DT. This human-cooperative robot can safely work in proximity to factory workers, expanding the industrial robot’s range of applications.
Turn to the experts for manufacturing automation solutions
Force Design can guide you in the right direction. With more than 20 years of automation experience, we can find solutions for your unique business requirements. And we are here to help you, from robotic applications and weld fixture design to gages and testing equipment.
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