The Straight Poop on Material Handling Robots

September 15, 2009

By Brian Huse, Director, Marketing & PR, Robotic Industries Association

It is a good day when a company that makes home gardening products out of cow droppings can make a case for using robots. This certainly is true for one client of Practical Robotic Services.

“It is green packaging and good business,” said Frank Pagano, General Manager of Practical Robotic Solutions. His company designed a system that uses a Kawasaki robot to handle trays used in the drying process for flowerpots made of cow dung.

“Pots are formed on a forming machine and placed on trays for the drying rack,” said Pagano. “The robot works with an integrated lift to destack the trays and keep things moving.”

Robots are famous for efficiency and affordability, so even a small company can take advantage of the green benefits of the technology. For instance, energy savings and less waste (thanks to an improved process) all play a role in reducing a company’s carbon footprint.

In the end, cost savings usually motivate customers, so it is always nice when a side benefit is preserving jobs. Says Pagono, one customer (a toy maker) avoided the need to outsource to China by installing robots in the injection molding process. The arrangement kept people working right inside the company’s homeland and they are competitive in the global market.

Material handling is one of the most common ways robots are used and Practical Robotic Services specializes in this application. An RIA member since 2006, they are consultants and assist customers with automation planning and implementation. The company provides programming, control design, robot teaching and end-of-arm-tooling.


Social Networking for Business Applications

September 8, 2009

By Jeff Burnstein, RIA President

Okay, I’ll confess.  I’ve never used Twitter.  I have a Facebook account but only use it for communicating with friends and family.  I run a LinkedIn community for RIA, but am having difficulty getting it to be the interactive site I envisioned.  I have texting on my cell phone but rarely use it.  I don’t do Instant Messaging.  Am I badly out of touch with the most popular ways to communicate these days?

I suspect the answer is yes and no.  Yes, in the sense that my teenage daughters are light years ahead of me in communicating via the latest communications  advances.  No, in that there are many others just like me who are wrestling with how to make business use of these new advances.

To help all of us, regardless of where we are in terms of experience with Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc., we’ve invited James Spellos of Meeting U to speak at the upcoming Robotics Industry Forum in Orlando, January 20-22, 2010.  Mr. Spellos is an expert in the field of social networking and will share real-world examples of how companies have taken advantage of the new opportunities created by social networking.

He’ll also share insights into how to improve search engine optimization of websites and cover other issues important to all of us.

Mr. Spellos is just one of many fascinating speakers on the Forum agenda.  Any employee of an RIA member company is eligible to attend.
Full details can be found at www.robotics.org.

The 2010 Forum is collocated with the annual AIA Business Conference and MCA Business Conference.  Bringing the machine vision and motion control industry leaders together with robotics industry leaders should yield an enormous number of new networking opportunities.

Following the meeting, we’re hoping everyone can take advantage of the new opportunities by using social networking tools.  Time will tell.  In the meantime, the best way to reach me is via email at jburnstein@robotics.org or telephone at 734/994-6088.  Old school?  Perhaps.  But, I trust there are many others just like me, which is why Mr. Spellos’ session is eagerly anticipated!


Do You Follow Tweets for Business?

September 8, 2009

By Brian Huse, Director, Marketing & PR, Robotic Industries Association

Robots were invented before the Internet and hit the factory floor in the early 1960’s. After decades of refinement (including some really awesome GUI’s) today’s robot is easy to operate. Robotic technology appeals to all generations, but are the movers and shakers of this tech savvy industry ready to twitter?

See my tweets at http://twitter.com/HuseBrian


Packaging Robots at Front of Economic Recovery

September 3, 2009

By Brian Huse, Director, Marketing & PR, Robotic Industries Association

More than one RIA member has told me the packaging industry is an important early indicator for the economy, and that activity in this sector is looking good according to sources at DE-STA-CO and Adept Technology.

I was recently chatting with Ron Micallef of DE-STA-CO who has a feeling robots will at some point overtake dedicated automation for packaging applications. He explained that DE-STA-CO does a lot of business in end effectors and does quite well in applications such as bag handling.

Ron observed that one of the driving forces for packaging is a growing emphasis on mixed lots for food products. Another is the emphasis on safety and cleanliness, both of which tend to be highly regulated. These thoughts were with me after Ron’s lunch visit, and the case for robots in the food and packaging sectors crystalized even more when I switched on Adept’s fourth quarter report back at the office. 

