The Automate Show Opens Soon — Get Your Free Show Pass Today!

January 2, 2013

We are just weeks away from the opening of the 2013 Automate Show in Chicago! If you’re considering automation to improve and grow your company this year, come to Automate to see live demos, talk with industry professionals, and find the solution that’s perfect for you! Read the press release below for more information or register for your free show pass here.

(Ann Arbor, Michigan) Conference registration is now open for Automate 2013, North America’s leading automation event that takes place January 21-24 at McCormick Place in Chicago.

“The 2013 Conference is the strongest we’ve ever put together,” says Jeff Burnstein, President of the Association for Advancing Automation, the main organizer of Automate 2013.

“We’re gearing many sessions to small and medium sized companies who are new users or considering using robotics, vision, motion control, and other automation technologies,” Burnstein asserts. One of the featured sessions highlights small company executives who have successfully automated in order to become stronger global competitors. Speakers include Drew Greenblatt, President, Marlin Steel, Torben Christensen, President, Wiscon Products and Matt Tyler, President & CEO, Vickers Engineering.

“I think companies considering automating will find this session fascinating because it will provide real-world examples of companies who would have had to either go out of business or send manufacturing offshore but instead succeeded by automating,” Burnstein said.

Other key topics covered in the conference include the fundamentals of robotics and the fundamentals of vision, new developments in industrial robot safety, new motor and drive technologies, robotics system integration, motion control technology for increasing throughput, and practical applications using vision guided robots.

More than 75 industry experts from around the world will give presentations at the five-day conference (ending January 25). Keynote speakers include Steve Forbes, Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of Forbes Media and Henrik Christensen, Director of Robotics at Georgia Institute of Technology.

Professionals in the vision industry can take special classes that are required to earn the highly-coveted Certified Vision Professional (CVP) designation. The CVP is offered at both the Basic and Advanced Levels, with testing also offered at Automate 2013.

The Automate conference is accompanied by a four-day trade show featuring exhibits from some 150 leading automation companies. It offers a broad-range of automation solutions for packaging, welding, assembly, material removal, inspection, painting & coating, and other leading applications.

Burnstein said the front of the show is dedicated to exhibits from system integrators, the ideal starting point for users just beginning to investigate automation or those looking for new ideas. “The integrators are the ones who put successful solutions together, so they are extremely important to the user community,” he noted.

Another show-floor highlight will be Expert Huddles, small group discussions on key topics of interest to users. “These huddles will feature industry experts leading the discussion – among the topics will be return on investment, the best first tasks for automation, and how to select a system integrator. We expect to have more than 75 huddles throughout the show and all of them are free to show and conference attendees.”

Trade show attendance is free (16 and over required). Fees are required for the Automate 2013 conference. Full details can be found at www.automate2013.com. Automate 2013 is collocated with ProMat (sponsored by the Material Handling Industry of America). ProMat is North America’s premier material handling and logistics show. “Having both of these shows together gives attendees a chance to explore the state of the art in automation solutions as well as seeing what’s coming next for both the automation and material handling industries,” Burnstein noted.

About the Organizer
Automate is organized by the Association for Advancing Automation, the not-for-profit umbrella corporation of the Robotic Industries Association (RIA), AIA – Advancing Vision + Imaging, and the Motion Control Association (MCA). Together these associations represent nearly 700 member companies from 32 nations. Members include suppliers, system integrators, end users, universities, consulting firms and others involved in automation.

For more information on RIA, visit www.robotics.org. For AIA, visit www.visiononline.org. For MCA, visitwww.motioncontrolonline.org. Automate show and conference information can be found at www.automate2013.com. To reach Association Headquarters, call 734/994-6088.


Robots and Vision for Semiconductors and Electronics Manufacturing

December 5, 2012

In the newest article on Robotics Online, Bennett Brumson looks at robotics in the semiconductor and electronics industry, taking special note of the trends and unique requirements for automation systems there.

