Changes Coming Soon to Robotics Online

September 26, 2007

by Brian Huse, Director, Marketing & PR (RIA)

Robotics Online will be changing sometime soon. This won’t be the first time it has changed since it was established in 1996, and the details are still being hashed out, but expect a significant difference.

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It is amazing to look at how far we’ve come since the site was launched 11 years ago. I went to the Way Back Machine and found a “snapshot” of the site from the good old days. (Look at the picture with this blog . . . isn’t it amazing how things used to be? This was back when electronic publishing was still a clumsy business and you used service bureaus to output files to film for printers.)

The story of Robotics Online starts with an “online mall” where you could go to find groups of sites all related in terms of business type. Many sites of that era were dubbed as [Insert Name Here] Online. At the time, the Association’s site was under the domain name, “robotics.org.” This was just six years after the World Wide Web had gone commercial and been re-branded as the Internet.

People were just beginning to realize the business possibilities of the Internet when RIA saw the future and decided to grab a piece of cyber world. RIA’s vice president of marketing at the time (Jeff Burnstein) and Don Vincent (the executive vice president at the time) led the charge, and I was lucky enough to be there and see first steps of the Association’s new cyber baby.

Since then, we’ve refreshed the site a few times with input from RIA’s MARCOM Committee. Once again, this committee is involved in the planning of a new site.

Right now, the Association is delving into matters such as defining the purpose of the next site, setting goals for it, profiling its audience and considering new possibilities for functionality. Members and others will be surveyed, and consultants will guide staff on a requirements review. Bids will be solicited based on the specifications from the review, and a new site will be launched.

Results of this work will not only affect Robotics Online, but also help shape its sister sites, Machine Vision Online and Motion Control Online. Robotics Online has been a long-lasting success story for the Association and one of the few sites from its era that live on today. Stick around for what’s next, won’t you? In fact, contact us now through October 31 to tell us how you would improve the site so we can factor that into our plans.

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Of Cops, Cadavers and Robots (post Workshop blog on Robotic Grinding, Deburring & Finishing)

September 21, 2007

by Brian Huse, Director, Marketing & PR (RIA)
As I sat in the airport and contemplated the last few days at RIA’s Robotic Grinding, Deburring & Finishing Workshop, from my chair I saw a news story about a double amputee from California who returned to his job this month on two “bionic legs.” Lately, the difference between robotics and other technology has become blurry, and while this wasn’t a story about robots, I have seen cases where prosthetics (i.e., bionic legs) and robotics were linked.

This man was a California police officer whose job is physically demanding. He had to get back into patrolman shape under circumstances that would challenge many of us to simply lose weight and get our motivation back after months of suffering and immobility. His story is an inspiration.

He is no cyborg, although he deserves credit for superhuman effort. There may come a time when artificial limbs have robotic attributes, but you don’t have to look into the future to find examples of robots used to help people walk again. For example, they are used right now to polish replacement joints for hips and knees.

It turns out there could be life after death for these robotically finished joints.

In a very serendipitous moment during our Workshop, one of our speakers bumped into someone from another conference about “Joint Replacement” and got the scoop. Dick Hewitt met a doctor who has a vision to take replacement joints from cadavers and reuse them in people where the standard of living is lower and new technology isn’t easily supported by prevailing economic conditions.

You’ve heard of organ donation, right? Why not recover perfectly good artificial joints? It’s not as crazy as it sounds. Apparently, artificial joints are made in specific groups of sizes, a tidbit that was explained to me by people at our Workshop who are from Stryker. Patients are fitted with a joint that was made for their size range.

As a point of clarity, the Joint Conference going on at the Hyatt Regency in Minneapolis at the same time as ours had nothing to do with artificial joints. In fact, the focus was on cell replacement therapy, or some aspect of that topic. However, the attendees for their conference, just like our own attendees, have a wide range of experience in many areas which can lead to unanticipated exchanges of ideas and insights.

So, just as there may not be a direct connection between the cop with “bionic legs” and robotic grinding and polishing, there are some threads that could lead you to consider the possibilities. And while you may not expect to find a medical doctor in the same place as an engineer who uses robots, let alone one with thoughts on how to recycle used joints that were polished by a robot, it can happen. In a way, that is one of the things we strive for with our workshops. We hope to mix you with other professionals of different backgrounds whose work and experience might inspire you to find new ways to use robots and become more successful with them.

To all our attendees, I hope we helped you find new ways to look at your processes and robot applications. In fact, I hope you made connections that you can use to be more successful in your career and in solving your problems. Good luck and thank you for attending!


Emerging Automation Event Provides Snapshot of Where We are Going

September 14, 2007

by Jim Adams, Marketing Manager (RIA)

It was a pleasure to meet Oakland County (Michigan) Executive, L. Brooks Patterson at the Emerging Automation event hosted by RIA member, Applied Manufacturing Technologies, Inc. (AMT), in Orion, Michigan, on September 12th. As the top executive for Oakland County, the second largest in the United States (some 900 square miles), Patterson’s functions rival that of a governor of a small state.