“There is a tremendous amount of pressure now on food manufacturers to be able to have a lot of flexibility in their packaging,” said Adept Technology President and CEO, John Dulchinos. “And to do that, they are kind of forced into the scenario where they either have to do it by hand or the only alternative to that is robots.”

He went on to say that the packaging business “. . . continues to be our strongest market as we are seeing continued demand for automated packaging solutions from the food handling and pharmaceutical industries, particularly in France. The recent global pandemic is a reminder of the importance of sanitary food handling and food manufacturers are intent on finding ways to protect their consumers, and ultimately their businesses.”

Companies around the world have been affected by continued weakness in the global economy, but many observers, including RIA, feel there is reason to believe the bottom has been reached. Robots merit serious consideration as businesses look to satisfy pent up demand for capital equipment that is affordable, reliable and flexible.

At the same time robots can fulfill a company’s need for better automation, they also help domestic manufacturers cope more effectively with federal mandates and regulations.

“If you look at specific products and markets, like pharmaceutical products, food products, the financial equation or the regulatory environment doesn’t justify moving those to less regulated markets or far-away markets,” said Dulchinos. “And so I don’t see a day where food will all come from China. I think food factories are going to China to service the China market but it doesn’t make sense to produce a Twinkie in China and ship it all the way to the U.S. The equation doesn’t make sense. So there will always be a strong need for equipment here.”

Whether it is end effectors or whole robot systems, RIA members like DE-STA-CO and Adept are enabling more customers to take advantage of affordable robotic automation as a way to combat the pressure of tight budgets and consumer demand for variety at a low price. It is no surprise that these RIA companies are leaders in the industry and should be at the top of any list for business partnerships. To find companies that fit your needs and are seriously committed to robotics, visit Robotics Online at www.robotics.org.

Editor’s note: Quotes and references to Adept Technology taken from material published by Seeking Alpha in, “Adept Technology, Inc. F4Q09 (Qtr End 06/30/09) Earnings Call Transcript.” Attributions to Ron Micalleff of DE-STA-CO based on one-on-one discussions with him.


Robot Ankle Improves Life for Amputees

September 2, 2009

By Brian Huse, Director, Marketing & PR, Robotic Industries Association

What would inspire an elite mountain climber to invent a robotic ankle? If you guessed a climbing accident you’d be about right. Now an MIT professor and entrepreneur, Dr. Hugh Herr uses the same energy and mental focus it takes to scale a 55-degree, 600-foot sheet of ice to feed his drive to develop a better prostheses.

Amputees expend more energy than their able-bodied counterparts to do the same thing, and even though artificial limbs have improved significantly in recent years, the impact of these devices on the body is still severe. This is something Dr. Herr knows first hand. Both legs were amputated below the knee after an incident on Mount Washington in New Hampshire.

Only 17 at the time but already a climbing legend, Herr and a friend ran into bad weather and had to abandon their trek up Mount Washington. Several days of exposure in sub-zero temperatures left them nearly dead, and although rescued in time to save their lives the cold ravaged their legs. Herr’s life as a climbing prodigy was over. Or was it?

Artificial legs have been around long enough to be good, but Dr. Herr thought they could be much better. He continued to climb using artificial limbs he devised, and he eventually found his way into academia where he could continue his research and development. Dr. Herr of the MIT Media Lab is now the founder of iWalk Inc. which gained early funding from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Robotic ankle and foot from iWalk.

PowerFoot One, the world's first actively powered prosthetic ankle and foot.

His robotic ankle and foot is said to mimic the action of a biological leg and “for the first time, provides transtibial amputees with a natural gait.”1 Dr. Herr not only wants to return amputees to “normal,” but even augment them and make them better. Thanks to General Catalyst Partners and WFD Ventures LLC, he now has more than $20 million in new funding to commercialize his technology.

Another project of Dr. Herr’s is something he calls a Power-Boot. This is described as an exoskeletal device that might be seen in civilian life for cases of amputation above the knee or in the military to help able-bodied soldiers carry heavier loads further.2

Work like this reminds us that robotic technology continues to make inroads into our lives and even improve the lot of those who have lost limbs.

1 Source: Wikipedia, Hugh Herr
2 Source: Boston Magazine, “Best Foot Forward,” March 2009