Robots and Vision for Semiconductors and Electronics Manufacturing
by Bennett Brumson , Contributing Editor 

Delta robot performing connector assembly tasks, courtesy FANUC Robotics America Corp.Robotics have long been a staple in the electronics and semiconductor industry. Complex assemblies and a plethora of tiny parts make flexible robotics the ideal solution for the rapidly-changing electronics and semiconductor market.

Robotics for the electronics and semiconductor sector will be a component of Automate 2013, the trade show and conference covering a wide array of automation technologies.

“Kawasaki’s customers, the Semiconductor Equipment suppliers, use robots to manufacture wafers before those wafers are sliced and diced into microchips. As microchips get smaller and smaller, they require less power to function which is why smart phones are thinner and able to do so many things,” says Barney Huang, Director of Sales and Marketing at Kawasaki Robotics USA Inc. (Wixom, Michigan). “Microchips are more densely packed onto electronic devices.” Robotics play a key role in facilitating production of electronics and semiconductors, Huang says.

Need for Speed
Electronics embodies the essence of the fickle consumer market. Manufacturers need speed and flexibility to profitably tap into a market segment before consumer tastes change. “I see a trend in the need for smaller and faster robots. Using small robots makes sense for manufacturers to handle small parts. Production lines need to move very fast in the electronics and semiconductor industry,” says Chris Blanchette, Account Manager with FANUC Robotics America Corp. (Rochester Hills, Michigan).

Continuing, Blanchette says, “Robot makers build different types of robots to meet the needs of the electronics and semiconductor market. These types of robots include very fast delta-style robots. Also, six-axis articulation is a necessary requirement to orient small parts in more than one plane or off axis.” Six-axis articulation in conjunction with high speed is an important trend in the small part electronics industry, says Blanchette.

Blanchette goes on to say, “Robotic assembly of connectors is a growing trend. This application requires precision and tolerance because of so many small parts. Component assembly on circuit boards requires finesse during the assembly process which cannot be done with high-speed chip shooters.” Blanchette adds robots provide a very cost-effective solution to populate components onto circuit boards. “After the assembly of electronic circuit boards, the boards must be assembled into a package. Robots are a great tool for assembling those packages into electronic modules.”

Moving silicon wafers at high speeds without causing damage is a fundamental task robots are increasingly called on to perform. As wafer sizes become progressively larger, that task becomes more demanding. Robotics are more than capable of meeting throughput requirements without causing damage to delicate components.

Read the full article at Robotics Online. Interested in seeing robotic systems for the electronics and semiconductor industry at work? Come to the 2013 Automate Show, where companies will have working exhibits and full solutions for your automation needs.


Website Connects Startup Designers to Factories

November 28, 2012

Anyone can have an idea for a great new product. Many people can raise the capital required for the initial startup costs, especially with crowdfunding options like Kickstarter. But not everyone has access to the manufacturing facilities and equipment needed to launch their new business. ‘Maker’s Row’ attempts to change that, connecting designers to manufacturing resources.

‘Maker’s Row’ Bridges Daunting Gap Between Design and Manufacturing
by Joseph Flaherty

3D printers make it easy to create one-off products. Kickstarter gives makers capital to produce at scale. But there aren’t many resources to help navigate the world of high-volume manufacturing. Maker’s Row, a marketplace that connects designers and American factories, aims to fix that by acclimating creators to the culture of manufacturing and making sense of obscure terms like AWO to ZQC production.

The Maker’s Row website allows designers to search for factories with keywords, browse projects the factories have worked on and, in some cases, see videos of the shops and founder in action. The site’s design and videos manage to make manufacturing feel glamorous, and even a little patriotic.

The company grew out of an organic need. Co-founder Matthew Burnett worked for Marc Jacobs and Izod before launching his own line of leather goods. He convinced a friend, Tanya Menendez, who had worked at Google and Goldman Sachs, to join him and help grow the business. After dealing with a costly manufacturing setback overseas, they realized that reorganizing the trillion-dollar manufacturing industry had more upsides than producing well-tailored accessories. They recruited a web designer named Scott Weiner and launched the service.