AMT President, Mike Jacobs, invited Mr. Patterson to present the keynote address.  Patterson sited data from RIA in his speech and mentioned to me that he knows RIA well.  It’s so very gratifying to learn that all the efforts the Association has made are having an effect, placing us on the radar screen of movers and shakers like Brooks and others. This will only further assist and promote the robotics industry.

This event provided the Association a great opportunity to reconnect with RIA members and prospects alike, tour the AMT robot demos, and become aware of some of the latest technology developments and trends, as presented by Mr. Patterson. These not only affect Oakland County, but some also have ramifications that are cause for communities across North America to sit up and take note.  Consider:

• Automation Alley, originally a countywide initiative, has been expanded to the entire Southeastern Michigan region, including the City of Detroit. It is now considered at least an equal to the likes of California’s Silicon Valley and Massachusetts Route 128 high-technology corridors in prominence and innovation.

• A “Top 10” county job/employment projection for 50 years from now reveals a mix covering some interesting industries from financial and biomedical, to homeland security and more, and included robotics as one of the ten on the list.

• Wireless Oakland, a county WiFi access initiative targeted for completion in 2008, will provide free wireless access anywhere in the county. It is being implemented due to a unique public/private partnership(s) whereby the county provides private businesses access to its assets. In exchange, the partner(s) will be required to provide free wireless internet access to residents, businesses and visitors within the county.

Viewing the robot demonstrations, hearing the automation presentations, and learning of these developments at this week’s event leads me to conclude that technological advances, innovation, and manufacturing is far from being written off in North America. Rather, it is undergoing exciting changes in today’s business climate that will lead to a bright tomorrow.


Fighting Back with Robots & Vision: A 9/11 Tribute

September 11, 2007

by Brian Huse (Director, Marketing & PR, RIA)

I’ve read that Americans have returned to most of their “old ways” since 9/11. Among the examples I saw was a spike and matching decline in church activity, donating blood and charitable giving. Other examples pointed toward heightened patriotism and almost unquestioned support for political leaders, which has lessened considerably in recent times.

I didn’t see a reference to 9/11 induced changes to our industrial sector, but I suspect we were jarred into a new normal that is not really the same, but not entirely different. We still must fight for customers and jobs, maybe more than ever, but whatever happens, I predict we will fight back with robots and vision.

For instance, we knew by the turn of the century we were in a worldwide fight for customers, and today the reality is an even more competitive global landscape. We knew back then that China would be a rising economic force, and now it is a huge factor in the industrial landscape.

Work has shifted to China, India and other nations where labor is cheap. That is nothing new, but an important and hefty counterforce is new applications for robotics and machine vision. Both technologies are used to ensure quality, and manufacturers install it regardless of the national borders. If they don’t, they can’t compete on quality – cheap labor is not a path to higher profits if you end up with recalls and a besmirched reputation.

Another change is the degree of integration robots have in factories. That has changed because the technology is changing fast, adapting to more applications, and proving itself successful and reliable where properly deployed. Many futurists predict the U.S. economy will be driven by the service sector, but flexible automation may surprise these pundits.

Specialized fabrication is usually an expensive and complicating factor in manufacturing. Our nation has a history of mass production of a basic product for a large customer base, with variations available, but still the production run needs to be pretty big for most commodities. Today, you can use robots for short runs and unique fabrications and save money. Machine vision adds to the flexibility. Together, these technologies allow us to manufacture in ways that allow companies to cost effectively target more and more market segments for their products.

One new area for robotics is the “first responder” segment – law enforcement, military, security and medical. Today, robots are used for bomb disposal and hostage crises, as scouts in dangerous enemy territory, search and rescue work and delicate or remote surgery. This is a new frontier that has already grown fast and is still too young to be completely assessed. However, it reinforces the fact that robots are intended to remove humans from danger (as well as from tasks made difficult by dull or dirty conditions).

Robots can be used in far more applications today thanks to greater computer horsepower and more than 30 years of improving the human machine interface. Many of the trailblazers in the robotics industry are still around and work for companies that belong to Robotic Industries Association. More universities and trade schools are producing gifted young professionals who are able to stand on the shoulders of our industry’s leaders, learn from them, and go on to find new innovations.

Industry may be changing. It may be migrating offshore for now. But the U.S. has always had a strong will to compete and foster new ways of doing business. We may shift to a service sector, or we may become more balanced between that and manufacturing, but either way, expect to see robots as part of the equation. Perhaps they will be mascots for some playful workers, and they may even work in the service sector, but I’m guessing they will help our manufacturers bring work back to North American factories and help us compete for top honors in the global market.

We can’t return to the days before 9/11, and we should never forget how it made us stronger. In fact, we have learned that robots can even help us fight war a new way, but as anyone in the industry will tell you, their main purpose is to add to the quality of life. There is no doubt in my mind that in the battle for global market share, manufacturing will fight back with robots, machine vision, and other forms of advanced technology.