“Our primary mission is to bring outsourced manufacturing back home, and to plant the seeds of the next generation of businesses that will be able to easily find American manufacturing partners,” Menendez says.

Read the full article at Wired. What do you think? Will the next wave of American manufacturing come from home-run businesses?


AMT Reports Growth for Manufacturing in September

November 14, 2012

The Association For Manufacturing Technology recently released their September report on US manufacturing technologies, reflecting both a growth from the previous month and also from September of last year.

USMTO News Release for September Manufacturing

September U.S. manufacturing technology orders totaled $667.47 million according to AMT – The Association For Manufacturing Technology. This total, as reported by companies participating in the USMTO program, was up 40.7% from August and up 13.4% when compared with the total of $588.80 million reported for September 2011. With a year-to-date total of $4,282.11 million, 2012 is up 5.6% compared with 2011.

These numbers and all data in this report are based on the totals of actual data reported by companies participating in the USMTO program.

“In the 17 years that this data has been collected, there is only one other month that broke $600 million. Both of those were in months that reflected sales from IMTS, showing its strength as the largest manufacturing event in the Americas,” said Douglas K. Woods, AMT President. “It’s possible we could average $450 million a month for all of 2012 — the largest year ever for this program. This speaks to tremendous strength in the manufacturing industry, and is proof that IMTS 2012 was the strongest show seen in years.”

The United States Manufacturing Technology Orders (USMTO) report, compiled by the trade association representing the production and distribution of manufacturing technology, provides regional and national U.S. orders data of domestic and imported machine tools and related equipment. Analysis of manufacturing technology orders provides a reliable leading economic indicator as manufacturing industries invest in capital metalworking equipment to increase capacity and improve productivity.

Read the full report here at AMTonline. Was September a particularly good month for your business? Are you also noticing strong growth?


The Return of the New American Factory

September 24, 2012

There has been a lot of buzz recently about reshoring and the return of manufacturing. But what does that really mean? After so many years of a disjointed supply chain, what will it look like to have American companies back on American soil? How will recent developments in automation shape the return of the factory?

Why manufacturing matters for America

By Willy Shih and Gary Pisano

We believe that the most important reason to bring manufacturing back and grow it in this country is that the ability to manufacture underpins our ability to innovate in many fields. When manufacturing process technology is not yet mature, or when products are tightly integrated systems that are not easily modularized, a great deal of the work in “industrializing” a product – that is getting it ready and putting it into volume production – is high value-added knowledge work that supports future innovation in the field.

A great example is Intel Corporation’s latest generation of “Ivy Bridge” family of microprocessors. Intel has invested tens of billions of dollars in its factories in Oregon, Arizona, and New Mexico so that they are able to produce the most advanced semiconductors. In order to produce its Ivy Bridge chips in the latest generation technology, it had to maintain a tight loop between the engineering team designing the chips and the engineers designing the manufacturing process. Understanding how to make a product in volume is very different from being able to build a one-of-a-kind prototype, and the process that engineers and workers go through is an important part of innovation. Many in the industry say that Intel has a two year lead on its competition as a result.

Read the full article at CNN. What do you see the future of American manufacturing looking like? What sort of expectations do you hold for reshoring efforts, both on the corporate-wide and factory floor levels?


Meet Baxter, Manufacturing’s New Robot Wonder

September 19, 2012

Meet Baxter, the new robot from Rethink Robotics, heralded to change American manufacturing. In comparison with traditional manufacturing robots, he might appear to be a light weight. But it’s in Baxter’s differences from traditional robotics that his unique potential shines through.

Inexpensive, easy to train, and safe, Baxter is a fresh face for productivity. But perhaps what is most impressive about Baxter is his accessibility to companies of all sizes. Don’t have a lot of floor space? Can’t afford a $200,000 robot? Unsure if your company can handle the technical demands of robotics? These are just some of the concerns that keep small and medium sized businesses from automating. But with the arrival of Baxter, all that might be about to change.

Smarter Robots, With No Pesky Uprisings
by Brad Stone

With five cameras, a sonar sensor that detects motion 360 degrees around the robot, and enough intelligence to learn new tasks within an hour, Baxter is designed to work safely alongside humans and do simple jobs like picking items off a conveyor belt. At $22,000 a unit, it is also cheap enough so that, performing menial labor for three years’ worth of eight-hour shifts, it functions as the equivalent of a $4-an-hour worker. “We are spending hundreds of billions of dollars doing this kind of work in China,” says Brooks. “We want companies to spend that here, in a way that lets American workers be way more productive.”

Traditional assembly-line robots, which can cost up to $200,000 and then much more for custom software, are fast and dexterous, but dumb. They do a few things extremely well but require carefully structured environments. Most wouldn’t know if a human wandered close by, so they are often isolated in cages away from employees. Baxter, though, sits on a four-wheel gurney and can be set down just about anywhere on a factory floor. Its eyes are on a swiveling computer screen and greet any worker that approaches.

To teach Baxter a new job, a human grabs its arms, simulates the desired task, and presses a button to program in the pattern. When the robot doesn’t understand what a person is trying to tell it during training, it looks up with a confused expression. Part of the original idea was that Baxter would be so easy for even unskilled workers to train that Rethink wouldn’t have to produce a manual. It ultimately did print one, but Brooks hopes no one uses it.

Read the full Businessweek article here.

A Robot With a Reassuring Touch
by John Markoff

Here in a brick factory that was once one of the first electrified manufacturing sites in New England, Rodney A. Brooks, the legendary roboticist who is Rethink’s founder, proves its safety by placing his head in the path of Baxter’s arm while it moves objects on an assembly line.

The arm senses his head and abruptly stops moving with a soft clunk. Dr. Brooks, unfazed, points out that the arm is what roboticists call “compliant”: intended to sense unexpected obstacles and adjust itself accordingly.

The $22,000 robot that Rethink will begin selling in October is the clearest evidence yet that robotics is more than a laboratory curiosity or a tool only for large companies with vast amounts of capital. The company is betting it can broaden the market for robots by selling an inexpensive machine that can collaborate with human workers, the way the computer industry took off in the 1980s when the prices of PCs fell sharply and people without programming experience could start using them right out of the box.

“It feels like a true Macintosh moment for the robot world,” said Tony Fadell, the former Apple executive who oversaw the development of the iPod and the iPhone.

Read the full New York Times article here.

Want a chance to meet Baxter and see him in action? Rethink Robotics will be exhibiting at Automate 2013. Show floor admission is free, giving you the opportunity to find the automation solution that’s right for you.

Rodney Brooks, founder and chairman of Rethink Robotics, is a featured speaker for the 2013 Robotics Industry Forum. We’re very excited to hear his presentation, Innovation in Manufacturing Robots, considering his powerful contributions to the industry. Register for this executive members-only conference today!


Robot Safety Trends in Automotive

September 12, 2012

by Jeff Fryman , Director, Standards Development
Robotic Industries Association
Posted 09/10/2012

Jeff Fryman, Director, Standards DevelopmentThere are vibrant new activities related to industrial safety in robot applications around the country today, and none more so than in the automotive industry.  Recovering from the last recession, our nation’s industries are stronger and more competitive than ever, and much of that competitiveness can be credited to new and innovative applications using industrial robots safely.  The auto industry has been a leader in applying robots to save time, improve processes and assure consistent quality of products; and continues to be a leader in assuring the safety of their workers.

A key word in manufacturing today is “lean”; a reduction of waste – wasted time, wasted energy, wasted effort and wasted cost.  Eliminating these wastes means thinking “out of the box”.  Elimination of fixturing (fixed stands and clamps) is probably the biggest trend toward lean manufacturing.  Taking time, effort, and cost out of manufacturing processes is the key to lean manufacturing and competitiveness.  We refer to robot applications as “flexible” automation, and that can mean flexibility in design, capabilities and not just motion.  Designing lean robot applications is important to achieving innovative solutions to ordinary manufacturing tasks, and with new robot features this can be done while also achieving enhanced worker safety.

Let’s look at an “old design” application; maybe a spot welding assembly process.  Each step in the flow has a fixture for each part; and if I want to run different parts, each has its own fixture.  After the initial parts are loaded to the fixture, a robot carrying a spot welding gun moves in and makes the welds.  To move to the next step in the process the part is unloaded from the fixture, placed on a conveyor and moved to the next position where it is again loaded to a fixture.  Maybe at this step a robot picks the part off the conveyor and loads it to the fixture.  Another robot picks up a part from another loading fixture and adds it to the assembly.  Then a robot carrying a spot welding gun moves in and makes more welds.  At this point the completed assembly is unloaded and racked.

Now let’s analyze this application from a “lean” perspective.  Where are there wastes in this example that can possibly be eliminated?  This design limited the process to the specific part being worked on, or a possible compromise of the fixturing to accommodate multiple parts.  Transferring parts entailed additional motions and a conveyor of some type.  Three fixtures and clamps to hold parts in place while the robot slung the heavy weld gun and positioned for each weld.  This also requires a large capacity robot to handle the weight and bulk of the weld gun.

So what would a new “lean” method look like?  A robot with light weight end-effector designed to accommodate variations in parts is loaded and moves into position at a fixed weld stand, moving and properly positioning the part for each programmed weld.  It then presents the part to another robot that has already picked up an additional part to be added to the assembly from a bin using machine vision guidance.  This robot than takes the assembly and presents it to a robot with a servo-controlled spot welding gun, and then both robots move in coordinated motion to position the part for each of multiple complex welds.  The part is then placed in a rack by the robot.

Where are the savings?  Direct transfer of the part between robots has eliminated the conveyor and one fixture completely.  The vision guided bin-picking application has totally eliminated another fixture, and the end-of-arm tooling is lighter weight and floor space can be saved without fixed location fixtures.  The stationary stand and use of servo-controlled spot welding guns allows for lighter capacity robots to be used in the application, hopefully saving costs as well.

This application can be done today, within the guidelines of the current robot safety standard.  The soon to be released new robot safety standard takes this ability to innovate even further!

New safety features available with new robots (not existing ones) will allow for the reduction of robot application footprints on the order of 30%.  How would you like to have 30% more floor space in your existing facility?  And there is more – the re-introduction of man-in-the-loop production techniques; where in the example above the operator directly loads the end-effector during the robot operation.

To learn more about these exciting developments, join us for the National Robot Safety Conference XXIV, September 24 – 26 in Indianapolis, Indiana. We will delve into these and many other robot and machine safety topics during 3 days of outstanding workshops, conference sessions, tabletop exhibits and more.  Complete information on the conference can be found at http://www.robotics.org/safety12 or call RIA at 734/994-6088.

NRSC 12 - Register Now

Be safe, and I hope to see you at this year’s robot safety conference in Indy later this month!


Government Initiative to Fund Additive Manufacturing R&D

August 22, 2012

In a season of a lot of political talk, it’s refreshing to see some action. President Obama recently announced the start of a government initiative that will partner with businesses, universities, and non-profit organizations to fund research and development in additive manufacturing.

Additive Manufacturing Initiative Brings New Shine to the Rust Belt

by Travis Hessman

In the once-thriving industrial center of Youngstown, Ohio today, news of a $30 million public-private advanced manufacturing partnership is turning conversations of the failing “rust belt” into that of a new and thriving “tech belt.”

The change comes with the announcement from President Obama that a consortium of regional businesses, universities and nonprofit organizations has been awarded $30 million by the Department of Defense and the Department of Commerce to establish the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute.

The NAMII will be composed of a core group of manufacturers, research universities, community colleges and non-profit organizations throughout Northeast Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, which will contribute an additional $40 million to the partnership.

“I’m pleased that we are taking steps to strengthen American manufacturing by launching a new manufacturing institute in Ohio,” president Obama said. “This institute will help make sure that the manufacturing jobs of tomorrow take root not in places like China or India, but right here in the United States of America.”

Read the full article here at Industry Week, as well as another take by the Science Insider.

Staying at the fore front of technological development isn’t just about the spirit of innovation. Adoption of new technology is imperative for businesses to stay relevant in the automation industry. Where do you see additive manufacturing leading? What other innovations do you see becoming a necessity for the industry?


A Critical Time to Bring Manufacturing — and Jobs — Back to the US

August 20, 2012

We’ve been seeing a lot of great news about reshoring, sharing it here on our blog, on our Twitter account, and on our website. While this is great news, it’s an interesting time for this shift to happen. With the advances in robotics and other automation technology, as well as other factors, it’s become more cost-efficient to invest in domestic manufacturing. As factories all over the world are experiencing a technology upgrade, this also appears to be a critical time to move manufacturing back home. The New York Times explores what it means to move factories back home and equip them with cutting edge automation technology.

Skilled Work, Without the Worker
by John Markoff

The Obama administration says this technological shift presents a historic opportunity for the nation to stay competitive. “The only way we are going to maintain manufacturing in the U.S. is if we have higher productivity,” said Tom Kalil, deputy director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Government officials and industry executives argue that even if factories are automated, they still are a valuable source of jobs. If the United States does not compete for advanced manufacturing in industries like consumer electronics, it could lose product engineering and design as well. Moreover, robotics executives argue that even though blue-collar jobs will be lost, more efficient manufacturing will create skilled jobs in designing, operating and servicing the assembly lines, as well as significant numbers of other kinds of jobs in the communities where factories are.

And robot makers point out that their industry itself creates jobs. A report commissioned by the International Federation of Robotics last year found that 150,000 people are already employed by robotics manufacturers worldwide in engineering and assembly jobs.

But American and European dominance in the next generation of manufacturing is far from certain.

“What I see is that the Chinese are going to apply robots too,” said Frans van Houten, Philips’s chief executive. “The window of opportunity to bring manufacturing back is before that happens.”

Read the full article at The New York Times.

We at the Robotic Industries Association of course see this expansion in our industry as a good thing. We’ve seen member companies grow and expand, we’ve seen companies saved from closure by automation, and now we’re seeing the potential of reshoring, in part due to advances in automation technology.

But we like to keep an open discussion. What sort of answers do you have for the questions raised in the article?


Real Estate Managers Foresee Manufacturing Re-shoring

August 6, 2012

Previously we linked to an article from ASSEMBLY Magazine that held results of their annual State of the Profession survey. The report had many hopes of reshoring and growth in domestic manufacturing. Turns out that professionals in other industries have the same projections. IndustryWeek reports that a recent survey of corporate real estate managers found that over half of them expected strong reshoring efforts in the next few years.

Rebound in Domestic Manufacturing from Offshore Locations
by Adrienne Selko

In a survey conducted in conjunction with the Corporate Real Estate 2020 research, 51% of corporate real estate asset managers either agreed or strongly agreed that there would be a rebound in domestic manufacturing from offshore locations. This recovery will be driven both by companies bringing manufacturing plants and jobs back to the U.S. or choosing not to off-shore in the first place, according to the report.

“On-shoring in the U.S. will continue to gain steam due to changing global cost and supply chain dynamics,” said Dennis Donovan, principal with WDG Consulting. “The U.S. and its manufacturing base is more competitive than at anytime in a generation.”

The trend is already occurring as U.S. manufacturing jobs have rebounded from a 10-year low of 11,458,000 in January 2010 to a projected 11,962,000 ending June 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The 4.4% increase marks a gain of more than a half million new jobs.

Read the full article here at IndustryWeek. Have you seen or experienced companies pulling back to domestic manufacturing? What sort of expectations do you hold for reshoring in the next decade?


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